Earthworms are a common sign that your garden’s soil is healthy and fertile. But does a lack of worms indicate the opposite?
Your soil might not have worms in it because some soils aren’t earthworm-friendly. For example, dry sandy soils, dense clay soils, and flooded silt soils are often worm-free. However, tilling and amending your garden soil can attract earthworms. You can also order earthworms online.
This article will explore the benefits of having worms in your garden soil and the reasons why your soil may be worm-free. We’ll also address the most effective ways to attract beneficial worms to your garden.
Earthworms Are Crucial to Soil Health
Before we discuss why your soil might not be home to worms, it’s crucial to answer the question, “Is it beneficial to have worms in your soil?”
Generally, the answer to this question is yes. While some types of soilborne worms are dangerous (hookworm and whipworm are examples), most aren’t harmful to humans or animals.
Worms like earthworms and nightcrawlers positively affect the environment, boosting soil quality and plant health. As such, soil rich in earthworms is likely full of life-sustaining nutrients.
So how do earthworms make garden soil more fertile?
Earthworms Turn Decayed Matter Into Compost
One of the essential tasks earthworms accomplish is converting partially-digested organic matter into a fine, nutrient-rich material. This feces (called earthworm castings) is a natural compost, a substance that plants thrive on.
Earthworm castings also tend to contain insect-repelling microorganisms that consume harmful bacteria and viruses in the soil. Additionally, earthworms tunnel through the soil and create openings that produce oxygen pockets.
Earthworms Help Oxygenate the Soil
While semi-regular tilling can help add oxygen to your garden soil, having a healthy population of garden earthworms is a labor-free alternative. These creatures create oxygen pockets as they burrow, and these pockets keep plant roots well-oxygenated.
Though plant stems and leaves benefit from exposure to oxygen, it’s crucial to remember that plant roots also need oxygen to stay healthy. Roots also need access to well-draining soil, since excessively wet conditions can lead to root rot.
Earthworm Tunnels Provide Pathways for Water
In addition to producing all-natural compost and beneficial air pockets, earthworms make tiny pathways that allow rainwater to drain into subsoil layers. These tunnels keep garden soil from flooding, helping to prevent excessive bacteria and fungal growths that can harm plant roots.
How Earthworms Get Into Soil
If you’ve noticed a lack of earthworms in your garden soil, you might wonder, how do earthworms end up in soil in the first place?
The earthworm life cycle is pretty straightforward, as are their movement patterns. Earthworms spend most of their lives beneath the soil surface, within the topsoil layer of the ground.
The earthworms reproduce, creating cocoons that protect developing offspring. When these offspring mature, they break free from this cocoon and begin tunneling through the soil.
These juvenile worms tunnel by consuming the soil ahead of them and passing it through their bodies. This process generates castings full of decomposed organic matter and nutrients.
The average earthworm travels between 27 and 240 feet per hour (8.23-73.15 meters per hour), depending on its size. However, earthworms will only travel into soils rich in decomposing organic matter that are soft enough to consume.
Soil conditions that aren’t ideal for these worms will naturally repel them, resulting in soil void of beneficial garden worms.
Soil Conditions Affect Worm Populations
The type, texture, and moisture levels of your garden soil may be repelling worms. Most beneficial worms prefer loamy soil that’s well-draining.
They thrive in soil rich in pores and decomposing organic matter (humus). So, if your native soil is dry, dense, or constantly flooded with rainwater, it’s not earthworm-friendly.
Dense Soils Aren’t Earthworm-Friendly
Though earthworms can travel significant distances over time, they’re not equipped with strong muscles that help them burrow. Instead, these creatures move by wriggling their bodies and consuming the soil near their mouths.
However, earthworms don’t have teeth, limiting the types of soil they can safely consume and pass.
Think of it like this—if you didn’t have teeth, you’d likely struggle to eat hard, chewy foods. On the other hand, soft foods and liquids would be easy to consume. The same is true for earthworms.
For this reason, dense or sticky soils can repel earthworms. If the worm can’t easily pass the soil material through their bodies, they can’t travel through it. As such, earthworms are rarely found in clay-rich environments or rocky areas.
