Dear Friends, Neighbors, Gardeners, and Fellow Earth Lovers,
We have jumping worms on our farm. They love our organic management, with heavy wood chip mulches and compost based potting soils. There is a good chance that worms or eggs are in the potted trees we sell. They will not be on the bare-root plants or the smaller potted blueberries.
Jumping worms (Amynthas agrestis) are a relatively recent arrival to the Vermont landscape. They look similar to other earthworms but are noticeably firmer, like a tire inflated to a much greater pressure. When picked up they will often thrash and ‘jump’ about, hence the name. No earthworm is native in Vermont. Unlike the other earthworms, the jumping worms stay in the top few inches of the soil. They tend to live and thrive in areas with lots of very fresh organic matter such as piles of leaves, wood chip mulch, piled perennial debris, etc. They are relatively rapid consumers of organic matter. They leave behind loose nutrient rich castings, often compared to coffee grounds. In some cases these castings may be so loose as to wash or erode. Soils protected by mulch can lose their protective cover. This is a problem especially in relatively undisturbed forests with a thick duff layer of decomposing leaves, as this layer helps stabilize soil moisture and harbors many native creatures.
The internet is full of more information on jumping worms. Much of it is terrifying. Common names for the worms include snake worms or crazy asian snake worms reflecting a xenophobia and fear mongering common in discussion of recently introduced and highly successful species (aka invasive species). Sadly, scary sells. Tales of mourning and anxiety over the loss of gardens and landscaping abound. We have not found the presence of jumping worms harmful to our plants and gardens.
We have found snake worms to be fairly common around Vermont, particularly in the yards of gardeners who move plants and soil and pile organic matter to feed the soil. Our gardens, both annual and perennial, have continued to thrive. Mulch in areas where the worm populations are robust does not last as long. My sense is the nutrients in that material are cycling quicker. In the absence of live growing roots, a greater proportion of that nutrient may be lost, otherwise it may be supportive, making nutrients available to actively growing plants. Soil under mulch or decomposing plant matter is left very loose and easy to weed and dig with lots of space for air and moisture to move. We try to keep as much of the soil as possible covered with healthy green plants. We do this because it is a best practice, plants in an organic context feed the soil (as well provide numerous other benefits). With Live green cover the soil will remain well protected despite the work of the worms. The worms hatch late spring from overwintered eggs, once the plant world is in full swing, and then die with the first frosts. In areas without thick layers of decaying organic matter, I do not find jumping worms.
We want to let you know so you can make your own informed choices. If you already have jumping worms in your soil please do not let them become one more wedge between you and the natural world. If you do not want to risk bringing them into an area they are not already, do not take soil with you from our farm. Bare-root plants are a great way to go. If the plant you are looking for is potted we can wash the soil off in early spring or late fall when trees are dormant and ensure they are free of worms or eggs.
Doing our best to do right by the land and bless up the Earth.