March 03, 2024

Keep an eye out for invasive jumping worms in garden

WEST LAFAYETTE, Ind. — Purdue Extension Educator Robert Bruner is urging gardeners to keep an eye out for invasive jumping worms this spring.

Jumping worms are larger, drier, and scalier than regular earthworms, he said. They will also thrash around like a snake.

Jumping worms will consume all organic material from the top layer of soil, leaving behind a coffee ground-like waste with no nutrients for plants or seeds.

Since jumping worms stay within the first few inches of topsoil, they are not creating channels for water and air the way earthworms do, disrupting water flow to plant roots.

“So basically, they’re just very nasty pests that ruin the quality of our soil, and the only thing that can really grow in soil like that are essentially invasive plants, or species that are meant to survive really harsh conditions,” Bruner said.

Purdue entomologists have confirmed the worm in three southern Indiana counties — Bartholomew, Vanderburgh and Gibson.

They are not a migrating species, but seem to travel through human activity, such as moving plants or compost.

The best thing to do is not to share ground soil or compost, and avoid buying potted plants from unknown sources.

If you suspect jumping worms are present in your own soil, Bruner suggests a process called solarizing.

How To Solarize

Gardeners should lay down a black or dark-toned tarp on a sunny day and sprinkle a thin layer of soil on top, allowing it to reach a temperature over 105 degrees.

Bruner cautions that jumping worms can escape during the solarizing process, “so you need to completely wrap the soil up in the tarp, essentially making the world’s worst sandwich, and allow it to heat up and kill whatever is in there.”

Bruner is not concerned about the worms affecting row-crop farmers.

“It’s a bit of a nightmare pest if you do gardening, but we don’t have evidence yet that it will spread into agricultural fields,” he said.

“We don’t think it’s going to kill any kind of industry. We’re asking people to be on the lookout and use your best judgment when you’re getting your soil.”

Any invasive species sightings should be reported to the Indiana Department of Natural Resources at depp@dnr.in.gov or by calling 866-663-9684.

Erica Quinlan

Erica Quinlan

Field Editor