Don't worry about worms -- they're very good for your soil

Backyard Q&A

April 24, 2005|By Jon Traunfeld and Ellen Nibali | Jon Traunfeld and Ellen Nibali,Special to the Sun

I have worms in my yard and would like to get rid of them. In the spring, when it's wet, they churn up the surface and make the ground soft, though the grass does grow. I have tried all kinds of chemicals at different times (diazinon, sevin, malathion), but nothing works. I thought about tearing up the yard and putting in new topsoil, but if I don't dig deep enough, I'm afraid they'll still be in the ground. Is there anything that will kill them?

Earthworms are unique benefactors of soil, moving nutrients up to where they are available to plants, breaking down compounds and aerating. They indicate healthy soil. Under no circumstances can we recommend that a pesticide be used to kill earthworms, and, in fact, none is labeled for this. Applying insecticides to your soil also harms the many tiny organisms that keep your soil healthy.

You may have an unusually high population of a particular earthworm species. Mother Nature has a way of balancing things out eventually. Earthworm predators and diseases will increase in response to high earthworm populations, and in time you should see fewer worms on the soil surface.

I would appreciate any tips on transplanting and splitting water lilies.

Spring is the best time to divide water lilies. Work on a plastic sheet in the shade. Turn the container upside down and empty the contents gently, so as not to break any of the growing points emerging on the soil surface. Wash off the roots and study the growing points before dividing. With a clean, sharp knife, cut the rhizomes into 3- to 6-inch sections each with a healthy crown or growing point. Replant. Check our online publication, "Basics of Planting Aquatic Plants."

Moss is taking over my lawn. What can I do to stop it from spreading?

Five conditions favor moss: acid soil, compacted soil, low fertility soil, too much shade and too much moisture. Moss can grow in lawns or ornamental beds, sun or shade. It is not capable of killing grass, per se, but rather indicates basic conditions need to be corrected to favor grass over moss. First, determine what is encouraging it. Test your soil for pH and fertility, then follow recommendations for liming (which lessens acidity) and fertilization. If the problem is wet soil, you'll need to improve drainage. You may also want to aerate compacted area (fall is the best time.) If possible, increase sunlight by pruning out low-lying tree branches. Before reseeding with a shade-tolerant grass, such as fine fescue, moss can be simply raked off. And if you simply don't have enough sunlight to grow grass, moss itself can be a highly desirable, velvety groundcover.

Checklist

1. Start cucumber, muskmelon, watermelon and squash seeds indoors to have plants ready by mid-May.

2. Avoid the temptation to spray aphids feeding on garden plants. Predators and parasites usually provide effective control.

3. Bring your compost pile back to life by turning the pile and incorporating green materials such as grass clippings or a soluble nitrogen source.

Jon Traunfeld, regional specialist, and Ellen Nibali, horticulture consultant, work at the University of Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center. The center offers Maryland residents free gardening information and answers to plant and pest questions. Call its hot line at 800-342-2507 (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m.-1 p.m.) or e-mail questions to www.hgic.umd. edu. (You can also download or order publications and diagnose plant problems online.)

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