Are you spotting tiny white worms in your potted plants now and then? Your plants could be in trouble.
The insects could be anything from pot worms, nematodes, garden centipedes, and maggots to larvae of fungus gnats. They typically feed on the roots and cause stunted growth.
Luckily, there are several effective methods of getting rid of them. This guide discusses some of those methods.
How To Identify White Worms In Plants?
Spotting these little pests can be a real challenge due to their small size. They lay eggs in the soil at the plant’s base, where they hatch into larvae and begin feeding on your plant’s roots.
Typical signs associated with an infestation include:
- Stunted plant growth— caused by your plant roots’ inability to absorb water and nutrients.
- Yellowing or browning of leaves— making your plant susceptible to diseases
- In rare cases, the plant may wilt and die.
Types Of Insects
The following types of worms or insects could infest your plants.
1. Pot Worms
Pot worms are translucent in bodily appearance and resemble earthworms. However, they are significantly larger than the latter.
Like earthworms, pot worms feed on the dead and decaying matter in the soil. Most gardeners link pot worms to high organic content in the soil.
2. Grub Worms
Put simply, grubworms are larvae of various beetle species. They are usually off-white with contrasting orange-brown heads.
Grub worms burrow deep in the soil to find food and attack plant roots.
3. Garden Symphylans (Garden Centipedes)
Garden symphylans have slender and segmented bodies and are closely related to centipedes. They are typically white or cream and measure about one-fourth of an inch.
They are damaging and have a natural inclination to attack young seedlings and new root growth.
4. Fungus Gnats
The white worms in your potting soil could be larvae of fungus gnats. They appear white or cream with contrasting black heads.
Fungus gnats are typically attracted to the moisture and organic content of the soil and can lay up to 200 eggs at once.
When these eggs hatch, an army of hungry worms is ready to destroy your plants. They usually target plant roots and spread deadly pathogens such as Pythium.
The classification “Nematoda” represents several types of roundworms. Some of these organisms are so small that they require a microscope to be seen.
Nematodes can be beneficial and harmful to your plants, depending on the species. The parasitic types cause the most damage.
Prevention And Elimination Tips
Proper maintenance and care is the key to preventing white worm infestation. You want to ensure moderate watering, low organic content, and medium humidity levels.
1. Control Watering
Sufficient watering of your potted plants is quintessential in ensuring their healthy growth. Enough soil moisture creates the right environment for beneficial worms such as red wigglers to aerate your potting mix and help the plants.
However, if you overwater your potted plants, you expose them to root rot. You also provide an open invitation to pests such as pot worms.
These worms thrive in an environment with falling plant debris and too much water.
2. Control Organic Matter
Organic matter is vital for enriching soil fertility; however, too much of it is a recipe for disaster. More organic matter means more food for the worms and an increase in their number.
White worms can only thrive in such an environment causing massive damage to your plants. Add organic matter to your potting mix sparingly for the best results.
Also, do not allow fallen leaves, fruits, and twigs to decompose naturally in the soil. Pick and dispose of them as soon as you see them.
3. Control Humidity Levels
Ideal humidity levels vary for different plants. You should know the specific requirements of your houseplants to avoid exposing them to extreme humidity levels.
A humid environment encourages the multiplication of white worms by facilitating the hatching of their eggs.
How To Get Rid Of The White Worms?
You can eliminate white worms by adopting a range of natural, biological, and chemical remedies. Let’s take a look at each of the options mentioned below.
This section involves using natural substances to get rid of the worms.
1. Remove The Top Soil Layer
The topsoil layer inhabits most of the white worms in an infestation. That’s why removing this layer is vital if you want to eliminate them.
Rake the topsoil using a rake or garden scoop and dispose of the soil safely to prevent further infestation. Ensure to soften the soil by watering before you begin the raking.
Some gardeners prefer to replace the entire potting mix. We advise this option if the infestation is heavy or you don’t see any results.