Dry Soils Can Repel Earthworms
Earthworms must stay moist to survive. Therefore, these worms will be noticeably absent if your native soil is fast-draining and dry.
This is why sandy soils tend to be worm-free (particularly those in coastal areas). However, soils that are too wet can also spell doom for earthworms.
Flooded Soils Can Kill Earthworms
Have you ever noticed a sudden uptick in sidewalk earthworms after heavy rainfall? If so, it’s no coincidence. When soil becomes fully saturated with water, earthworms can begin to suffocate.
Like humans, earthworms need oxygen to survive. This might seem strange, considering that earthworms can live more than 6 feet (1.8+ meters) beneath the soil surface. However, these worms breathe through their skin.
Well-aerated soil that’s full of oxygen-trapping pores keeps earthworms breathing easily. But if this soil floods, they wriggle to the surface to catch their breath. So if your yard is prone to flooding, it might not be suitable for earthworms.
How to Attract Earthworms to Your Garden
If there’s a noticeable absence of earthworms in your garden soil, there are a few ways to turn things around. For example, you can attract earthworms to your yard by tilling the ground or amending the soil.
You can also purchase live worms to kickstart your garden’s beneficial worm population.
Let’s explore each option to discover which might work best for you:
Tilling the Soil Can Attract Earthworms
Soil that’s dense and compacted is unsuitable for earthworms. After all, if they can’t consume the overly-compact native soil, they can’t worm their way into your garden.
Those living in areas with clay soil often run into this problem. Fortunately, tilling the soil can help break up thick clumps of dense dirt, aerating the ground and enriching it with natural humus (rotting leaves, decomposing twigs).
You’ll need to get your hands on a heavy-duty tiller to get started. Since clay soils can be pretty tough, you may want to consider investing in an electric tiller. It’s equipped with angled blades that quickly chop through dense soils, making short work of challenging tilling tasks.
Of course, tilling alone may not bring earthworms to the garden. In some cases, you’ll also want to amend the soil to make it more attractive to beneficial garden worms.
Amending Your Soil May Help
Those living in naturally sandy or clay-rich environments may not see many earthworms wriggling around. Fortunately, you can amend native soil to make it more suitable for earthworms.
The best way to do this depends on your native soil type.
For example, if you live in a coastal area with dry, sandy soil, you’ll want to add clay, silt, and organic compost. These components add moisture and organic matter to the soil, making it attractive to earthworms.
Alternatively, if you live in an area with slow-draining wet soil, you may want to create raised garden beds and fill them with loamy garden soil. A raised bed will allow excess rainwater to drain away, helping to reduce flooding.
If you’ve never created a raised garden bed, you might be unsure how to get started. Fortunately, there are several instructional video guides to help you along.
This YouTube guide is particularly helpful:
While these raised beds might not attract native earthworms to your property, they can become the ideal home for store-bought earthworms.
Earthworms Are Available for Purchase
If tilling and amending your soil doesn’t result in a higher earthworm population, you may want to purchase live earthworms and set them free in your garden! This option is a fantastic way to boost local earthworm populations and naturally improve the quality and fertility of your soil.
Local garden nurseries often have native earthworm species available for sale, so before buying online, contact local garden centers. In addition, some pet and sports stores (particularly those with angling equipment) also sell worms.
If you cannot find worm suppliers in your area, the next best option is to buy worms online.
However, before you pursue this route, you’ll want to take a moment to find out what kinds of earthworms are native to your area. Doing so not only helps prevent the spread of non-native species but also helps ensure that your chosen worms thrive in your local environment.
Once you’ve received your earthworms, you’ll want to spread them across freshly tilled loamy earth or garden soil. Don’t worry—they’ll start burrowing beneath the dirt without help!
Earthworms can enrich your garden soil and help your plants thrive, but your garden soil might lack beneficial earthworms if it’s too dense, too dry, or too wet.
Since earthworms travel by tunneling through loose, damp soils, it’s crucial to consider soil type and drainage when attempting to attract earthworms to your yard.
You can amend and till your garden soil to invite earthworms to move in. You can also purchase earthworms online to expedite the process.