How to Grow: Controlling Jumping or Snake Worms

Cornell Cooperative Extension- Warren County

Jumping worms or snake worms are a relatively new pest in gardens in the Southeast, Northeast, Midwest and some Northwestern states. This earthworm is one of three species from Asia that has invaded our soils in the last 10 years or so. Unlike the European earthworm that has been in our soils for hundreds of years and adapted to our ecosystems, the Asian jumping worm is more of a problem. The Asian jumping worm has a bigger appetite for organic matter in soils, reproduces faster and more abundantly and is able to survive as tiny cocoons in the soil each year. Forest soils that have been invaded by jumping worms have little organic material for seeds and seedlings to grow, so they create a desert of foliage on the forest floor. This is detrimental not only to plants, but the wildlife that depends of plants as well. In the garden, Asian jumping worms also eat lots of organic matter and turn the soil into a coffee ground consistency. This makes it hard for seeds to grow well.

You can distinguish between European and Asian worms by their appearance. Asian jumping worms are very rigid and wiggly and have a milky white band (clitellum) around their body that is flush with the rest of their body. The European earthworm is more sluggish and the band is pink and often raised a little above the body. Asian jumping worms are found on the upper surface of the soil and in mulch, while European worms tend to dig deeper into the soil.

You can tell if you have the Asian jumping worm in your soil by looking for the coffee ground-like soil on the surface and flushing the soil with a mixture of water and ground, yellow mustard seed. Mix 1 gallon of water with 1/3 cup of ground mustard seed and pour it on the soil. The jumping worms will come to the surface.

There are no sure fire controls for the jumping worm at this time. Hand picking the jumping worms when you find them and placing them in a plastic bag on a driveway to bake is the best way to control them. You can’t control the cocoons because they are too small to distinguish from the soil particles. To prevent the jumping worms from spreading to other gardens, wash off the soil of any plant your received from friends, family or from nurseries that might have the jumping worms before you bring the plant into your yard.

Researchers are experimenting with other methods using beneficial nematodes, biochar and tea tree seed meal as ways of controlling the jumping worms. Here are some websites that might help.

Cornell Cooperative Extension

Wisconsin Horticulture