How To Get Rid Of Pot Worms (Explained)

worm in a plant pot

When you see an abundance of pot worms – or white worms – it’s an indication that you need to make some adjustments in your worm bin, compost pile, or potted plant soil!

So, how can you get rid of pot worms (or eliminate them entirely)?

Here’s how:

  • Soak them in hot water with insecticide, & remove manually
  • Repot your potted plants
  • Make the environment more alkaline (preventative)
  • Dry the environment (preventative)

What are pot worms?

Pot worms are also known as enchytraeid worms.

They are small white worms that can be found in healthy, nitrogen-rich soil. Pot worms feed on the enzymes and bacteria found in decomposing leaves and plant refuse.

All in all, they can become a nuisance to gardeners.

They can reproduce quickly – up to a population of 500 per .2 ounces of topsoil! Once their populations grow, they compete with other worms or harm your potted plants.

So where can we find them and how do they reproduce so fast?

They’re frequently found in leaf litter, decomposing organic matter (compost piles), sandy soil, and potted plants. More specifically, pot worms are a sign that there is too much organic matter in your soil.

Pot worms thrive in environments with high levels of moisture and food and when there is an abundance of both, they can take over your garden or compost pile.

Where do pot worms come from?

In landscapes, you might find pot worms in compost. In potted plants, you may find them in the top layer of soil.

When they do finally appear it’s because the soil condition changed:

It may be too wet, or the pH is too acidic.

Once the conditions for pot worms become hospitable, they multiply in alarming amounts!

Pot worms are especially common in compost heaps, where they help to break down organic matter into nutrient-rich soil.

You can find them in your potted plants, too. They are usually brought home from the nursery on new plants or you can bring them indoors by bringing outdoor potted plants inside the house.

If you’ve ever noticed pot worms in your plants, it’s likely that they will try to move along with your plant if you transplant it.

Pot worms in potted plants

If you suspect that you have pot worms in the soil of your potted plants, try checking for different signs:

Do you see any small holes in the dirt?

Does the soil look like it has been disturbed recently?

Is your plant wilting or sickly looking? If so, check underneath their leaves for worm casings.

Do you see little brown pellets in the soil? If so, that means that your plant is probably infested with pot worms!

Try these tips for getting rid of pot worms in potted plants:

Repotting your plants

When your plant is infested with worms, you should repot it to cure the problem.

Removing all of those pesky insects from the roots and rinse them off well in order remove any eggs or parts that may still be left behind.

Give your pot a bleach bath so that the worms don’t try to return after repotting.

That should do trick!

Soak the soil with insecticidal soap

If your plants are infested with worms, submerging them in water with insecticidal soap for 30 minutes will kill the bugs.

If you cannot do this with your plants, try watering them from underneath instead.

When you remove a diseased plant from its container, make sure to soak the base in lukewarm water with insecticidal soap for about 20 minutes.

When the critters are trying to escape, that’s when you can catch them to throw away or use in the future.

Soak the soil of your plant with boiling water

Other schools of thought recommend soaking the soil in boiling water overnight.

Overnight will usually be long enough to kill the worm casings and larvae, but you can also try leaving it for an entire day.

After soaking the soil, make sure that you remove all of the worm casings. If you spot any of these casings, scoop them out with a spoon or your fingers.

Trap the worms with wet cardboard

For this method, all you have to do is place a piece of wet corrugated cardboard on top of the soil of your plant.

The worms will be attracted to the excess humidity, and try to escape by wriggling through the cardboard.

As they do this, their bodies will get caught in between the holes of the cardboard, either killing them or trapping them until you dispose of them.

Do not use this method with plants that are very small or have thin roots.

Pot worm prevention in potted plants

Remove the top layer of the soil

Remove the top 1/2 inch of soil. Since it’s the most humid, it’s the part that attracts pot worms.

If you have pots with plant debris on the top layer, take them off before watering.

The water won’t be able to settle through the soil – instead, it’ll just go right into the air! This will keep your potted plants nice and dry.

Don’t overwater your plants

Giving your potted plants a thorough watering – but not overwatering them – is another great way to get rid of pot worms in potted plants.

Give them enough water so that the water drains into the soil, then wait until it’s completely dry before watering again.

This will keep your soil from staying damp for too long, which will attract pot worms.

Remove the source of humidity

One of the best ways to get rid of pot worms in potted plants is to remove anything that’s causing moisture – like over-watering or leaf debris.

Make sure that your hands are clean before you handle any leaves on your plant, and keep an eye out for pot worms.

When you see them, remove the old leaves and make sure to dry them out before throwing them away.

Will pot worms hurt my plants?

Yes, they can if their population grows too high.

These worms eat the fungus that is vital to healthy plant growth, which can lead to wilting. If that happens, they will completely destroy your plants!

They eat decaying plant matter and their larvae feed on living roots or stems of seedlings.

They don’t do much harm to mature trees but can devastate gardens if left unregulated for too long.

The adult female will lay her eggs inside compost piles or among root systems so she has an easy food source.

