How to prevent invasive jumping worms from ruining your garden –

As home gardeners are cleaning up their spring flower beds and vegetable patches, they might notice signs of a relatively new invasive species that’s made its way across Pennsylvania. Though Asian jumping worms (Amynthas agrestis) aren’t that well known yet, the damage they cause could last for years.
About seven years ago, Nancy Knauss first spotted them in her yard in Pittsburgh. They didn’t look like common European earthworms. 
“They just writhe around and jump and I’m thinking, ‘there’s so many of them, these are different,’ ” Knauss said. 
Knauss is the statewide master gardener coordinator for Penn State Extension, so she knows her worms. These were large, behaved like snakes, and were close to the surface. She admitted to being a little creeped out by them. 
Knauss did a little research and discovered that the invasive species could cause headaches for gardeners.
“The jumping worms actually degrade the soil,” Knauss said. “Your soil texture will change. It’s very granular, and people often compare it to coffee grounds.”
She said adult worms can eat anywhere from two to three times their body weight in soil every day. Those coffee grounds are the castings the worms excrete. When it rains, the castings and the nutrients they contain are washed away too quickly for surrounding plants to soak them up. The soil can become depleted of nutrients.
Knauss said bare soil left by the worms could lead to other invasive species in gardens, like Japanese knotweed and stiltgrass. She said researchers are looking into how degraded soil from jumping worms could impact the germination of maple seedlings, which rely on that upper layer of soil. The worms can even damage turfgrass.
Knauss has some advice on how to ID the worms and prevent their spread:
Adult jumping worms are annual, dying off in the winter. The cocoons overwinter in the soil. In April, when temperatures consistently reach 50 degrees F, they hatch. 
“They are so fertile so they don’t need a partner to produce cocoons,” Knauss said. “So one adult worm can produce up to 60 cocoons. Each cocoon can have one to two eggs. She said the cocoons are tiny, like mustard seeds. 

Kara Holsopple likes to tell environmental stories that surprise listeners, and connect them to people and places nearby, and in the wider world. Kara is a lifelong resident of southwestern Pennsylvania, except for her undergraduate years at Sarah Lawrence College. She earned a masters degree in professional writing from Chatham University, and has been a features writer for regional magazines. Kara got her start in radio working with Pittsburgh Indymedia’s Rustbelt Radio. She produced « The Allegheny Front Rewind » series, celebrating the show’s 20th anniversary, and her work has been heard on The Environment Report, Inside Appalachia and Here & Now. One summer she read all of Agatha Christie’s Miss Marple & Poirot detective novels.
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