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Are worms in houseplants bad? grub worm living in a plant pot

Are Worms In Houseplants Bad? (Prevention & Treatment!)

If you keep houseplants and you’ve found worms in the soil, you might be concerned, and rightfully so!

In this article, I will tell you exactly how bad worms in the soil can be and also how to avoid unnecessary damage to your plants.

But First, Here’s If Worms In Houseplants Are Actually Bad:

Worms in houseplants aren’t necessarily bad. Species like red wigglers are good for your plants while others like nematodes can be harmful. However, you will rarely see earthworms or red wrigglers in potted plants, so most times, worms or worm-like creatures in houseplants are a bad sign.

Identification is key in understanding if the worms in your houseplants are harmful or are even actual worms. Luckily,  we’ve compiled all the answers you need to know:

How Did Worms Get In Your Houseplants?

The most common way worms get into potted plants is when using outdoor soil, contaminated with larvae or worms. The other way worms get into houseplants soil is when an insect flies through the window and lays its eggs in the houseplant, especially if using non-commercial compost.

Worms can get into your houseplants in a variety of different ways, and it depends on what has actually got into the plant.

If, for example, the worms you are seeing are the larvae of a fly or beetle, it’s possible that the parent flew in through an open window and laid its eggs in the soil of your houseplant.

As a demonstration of this, fungus gnats are small black flies that crawl around on the surface of the soil. These will lay their eggs in the soil, and when the eggs hatch, little white worms come out. These are not friends to your plants, and an infestation needs dealing with.

Some worms will arrive in the potting medium you use. If you buy commercial compost, it is unlikely to have worms in it, but compost from your garden may, especially if it is rich and has only recently decomposed.

You might also transport worms in on other organic matter, such as wood chips or bark.

Plants that have been moved outdoors for a while may have worms crawl up into the pots, and these then get carried indoors when you bring the plant back in.

To sum it up, here are all the ways worms can get into your houseplants:

  1. When you use outdoor soil for your indoor plants, the outdoor soil can be contaminated.
  2. A fly or beetle can fly through the window and lay its eggs in the soil. This is especially common when using non-store bought compost.
  3. If using garden compost, worms can come in the compost.
  4. Worms can be in organic matter like wood chips or bark, which then get passed to your houseplants.
  5. If you leave your houseplant outside for a while, worms can crawl up into it and get transported inside. This is rare and it usually happens with caterpillars.

It might seem bizarre that worms can get into your houseplant’s soil when it is safely inside your home, but there are actually many ways in which they can do this, and it isn’t at all unusual to find worms in your plants.

How To Avoid Worms In Your Houseplants

If you don’t want worms in your houseplants, you might be wondering what you can do.

One simple step is not to put your plants outside; this will prevent the worms from crawling up into the container through the drainage holes at the bottom.

You can also reduce the risk of worms appearing by only using compost purchased from garden centers or nurseries, as sealed commercial compost will not contain any worms. Using this in your pots cuts off another avenue through which worms could get in.

The next thing is to keep your plants away from open windows, reducing the risk of flying insects adding their eggs to the containers.

The further your plant is from a window, the further the insect will have to travel in order to lay its eggs, and the less likely it is to achieve this.

Finally, if you find an infected plant, move it away from all of your other plants.

Many crawling creatures are capable of spreading from pot to pot, and they will move into the rest of the containers too.

This gives you a much more difficult task in getting rid of them, so promptly isolate a plant with worms in its soil.

6 Types Of Worms In Potted Plants

There are many different kinds of worms that you may see, and they vary in how much they should concern you. Red worms, for example, could be a beneficial addition to the container.

Here are all the worm types found in potted plants and how to identify them:

1. Pink Worms or Red Worms

Species: Red Wigglers (Eisenia foetida)

Good or Bad: Good

Red Wigglers are a species of earthworms that are quite common and they like warm, humid environments.

Red Wigglers are pink-reddish color and have a body length of 2-3 inches. One certain way to tell it’s a red wiggler is that the tail (end of their body) is yellowish and less thick than the rest of their body. They also have a segmented body like all earthworms.

Red Wigglers are good for your houseplants because they feed on organic material and turn it into easily digestible nutrients for your plant. They also aerate the soil.

They reproduce very quickly however so they can overpopulate the plant.

2. White Worms

Species: Potworms (Enchytraeids)

Good or Bad: Good

Potworms are also a cousin of earthworms and but they are very tiny and clear white in color. They like the same humid environments.

Potworms look similar to baby Red Wigglers but the latter are usually yellowish and grow quickly, usually displaying pink color in one part of their body.

Potworms are good for houseplants because they also aerate the soil and feed on organic matter, leaving nutrients behind for your plant to feed on.

However, they reproduce very quickly and can easily overwhelm a plant, especially if they are the only species present.

3. Clear Worms

Species: Nematodes (Nematoda)

Good or Bad: Bad (Not always, but better safe than sorry!)

Nematodes are a species of parasitic worms that come in different species. They can feed on many things, some of which feed on plants.

Nematodes have a white color but they are translucid and also very tiny. If you have clear worms that aren’t very tiny, then you are dealing with insect larvae rather than nematodes (which is also bad).

Nematodes that feed on bacteria or fungus don’t harm your plants, but if you have Nematodes that feed on plants then that’s very bad.

Plant eating nematodes will penetrate the roots, feeding on the plant until it overwhelms it.

As a rule of thumb, I recommend you consider nematodes as being bad and remove them quickly using specific nematodes killers.

4. White worms with Brown Head

Species: Grub Worm (insect larvae from many beetle species)

Good or Bad: VERY BAD

Grub worms are the larvae stage of many common beetles and they come in white color with a plump, segmented body.

