Jumping worms, a not-so-nice pest that arrived in the United States in the 1920s as fishing bait and as hitchhikers on imported plants and soils, have vaulted into gardens and nurseries up and down the Willamette Valley corridor.
Unlike beneficial earthworms and nightcrawlers that burrow deep tunnels in the soil, aerating and releasing nutrients as they go, jumping worms stay in the debris on top and eat two to three times the amount of leaf litter as the other worms, according to Sam Chan, Oregon State University Sea Grant Extension watershed health and aquatic invasive species specialist.
Jumping worms have been outlawed in many states, but not all, and can still be found online for fishing. Chan advises to be careful not to purchase jumping worms, also known as a crazy worm, Asian jumping worm and snake worm, and to spread the word about their danger. Many people – even those who sell them – aren’t aware of their invasiveness.
“Jumping worms are probably here to stay,” Chan said. “We want to minimize their spread. You won’t want them to get established in your garden. I sure don’t want them in my garden. Escaped worms, releasing leftover bait worms and unknowingly spreading them through plant materials and soils can have serious negative impacts to native and planted landscapes.”
Nurseries are being careful, but it’s still a good practice to inspect the soil for cocoons when you transplant. If you find jumping worms in your garden, they will probably be in pockets rather than the whole garden. Brush off your shoes and equipment when you move from place to place in an effort to keep them from spreading. If they are in contained spaces, you can spread plastic to heat the soil. Once it reaches 104 degrees F, the cocoons die.
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