2. Pick Off The Worms
Given their slow-moving nature, it’s possible to hand-pick the worms and dispose of them. However, if you are creeped out, you can place a suitable bait (preferably a sugary substance) on the topsoil.
When the worms emerge in clusters to feast, pick them along with the bait and dispose of them.
3. Sterilize The Potting Soil
Another option to eliminate the worms is to wash or sterilize your potting mix or soil.
Washing your soil can eliminate a large bunch of worms and their eggs. Use distilled water to avoid introducing other elements into the soil.
Allow the soil to dry under bright light. If it stays wet for longer, you risk introducing fungal infections.
You can also sterilize the potting soil through solarization. This involves covering the soil with layers of plastic and allowing the heat from sunlight to build temperature within the plastic coverings.
The build-up heat will eliminate disease vectors, worms, eggs, and harmful pathogens in the soil. Solarization should take up to 6 hours, with temperatures touching 110 degrees Celsius.
4. Use Diatomaceous Earth
Diatomaceous earth is a natural powder you can use to eliminate the white worms in potted plants. Sprinkle the powder directly on the soil to dry out the worms and destroy them.
5. Use Neem Oil
Neem oil is a natural remedy you can use to bid farewell to the pesky worms. It’s a natural insecticide you can mix with water and spray on the affected plants.
Ideally, you should mix 1-2 teaspoons of Neem oil with a liter of water.
6. Castile Soap
Castile soap is an alternative that works well when mixed with water. It acts as a mild insecticide and helps eliminate the worms.
7. Organic Insecticides
Given that you’re operating indoors, going for organic insecticides is one of the safest and most effective remedies for controlling white worms in your plants. Some options include;
- Chili Pepper Spray – Mix pureed fresh peppers and mild soap and spray it on the foliage.
- Garlic Spray – Add 10-15 garlic cloves, 700ml water, and 30ml liquid soap in a blender. Blend thoroughly and let the solution sit overnight. Strain it through a muslin cloth and spray biweekly on the foliage.
- Vegetable Oil Spray – Mix vegetable oil with mild soap and spray throughout. The solution blocks the pores through which these insects breathe and eliminates them.
This section involves using biological remedies, as highlighted below.
1. Use Beneficial Nematodes
Beneficial nematodes occur in the soil naturally and can be used to feed on a variety of pests, including white worms. You can purchase them from local garden centers and introduce them to the soil through watering.
2. Encourage Natural Predators
You can encourage natural predators such as insects, birds, and burrowing animals to feed on the white worms by attracting them with food and habitation. However, be careful not to overdo it, as it can create a new problem instead of solving one.
The above biological methods may not bear results immediately, but with time and consistency, you’ll begin to notice changes.
Chemical remedies involve using pesticides, insecticides, and other commercial products to eliminate the worms.
A key thing to remember when using chemicals is carefully reading the label instructions.
Insecticides such as pyrethrin and carbaryl have been found handy in getting rid of white worms in potted plants.
Apply either of these insecticides directly on the soil after reading the instructions. However, avoid using them on plants that have reached the flowering stage.
You could also use systemic insecticides (strictly for ornamentals only), which get absorbed by the plant and distributed through its system.
2. Insecticidal Soap
Another effective chemical remedy is insecticidal soap. Apply it thoroughly on your plant— the top and bottom of the leaves, the stems, and the soil surface.
It works by breaking down the pest’s cell membrane.
White worms in your plants could spell doom for them. Luckily there are various preventive and control measures you can take to get rid of them.
The first step is to identify the root cause of the infestation and the type of pest involved. You could then use a slew of natural, biological, and chemical methods to eliminate them. Good luck!
Job Kiniale is a certified crop scientist and gardening enthusiast with a passion to help beginning gardeners navigate their newfound hobby. Let’s talk about plants, backyard ideas, and general gardening advice. Outside work, Job loves spending time with family.