They are also easily recognisable by the brown head and if you look closely you will see 6 tiny legs at the front of the body. Their tail is also grey.

You can see exactly how a grub worm looks like in the main photo of this article!

Grub worms can get into houseplants when the beetle flies through the window and lay their eggs in the plant.

Grub worms need to be removed immediately, as they feed on the roots of the plant and easily kill it. Once they turn into beetles they will also eat the leaves of the plants.

5. Green Worms

Species: Caterpillars

Good or Bad: Bad 

Caterpillars can come in many shapes and colors but they are usually green. Most commonly, caterpillars get into your houseplants if you leave them outside, so try to avoid moving your plants outside.

Depending on the caterpillar, they will eat the leaves of your plant very quickly, so get rid of them and don’t risk leaving your plants outside.

6. Worms with Tiny Legs

Species: Centipedes or Millipedes

Good or Bad: Bad (although not harmful for the plants)

Millipedes also vary in color, and may be cream, black, gray, or white but they are usually black-brown in color and they are around 1 inch long. If you inspect them closely, you should be able to identify them by their many legs, which show that they are not actually worms.

Their head and tail are rounded and they are harmless to humans or plants, but people will be put off by their appearance.

Centipedes are usually brown in color and look similar to millipedes, but they have bigger legs and antenna looking appendixes in their head and tail.

Centipedes get much bigger and can be dangerous. They don’t harm plants, but they are predatory insects and can have a very painful bite. Thankfully they are a rare find in plants.

Both centipedes and millipedes don’t harm plants, but they aren’t something you should have around your houseplants or house for that matter.

So, there are many worm types you can find in your plants.

It is unusual to see a standard garden earthworm in your plant pots, because these usually live several meters down and just come to the surface from time to time.

However, any of these other worms might be found in a container at times.

Keep in mind baby worms may come in a few different colors, including white, so it is possible that you have earthworms or red wigglers in your plant pot, even if they aren’t yet red.

How Do You Get Rid Of Worms In Your Houseplants?

The most effective way to get rid of worms in your houseplant is to use some of the many chemical agents available for purchase specifically designed to kill insect life in the soil. 

This may be necessary if you have a worm that is damaging the plant, such as the fungus gnat larvae, which will eat the plants’ roots.

Determining what kind of worms are in the container may help you out, because it will let you choose the right chemical. For example, if you have nematodes, consider a nematocide.

If you would rather not use chemicals on the plant, there are a few other techniques that you can try, although you might have to be more patient and hands-on for these to work.

Getting Rid Of The Worms In Your Plants Naturally

Firstly, make the environment uncomfortable for the worms without damaging your plant, by flooding the soil or drying it out.

Worms cannot survive in very wet or very dry conditions, so they will have to leave or die. However, you must make sure the plant then dries out or gets watered again, or it will die too.

If that doesn’t appeal, try repotting your plant and removing all of the old growing medium. If the worms are living in the growing medium, they will be removed.

However, you will need to be quite thorough if you want this to work, especially if the worms are very tiny and threaded throughout the roots.

Wash the roots to remove all of the soil and the creepy crawlies, and then thoroughly wash the container, or get a new container.

Repot your plant, and discard the old soil onto a compost heap so it can be taken back into nature.

Finally, you may be able to introduce natural predators, but for this, you will have to correctly identify the kind of worm that you have, and the predator that will eat it.

Often, it’s hard to use a natural predator in indoor conditions, but if you can place the pot outside for a while, this may work.

Frogs, birds, and praying mantis will all help to take care of worm infestations.

Do Worms Help Your Plants Grow Faster?

Yes, worms will help your plants grow faster, but only earthworms or red wigglers will. They help plants grow faster because they aerate the soil and produce nutrients that the plants can easily feed on.

Earthworms and red wigglers can be helpful in a plant pot because they digest organic matter and produce fertilizer for the plants. They also create tunnels, and these help to reduce soil compaction. This allows more oxygen to get at the roots, and makes the plants healthier.

In some cases, worms are not a problem, and you don’t actually need to remove them – they may be helping your plant instead of hurting it!

That is why it’s important to spend some time identifying the worm before you decide what to do about it.

People sometimes add earthworms to their plant pots, but they have some disadvantages too.

If you have a lot of earthworms, they will run short of organic matter to eat inside the pot, and they will then start to eat the plant’s roots.

Can You Put Worms In Your Houseplant?

If you’d like to help with the soil aeration, you can put some worms in your houseplant’s soil if you want to. However, it is advisable to also add some organic matter to the pot from time to time to keep the worms fed.

You can bury small amounts of fruit or vegetables a little below the soil’s surface.

Red wiggles are usually the best worms to add to your potted plant, as these worms are keen composters.

You should occasionally empty out the pot and check how many worms are in there to make sure the plant isn’t getting overrun with worms.

Which Houseplants Could Benefit From Worms?

Any houseplants can benefit from having worms in their containers, but on the whole, only houseplants that enjoy wet conditions will be able to share their containers with worms.

Here are some houseplants that could benefit from having worms in their pot:

  • Spider plant
  • Pothos
  • Ferns
  • Philodendron
  • Cast Iron plant

This is because worms like damp conditions, and they will not cope in soil that gets dried out on a regular basis. If your plant is fond of marshy, wet places, it will be easier to keep worms alive in its container.

To avoid overcrowding is also best if the houseplant lives in a big pot, here’s a great list of plants that enjoy living in big pots.

Final Thoughts

Don’t panic if you find worms in your houseplants. This is not uncommon, and it is not necessarily dangerous.

Spend some time identifying the worms so that you know if they are dangerous or not, and then you can decide whether to try and flood or dry them out, or use a treatment on them.

Often, you can just ignore worms in a plant pot unless your plant is looking sick.

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