Potting soils were developed for plants that are not grown in the ground but in containers, thus having different needs than those in the ground.
The green balls found in soil are most likely slow-release fertilizer prills used to supplement the soil’s nutrients over a period of time. These fertilizer balls tend to disintegrate faster with increasing temperatures as well as rain and increased watering.
Although these balls are commonly added as a slow-release fertilizer in the soil, in some cases, these balls can also be the eggs of some insects and in this article, we will help you identify these green balls and share our removal tips.
Why are there Green Balls in Potting Soil?
Coming across something unfamiliar in potting soil can be alarming. Most of the time the unfamiliar substances come in the form of little green balls.
The small, foreign balls in the soil are most likely slow-release fertilizer pellets, which are typical in most potting mixes and used to boost soil nutrient levels.
Those green balls can, however, be insect eggs, even though this is a rare occurrence. In either instance, it’s possible that this is a cause for concern.
Below is a detailed discussion on the possible culprits:
Fertilizer Balls (Prills)
Fertilizers are the primary source of nutrients for plants which can be all-purpose time-release fertilizers, synthetic blends or nutrient-dense organic amendments.
Fertilizer balls are small, biodegradable spheres made of polymer resins and vegetable oil that are filled with liquid fertilizer or fertilizer salts used to feed plants.
These little balls are more aptly referred to as prills. Osmocote is a popular brand of fertilizer prills, however, there are other brands available that come in different colors.
Fertilizer balls are mixed with potting soil and used in nursery plants. They can gradually offer plants all the nutrients they require to thrive and develop robustly over time.
Fortunately, your plants are unlikely to be harmed by these fertilizer balls. Instead, they will actually aid their growth by gradually releasing nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, and other nutrients.
However, too much synthetic fertilizer can cause harm to your plants and unfortunately, there might be no possible way of finding out whether the product used was organic.
If you are interested in a fertilizer that will ensure your plant grows healthy for a long time with minimal intervention, I would recommend Osmocote Smart-Release Plant Food. You can find it by clicking here.
Insects or Pests eggs
On rare occasions, the balls in potting soil turn out to be insect or pest eggs but they can be distinguished from fertilizer balls.
Insect eggs are often slightly smaller than fertilizer or perlite balls and lack a hard outer coating. They are squishy and feel like goo when touched.
They may have an extended rather than spherical form. In addition, insect eggs are concentrated in a single location, whereas fertilizer balls are evenly distributed across the soil.
The most common insect and pest eggs are worm eggs, slug/snail eggs, ant, weevil, and ladybugs eggs.
For instance, slug and snail eggs are more like fertilizer balls except for some species, such as the giant snail and all bigger snails.
However, depending on your location in the United States, you may come across eggs that are similar in size to fertilizer prills but generally, slug eggs are paler than fertilizer balls and often more transparent.
Similarly, worms’ eggs can be confused with fertilizer balls in size and color. But with keen observation, worm eggs are usually not perfectly spherical, but rather slightly elongated.
Therefore it requires thorough observation to distinguish between fertilizer balls and insect/pests eggs.
See our detailed post which describes why do some potting soil have snails.
Seeds or fruits from the plants
A fruit is a mature or ripened ovary that usually contains seeds. Fruits play an important role in the seed dispersal of many plants.
The foreign balls in potting soil can sometimes be the seeds of the fruit of the plant in it since there exist some plant seeds like mold that resemble balls.
This can happen when the fruits mature and fall on the soil and later on expose the seeds after decomposing.
However, it is very easy to distinguish a seed from a fertilizer ball since seeds contain an embryo and, in most plant species, a store of food reserves, wrapped in a seed coat, unlike fertilizer balls which are filled with liquid or fertilizer salts.
How to test these balls to tell what they are?
Since the balls in potting soil are distinguishable, it is prudent to test them to find out what exactly they are.
This is important since one will look for possible solutions if the balls are rendered harmful. One of the most common and efficient ways to test the balls is by squeezing them.
Typically, when fertilizer balls are squeezed, the ball cracks, and liquid or solid matter in the form of salt comes out. If the balls are insect eggs or earthworm eggs, it is most likely that after squeezing, small insects will come out.
For instance, in the case of ant eggs, many ants will come out as soon as these eggs are disturbed since ants tend to multiply quite quickly.
If the ball is a fruit or a seed, once squeezed, one will be able to tell if it is a fruit or a seed since all the parts will be visible.
One can see the components of a fruit or the seed clearly. However, it is important to put on hand protective gear like gloves to protect oneself against any harmful compositions that might be present in the potting soil.
Can the Green Balls be Harmful to the Plant?
In most cases the green balls found in potting soil cause no harm to plant
After testing the balls, one will be able to tell what they are. If they are fertilizer balls, they should not be harmful to your plant.
Instead, they will nourish the plant by giving it the necessary nutrients it requires.
Fertilizer balls stimulate the growth of plants and quench their nutrient requirement. The fertilizer balls take up to two years to degrade depending on the composition of the fertilizer.
However, the potting medium might be harmful if the plant/s you grew in it had any diseases or infestations.
If the balls are insect/pests’ eggs, the preventative precautions you take will determine whether these eggs are hazardous to your plants or not.
It’s not a cause for concern if you removed the eggs from your soil before they hatched.
However, if the eggs hatch and a fresh army of insects emerges, the insects will undoubtedly do damage to your food plants.
How to Get Rid of Green Balls
To safeguard your plant, it is necessary to get rid of anything that might hinder its growth.
If the green balls happen to be fertilizer balls, there is no need to get rid of them since they are not harmful to the plant and they will eventually degrade thus making your plant’s environment even better.
By removing them, you deny the plant the necessary resources for its growth and development and you may not get the full benefits of the plant.
Rather, leaving the balls in the potting soil will benefit the plant but not harm it.
On the other hand, if the balls are insects or pests’ eggs, it is important to take precautions in removing them to ensure that you don’t cause more harm than good.
There are two ways that one can use to get rid of the eggs:
Remove the insects whenever you suspect them in your potting soil or pick out the eggs laid by the insects. It is important to wear gloves as a precautionary measure.
However, one is required to keep checking to ensure that no eggs remain or are laid again by the insects.
Completely remove the potting soil – This approach is appropriate for cases where the entire soil is covered in eggs and it is not worth the effort to remove them.
It is highly likely that when one removes the insects or their eggs, they will lay them again or there are still some in the soil.
As such, one is required to focus even more on his/her plant. If the insects and eggs become more persistent, then the second option would be more convenient and there will be minimal chances that the insects will lay eggs again.
Once you get a new potting soil or potting mix, you can prevent insects from laying eggs by making sure the potting soil is completely dry before use.
Employing an organic measure by adding a clove of garlic to the soil to keep away insects, re-potting an infected plant, and using an insecticide or pesticide to get rid of the egg-laying insect.
In the long run, one will have healthy plants with all the benefits it can offer. It is therefore important to inspect your plant to ensure that there are no eggs or insects
I use this Miracle-Gro Potting Mix from amazon, which ensures my plants stay healthy long after repotting. You can find it by clicking here.
Other Considerations when repotting
This soil is very important when it comes to the health and well-being of your plants. Not all potting mediums are the same.
Plants like succulents require different soil than ferns, just as they do in nature.
Different potting mixes were created to meet those requirements and are designed to prevent over-compaction of the soil, which can suffocate roots and obstruct the movement of water and nutrients.
A good potting mix will be lighter in weight, fluffy, and able to retain moisture.