Aside from being tried-and-true fishing baits, environmental scientist and pro bass angler Grae Buck is quick to point out the benefits of worms in garden soil and your backyard. “Just think of these squirmy invertebrates as free expert gardeners with a soil science degree,” he says.
Why Are Worms Good For Soil
Simply put, Buck notes that earthworms help to create and improve soil quality—as well as improve soil fertility—needed to grow healthy plants. Here’s specifically how they accomplish both tasks:
- Professional Decomposers: Earthworms break down organic matter such as leaves and dead/decaying plant materials, deriving their nutrients from bacteria and fungi that live on organic matter in the soil. Through this decomposition, earthworms cycle nutrients into the soil from the organic matter, and provide fertilizer through digesting and eliminating castings (worm excrement).
- Expert Aerators: Earthworms spend their days burrowing in the soil, creating many benefits to plants and the soil structure as a result of their tunneling habits. For starters, this reduces compaction, which in turn leads to better drainage plant root health. (Roots take in oxygen, which is made more available when the soil is loosened and aerated. This aerated soil also increases the porosity, meaning the voids through which air and water infiltrate into the soil. Plants love moisture—but also proper drainage. Aerated soil supports both. Earthworms also support healthy soil microbe populations, which are crucial for healthy plant growth. The decomposed organic matter supports healthy populations of soil microbes which, in turn, help to cycle nutrients, making nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium more available for plant uptake through roots.)
How to Attract Worms to Your Garden Soil
Here are things Buck says you can do to entice earthworms to take up shop in your backyard:
- Reduce chemical usage in your gardens. Pesticides and herbicides can be detrimental to the overall health of earthworms and soil microbes. So, opt for organic methods to control pests and weeds, or integrated pest management strategies instead of chemicals as your first line of defense.
- Plant cover crops (a living crop planted in fall to provide green cover over winter), or leave plant residue in your gardens over winter to provide habitat, food, and organic matter for earthworms year-round.
- Supply compost to your garden annually—particularly raised bed gardens. Increasing organic matter provides nutrients, habitat and improved soil structure, each of which supports earthworms and soil microbes.
- Earthworms do a great job of building and maintaining soil structure, so avoid routine soil disruption. (Plowing or hand-turning decreases available soil residue earthworms require, and decreases soil microbe populations earthworms consume.)
Earthworms are vital for healthy soil. Follow the steps above to support them, and you’re sure to be rewarded with better vegetable yields, healthier flowers and trees and greener lawns!
More on the benefits of worms: https://www.nrcs.usda.gov/wps/portal/nrcs/detailfull/soils/health/biology/?cid=nrcs142p2_053863