red worms

My wife has an area in a flower bed (which also under a willow oak) that the soil is very disturbed (spongy) and it is full of thin red worms (too thin to put on a fish hook) that are aprox two inches long. This situation has gone on for 4 or 5 years and the effected area is aprox 4X4 ft. She mulches her beds (lots of Hostas) and when she mulches this area the mulch just disappears in a short time. What's going on and how do we stop it? RM~
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Rob Mills wrote:

Why do you want to stop it? Worms are good for the garden.
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Travis in Shoreline (just North of Seattle) Washington
USDA Zone 8
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Can't walk in the area with out sinking up to your knees, mulch disappears and some plants disappear. Large concrete bird bath tipped and broke. The area seems to be getting larger every year. RM~
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Check for a subsurface cause, e.g. plugged tile bed or broken sewer or main water supply line.
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Don Phillipson
Carlsbad Springs
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Now that's food for thought. We live on a small lake (aprox 8 or 10 acres) and about 4 or 5 ft from the effected area is an under ground 18 inch street drain pipe that runs from the street back along our property line to the lake which is probably 20 ft from the effected area. The line stays dry except when it rains. I see raccoons go into that street drain every now and then, wonder if maybe they could have a den in there that's causing the problem? They could go to the lake end of the pipe, catch a fish and take it back to the den and cause organic waste.
Thanks for the tip, RM~
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Could also just be the worms. I recently saw a news article on worms, tossed out into the woods By fishermen in a lake district, having a negative effect on the enviornment. All the local flora & fauna is keyed to grow, nest & thrive in dry duff & leaf mould. The worms were eating this up & leaving behind rich wormcastings, exactly the wrong kind of soil for the local plants & animals. As to how to get rid of them.... No clue, I can't imagine there's a poison on the market that would take out the worms without hurting your plants.... Mabey a beneficial predator could be imported to that spot? Good luck!
Mathew
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NPR ran a story about that some time ago. If I recall, the biologist they interviewed said that various species of worms belonged in fairly small areas, and when they were redistributed, they wreaked havoc. This we get a huge proportion of worms (as bait) from Canada, this is exactly the wrong kind of redistribution. She suggested that fishermen just dump their worms in the water, or keep them for the next fishing trip. Easy to convince fishermen to keep them. Not so easy to convince spouses sometimes. :-)
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The invasive red worm or tiger worms are often used in shit composts because one of the few worms that can reproduce in pure poo, but also used as bait worms though fish don't really like their yellow-toxin-exuding flavor. They are also semi-aquatic &amp in muddy shallows of rivers, lakes, or swamplands, & can reproduce to the point that turning over a shovel of shallows mud uncovers a thick mass of pure worms. Dumping these in the lakes doesn't take care of the problem.
Introduced European earthworms have indeed done terrible damage to North American woodland areas because thew orms pull the leaf-litter underground. In the garden this is great as they are churning & mixing the soil to suit the widest percentage of cultivars. but many native plants thrive only where plant matter rots slowly with maximum beneficial fungus & lots of surface leaf mold. The more sensitive undergrown just dies out entirely once worms are introduced, while many invasive European plants which evolved along with those worms do great, &amp proceed to crowd out still more native species. As a result, in some forests today, the majority of undergrowth are introduced species. Here's a repost of my old commentary on the harmfulness of earthworms:
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We tend to think of the doings of worms as 100% good. But the worm's leaf-snatching activity is not invariably a good thing. Most of the worms in our landscapes are invasive species that did not exist in North America before the arrival of Europeans, & native plants don't always cohabit with these worms successfully. In many forested areas none of these worms are found, if fishermen never introduced them, & in such truly "natural" North American wildernesses the undergrowth can be very different than what is found growing where European worms have gotten established.
THere are a large number of native plants that evolved to thrive in decaying leafmatter as it accumulates on the surface of the ground, such as trilliums. Some of the worms burrow very deeply, & pull leaves & beneficial fungus lower than small plants' roots will ever reach; furthermore, by eating up all the beneficial fungus in a given area, even shrubs & trees can begin to languish, because trees & shrubs cannot process their nutrients without beneficial fungus in the soil to assist in sugar conversion, plus the beneficial fungus that worms turn to worm-castings or pull too deep into the soil are pathogen-retardants & when the healthy fungus is all eaten up or dragged too deep, the entire ecosystem of that area becomes more susceptible to disease. Furthermore, a layer of leaflitter in a forest serves as the forest's "skin," & without it invasive plant species that did not evolve for leaflittered forest floors get established & crowd out native plants. For all these reasons which begin with the introduction of alien worms, the most sensitive native plant species are dying out of some regions because of the rising population of invasive worms.
Here's a fine introductory article on the bad worms can do as they remove decaying leaves & funguses from the ecosystem: http://www.wvnps.org/earthworm s.html
In the garden this does not necessarily apply as many of our plants come from the same regions where the worms originate & are adapted to them, & we tend to ammend soils in our gardens with manure topcoatings or other organic methods that keep the microorgism population, including beneficial fungus, very high. Even our habit of watering regularly keeps micropopulations at maximum. And folks such as myself who grow dogtooth lilies & trilliums & native ferns which evolved in heavy leaflitter uneaten by worms, we can make the extra effort to insure that autumn leaves are moved to places around these plants.
But in the nearby woods the worms have proved harmful. Forest ecology tends to be stable, or changes from type of forest to another over a period of centuries, unlike a dynamic garden that changes rapidly. The doings of worms in the garden fascilitates rapid growth & rapid changes, but in the wilderness the same worms hamper stability & slow change.
-paghat the ratgirl
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I never dreamed that getting rid of some worms could be such an ordeal but while having dinner tonight a light bulb came on in my head. When I was in a Jr High shop class in the mid 40's I did a project called a worm digger. It consisted of two 30 inch steel rods with turned wood handles on one end, each rod had one leg of a 120 volt ac line fastened to it. To operate it you inserted each rod in the ground (about 24 in apart) as far as you could get them and then (you guessed it) you plugged them in and the worms started surfacing to the ground. I didn't get a whole lot of worms to come up then but then I didn't have a massive worm bed to work with either. If it works I'll have a lot of happy fish. RM~
PS, This is "very dangerous" (no jr high shop teacher would get away with this today) so don't try it unless you are very comfortable working with electricity.
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