Pot worms cause damage by feeding on decaying plant material and may also chew into young stems or leaves which can lead to further problems like rot or dehydration. 

What are the benefits of pot worms?

While pot worms can cause some damage to plants, they also have some benefits.

They help break down organic matter and compost, which is important for the overall health of gardens and plants.

In addition, their presence indicates that the soil is healthy and has a good amount of organic matter in it.

If you are having a difficult time getting your plants to grow, it might be worth checking for pot worms and seeing if their population has gotten out of control.

How did pot worms get in my potted plants?

The most common way pot worms infest potted plants is through contaminated soil. Worms hide in compost piles or among root systems so they have an easy food source for their larvae. 

This makes it very important that you inspect your compost pile before using it on your garden or any other plants!

Pot worms also enter through old pots that haven’t been properly cleaned with bleach, but this is less common than contamination from old soil used in repotting projects since pot worm eggs usually don’t survive long enough outside of their host plant to make this happen.

How to get rid of pot worms in compost

Pot worms are usually attracted to compost piles because they provide a perfect environment for them to live in – it’s humid and there’s plenty of decaying plant matter.

Alter the compost pile environment and make it inhospitable for pot worms:

  • Make the environment more alkaline
  • Make the environment dry

They won’t be able to survive long enough to reproduce!

Make the environment more alkaline

So you want to get rid of pot worms? Make the soil environment more alkaline or basic.

Pot worms thrive in moist, acidic environments because this is where they can find the most food.

They prosper in an acidic environment feeding on rotting organic matter (you’ll want to prevent this).

Try these methods to raise the environment’s pH:

Add in baking soda or lime

Adding baking soda or lime will help your compost pile become more alkaline. 

Adding baking soda or lime will help your compost pile become more alkaline and make it difficult for pot worms to survive.

Remember to always be careful with adding lime to your worm bin. It’s great for reducing acidity, but it’s not a good idea if you have a lot of red worms living in the bin! They die at high pH (alkaline) levels – above 7 is usually fatal to them.

Add eggshells or seashells

Shells contain calcium carbonate, which will make the compost more alkaline.  This is great for your plants, but not so great for pot worms!

Add wood ash

Adding wood ash (remnants of wood after a fire) to your soil will also raise pH.

The reason is that wood ash contains a large amount of calcium carbonate, which is the same thing as lime.  You can also use calcined clay or crushed limestone for the same effect.

Add bone meal

Adding bone meal is also a wonderful way to increase the pH of your soil.

Bone meal contains calcium phosphate, which is the same compound as many of the rocks and minerals that make soil alkaline.

Dry your compost

Moisture is the #1 reason for pot worms!

If you want to get rid of pot worms, you can dry the environment and stem their growth.

Pot worms are not aquatic, but they do need some moisture around their bodies so they can breathe through their skin. If pots worms dry out completely, they will die.

Just like pot worms don’t like acidic conditions, they will go out of their way to avoid dry and hot spots in your compost pile.

If your pile starts getting too moist, try these tips:

Turn the compost pile

Turning the compost pile over regularly will help it dry out. You’ll have to do this more often if your compost pile is too wet. 

If you can, try turning your compost a couple of times a year. This will help break down the organic matter in your compost faster and allow you to use it in your garden long before pot worms get their hands on it!

Use a compost dryer

Compost dryers, also known as compost bins or enclosures, are great for keeping moisture in and keeping pot worms out.

If you don’t want to use an entire bin for this purpose, some people have had success with lining their regular pile with hardware cloth to keep the worms out.

Add drainage holes

Make sure your worm box doesn’t become soggy by adding drainage holes if necessary.  This will help to keep your worm box at the right moisture level.

Add in dry materials such as newspaper, cardboard, or fall leaves

Create a balance between fifty percent “brown” material and fifty percent “green” material. 

Brown material refers to dry-ish matter, so browns can include things like paper, cardboard, or straw.

Green material is moist organic matter – grass clippings, kitchen scraps etc.

The more green material you have in your compost pile, the higher the moisture content will be!

Always remember that both materials are necessary for successful composting, so don’t fully rid of the green material!

Make a raised bed composting bin

If your worm box is inside and it’s too moist due to rainfall or because you added too much food waste, consider making a raised bed.

This way, you can set up your compost box or bin on top of the ground and it will be easier for excess water to drain away and dry out.

Add in high heat material

Adding in some hot materials can help make sure that the compost is evenly dried. Hot materials like hay, dried manure, or composting worms will heat up your pile and dry out the wet spots.

Use a dehydrator

If you need to get rid of pot worms in compost quickly, consider using a dehydrator.

A dehydrator is basically an oven that uses hot air instead of flame to kill pests and bacteria.

Place food waste in the dehydrator instead of your compost pile.

Remove decomposing organic matter

If your compost bin is moist due to decomposing organic matter, you should remove this moist material.

Decomposing organic matter is any material in your compost pile that is in the process of breaking down. It could be anything from dead leaves to food scraps.

Make sure that you add in dry materials to compensate for the decomposing organic matter. Dry materials are necessary for successful compost because they help break down all of the organic material in your bin.

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