White worms in soil are an important part of a healthy garden as they eat plant matter, producing worm castings. They can aerate the soil, improve drainage, and add organic matter.
However, many white worms in the soil may indicate a problem that needs to be addressed.
White worms in soil can be pot worms, nematodes, fungus gnat larvae, and grub worms. Sometimes the white crawlers may not even be worms but Symphylans, also known as garden centipedes. Most worms are a part of the natural ecosystem, and some are there because of unfavorable soil conditions suited for reproduction.
When left uncontrolled, some types of white worms can cause damage as they tunnel through the roots and stems of young plants.
In this article, you will find out how to identify tiny white worms in the soil, determine if they are good or bad and what advantages their presence can provide.
4 Types of Tiny White Worms in Soil
While gardening, you might have seen tiny, transparent worms in your garden soil. Here are a few species of worms and pests that have the appearance of “tiny, white worms”:
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1. Pot Worms:
Pot worms are translucent worms significantly bigger than roundworms. They closely resemble smaller species of earthworms and are visible to the naked eye. They are primarily found in compost soil and are not harmful to the plant.
Pot worms play a positive role, and there is no need to remove them from the ground. They decay organic matter and vitalize the soil. They are found in masses.
2. Grub Worms:
Grubworms are the larval life stage of several different species of beetles in the scarab family. They are creamy white with a rusty orange head and six legs at the front of their body.
The eggs hatch in the soil in spring after lying dormant during winter. They immediately burrow into the soil to find a food source, usually the roots of your plants or lawn.
These types of worms, once identified, should be removed as soon as possible.
Simple ways to remove grubworms from soil include:
- Introduce natural predators to eat the grubs.
- Limit moisture.
- Use milky spore.
- Use neem oil or Azadirachtin.
- Introduce beneficial nematodes.
- Make a grub killer with borax.
Nematodes (also known as roundworms) belong to the phylum Nematoda and are identified by their unsegmented bodies. They are tiny in structure and can or can not be seen by the naked eye.
Some of the types of roundworms are so small that you might require a light microscope to view them. These transparent worms are mostly known for causing infections in plants and animals.
Although some nematodes do cause illness, they are harmless and somewhat helpful. The prey for different types of nematodes are plants, small animals, bacteria, etc.
Types of Nematodes:
- Plant Parasitic Nematodes
- Free-living Nematodes
- Fungivorous Nematodes
- Predatory Nematodes
- Omnivorous Nematodes
4. Fungus Gnat Larvae:
Sometimes, white worms are not actually worms but the larvae of the fungus gnat.
Fungus gnats fly and lay pale, whitish eggs on moist soil. These eggs hatch, and fungus gnat larvae are released from them. Fungus gnat larvae have white bodies that look colorless or transparent, with a distinct black-colored head.
Fungus gnat larvae are pests and are harmful to the growth of plants. They depend on plants to survive and keep doing so until they turn into a fly. The affected plant can be damaged by these pests and die.
You can easily find fungus gnat larvae around the roots of the affected plant. Then, you can use a chemical pesticide to kill them.
If you are hesitant about using chemicals on your plant, you can try natural remedies like neem oil or DIY pesticides to eliminate fungus gnat larvae.
Insects That Look Lile White Worms
Symphylans, also known as garden centipedes or pseudocentipedes, are soil-dwelling arthropods of the class Symphyla in the subphylum Myriapoda. Symphylans resemble centipedes but are very small, non-venomous, and only distantly related to both centipedes and millipedes [Wiki]
They crawl around the soil in random arrays, usually very quickly, and often sprint for cover whenever the soil is interrupted.
Where Do These White Worms Come From?
Soil is a natural habitat for many species of animals and plants. Worms are also one of the species that commonly live in the soil. Nematodes are found in all types of soil naturally.
On the other hand, pot worms only colonize compost ground. They can migrate to garden soil if they find traces of organic material to decompose.
Fungus gnat larvae come from hatched eggs. They remain in the soil until they grow into fungus gnat fly. The transport of affected soil can cause the spread of fungus gnat larvae in clean soil.
Benefits of White Worms in Soil:
Adding white worms to your soil can be helpful. Here are a few benefits of white worms in soil:
Enhance Soil Quality:
White worms like nematodes and pot worms are well known for improving soil quality. White worms play an essential role in the decomposition of organic matter and add various nutrients to the soil.
Regulate Growth Of Harmful Species:
Some nematodes feed off parasitic and disease-causing species found in soil. By doing so, they decrease the population of such species in the ground. Therefore, making the soil ideal for plant growth.
Provide a Food Source:
Some tiny roundworms act as prey for various insects, soil arthropods, and other bigger nematodes. Fungi and microorganisms found in the ground also feed on these white worms. Hence, white worms also provide a food source to the soil biome.
White worms act as natural decomposers in soil. Both roundworms and pot worms work on organic matter to decompose it into simpler forms while releasing nutrients into the ground.
This is one reason why topsoil may have a darker appearance.
Bactervorous and fungivorous nematodes kill bacteria and fungi and release additional ammonium into the soil. Plants use these nutrients for their growth.
Drawbacks of White Worms in Soil:
White worms in soil have a few disadvantages. Although most white worms are not harmful, some can be lethal and toxic to plant health.
They drain nutrients out of the plant and depend on them for food. This weakens the plant and slows its growth.
Some white worms can attack the outside of the plant. They damage the stem, root, leaves, flowers, and the plant’s overall appearance. The plant can show signs of chlorosis and may wilt. If the situation does not get better, the plant might die.
Are Worms Good For Both Garden and Potted Plants?
Yes, most worms are suitable for both garden and potted plants as long as they are present in reasonable quantities. Excessive worms can do more damage than good so adding a fair amount of worms to your garden plant is the key.
A moderate amount of worms can benefit the soil, decay the organic matter in the ground and release nutrients. It can also improve the soil’s quality and your plant’s growth.
Will Worms Kill the Plants?
In most cases, worms will not kill the plant. But if the pot or garden has excess worms, the organic matter in the pot might not be enough to feed them. They may start to eat the underground parts of plants and may even kill the plant.
Plant Parasitic Nematodes:
Nematodes that feed off of plants are called plant-parasitic nematodes. Plant-parasitic nematodes use plants as their host to live and reproduce. In return, they cause various severe diseases in plants like root-knot diseases and cysts.
These clear worms grow near the roots and harm them in root diseases. The affected plant suffers from slow growth and may die.
If you notice chlorosis (yellowing of the leaves), it might be due to the infestation of plant-parasitic nematodes. Another indication of these clear worms is wilting of the plant.
Grub worms damage your lawn by feeding on the roots, eventually turning into adult beetles that eat the leaves of other prized plants in your garden.
Other Worms in Soil
There are many types of worms found in soil. They can have a variety of colors depending on the species. For example, topsoil worms are green, blue, slightly pinkish, even grey, while the surface worms are mostly vibrant red or reddish-brown.
White worms can often be seen in soil, whether in gardens, potted plants, or plain ground. These worms may or may not be dangerous, depending on the species.
They can be profitable for the soil and may increase its vitality. However, if a parasitic worm infects your plant, it can ruin it.
It can be challenging to determine if a worm is causing the poor condition of your plant or any other factor.
Searching for worms in the garden soil might not be the best idea to check for worms. It is better to get your soil tested. This way, you might be able to save your plant from dying.