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Earthworms: Friend of Foe of Carolina Lawns?

Carolina homeowners are taking to their lawns as the weather gets warmer, and with that comes the threats from invasive and sometimes painful pests that look to also call your lawn home. Fire ants, beetles, and bees are all looking to carve out their place for the summer months. But what do we make of the common and lowly earthworm? Is this a friend or a foe to Carolina homeowners in our quest for a safe and enjoyable lawn?

earthworm populations can be healthy for your lawn, but regular monitoring is key

Before determining if a healthy lawn consists of a thriving earthworm population, it is important to note some key facts about earthworms.

  • Earthworms have a staggering variety worldwide – over 6,000 different species are known to exist. One of the more common varieties (the type you see in your garden or lawn) is known regionally as the ‘nightcrawler’ as it typically surfaces after dark to prevent being dried up by an overhead sun. They can also regionally be called the ‘angleworm’ (by fishermen) or the ‘rainworm’ as they are seen during rainstorms.

  • In the United States, there are over 180 varieties of earthworm known to exist, with 60 of these being considered an ‘invasive’ species.

  • Earthworms can breathe through their skin as they lack respiratory organs such as lungs.

  • Their skin excretes a lubricating fluid that allows them to better move through the earth.

  • Full-size earthworms can vary in physical size from only a few inches to nearly 10 feet, depending on the species. Such large species are not native to the US but can be found around the tropics. The largest species found in US lawns are usually 14 inches or less.

  • Earthworms play a vital role in the food chain, especially with compost and waste disposal. As they are ‘bottom dwellers, they are often closest to dead and decaying animals and plant life where they thrive.

  • Total eradication of invasive earthworm species is commonly thought to be impossible as any pesticide steps would also eliminate other species.

earthworms lack respiratory organs such as lungs, and must breathe through their skin

Earthworm populations are usually highest in places with moist, loamy soil. They often aren’t present in sandy soils because these dry out very quickly and force worms to either go deeper into the soil where they could die or enter diapause (hibernation) until conditions improve. Sandy soils also have a tendency to be low in organic matter, which leaves worms with nothing to eat. If you want worms to stick around in your garden, adding organic matter in the form of compost or composted manure can help improve soil moisture-holding capacity and provide a food source. Additionally, reducing tillage and mulching can improve the earthworm habitat. Finally, properly fertilizing and liming based on soil test results is beneficial, as worms are more likely to inhabit soils that are slightly acidic to neutral.


Earthworms are often touted as having many beneficial effects on soil quality, so it is natural to wonder whether adding earthworms to the garden is a good idea. Studies of earthworms in agricultural settings have found that earthworm burrows can improve water infiltration and soil aeration, and their castings (excrement) form soil aggregates by combining minerals and organic matter. Earthworm activity can also relieve compaction and make nutrients available to plants.

However, it is possible to have healthy soil without earthworms and, if you have good garden soil, earthworms are likely to show up on their own. Purchasing worms to add to the soil is often not necessary, nor is moving them from one location to another, and such actions can end up causing more harm than good. While earthworms can benefit vegetable beds and compost piles, they can seriously damage natural ecosystems if left uncontrolled and unmonitored.

earthworms are a vital segment of the food chain, especially for birds


A healthy earthworm population in your lawn can yield a natural aeration and fertilization process. Earthworms and worm castings are a natural method of cultivating and improving the soil. They 'eat' soil and thatch in the turf and help to break down other organic material on the surface of the grass. These materials are mixed and digested by the worm and then excreted as a worm cast. In most cases, this happens in the soil, but during the night hours, when the lawn is cool and wet, the worms are active on the surface. In the morning, the evidence of their activity is seen in small mounds scattered on the lawn.

Underneath the lawn, earthworm activity helps to create space for the movement of water, air, and nutrients – the key elements needed for healthy grass plants.

When considering the downsides of a worm population in your lawn consider that worms digest organic material, such as dead grass and leaves that find their way onto your lawn. Unfortunately, they do not differentiate between the organic material you want in your yard and other waste — including toxic chemicals, such as pesticides and fertilizers. Over spraying or overusing such products can harm your worm population and deter them from remaining in your yard. Always check your grass’ reaction to ensure that the products you’re using aren’t too invasive. That way, you’ll control the worm population while also respecting the plants and trees that live nearby it. Here is where the expertise and training of Nelon-Cole technicians are the biggest help.

We know exactly what to apply to help control such populations.

If handled correctly, the benefits of having worms in a yard greatly outweigh the downsides. The rewards of using earthworm castings or seeing your garden flourish are invaluable. But always try to monitor them as they can do damage to your yard if not properly monitored.

Your Nelon-Cole technician, when called out for an inspection, is highly trained in what to look for to diagnose a healthy lawn, as well as the steps to control any rampant infestations that may be causing damage. All this is in addition to how we diagnose and treat the inside of your home as well. Total pest care – like a protective dome over your house. Nelon-Cole is the local name to call.

Call us today at 1-888-7-TheWeb and get a FREE consultation on how we provide total protection for your home and business!


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