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Gardening with Laurie: Earthworms are a gardener's friend

By By Laurie Garretson
March 1, 2012 at midnight
Updated Feb. 29, 2012 at 9:01 p.m.


As a rule, gardeners usually don't like finding worms in their landscape. But occasionally, there is an exception to this rule. One worm every landscape needs is the earthworm. You can never have too many of these great little creatures.

Do you remember when there was a time when anybody could walk out in their yard, dig a small hole and see several earthworms there in the dirt? I do.

When I was young, there were earthworms everywhere in our landscape's soil. Of course, at that time, these where nothing more than a simple little worm to me. Fast forward a few decades, and now I realize their importance.

Unfortunately, many gardeners today do not understand the importance of having earthworms in the soil. In fact, often, I have people ask me how to get rid of them, which I would never recommend.

Earthworms have a gizzard like a chicken that actually grinds up soil and organic matter. As earthworms move through soil, consuming the soil and organic matter, they create burrows which then allows air and moisture to penetrate through the soil more easily.

All this action then provides better drainage and makes it easier for roots to grow deeper. It's essential for air to easily penetrate soils for all root development.

The mucus from an earthworm's skin aids in the formation of soil aggregates. Soil aggregates are tiny clumps of soil particles. Many of these soil particles fit closely together, and some do not. This then creates spaces of varying sizes within the soil.

These spaces that are within and between the aggregates are very important for storing microbes, nutrients, organic matter, as well as air and water. Soils like this are more stable and less susceptible to erosion problems. During this time of drought, earthworms can greatly increase the soil's water-holding capacity.

As if all these wonderful benefits that the earthworm provides us with were not enough, there's more.

Earthworms also provide us with their excrement, which is known as castings. Earthworm castings provide a time-released supply of all three of the primary nutrients plants require, nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium.

In addition, they supply many of the necessary trace elements, micronutrients, beneficial bacteria and enzymes. All of these benefits help in the control of plant diseases and insect problems.

The live beneficial organisms in earthworm castings pull nutrients from the air, such as carbon, sulfur and nitrogen, and makes them available to our plants. Castings also balance the pH of the soil, rejuvenate worn out soils, reduce transplant shock for new plants and increases plant growth and crop yields.

Hope this information helps you to look at the little earthworm in a new light, not just as something you put on the end of a fishing pole. Earthworms can be added to your gardens at any time of the year. When buying casting, look for 100 percent castings. Many cheaper products are castings added to compost or potting soil. These are soil amendments and are lacking in the nutritional value of the pure earthworm castings.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to laurie@vicad.com or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.

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