It is a common assumption that worms — in general — are harmful to both humans and pets, which is why we are quick to squirm and keep away or even kill any worm that crosses our path.
Earthworms are generally harmless to humans and animals alike. They will likely thrive in composting bins and the outdoors because there’s much more available to them, rather than being added to indoor/potted plants.
So earthworms in potted plants won’t really be of much help to your potted plants.
Differentiate good worms from harmful ones.
Despite their (usually) slimey appearances, the worms you’ll encounter in your life are pretty much harmless to you and your pets.
Harmful worms are most likely parasitic, which is the most common way even just a tiny worm can harm us. Some worms diet on strict plants and won’t pose harm on us per se, but they may do significant damage to your plants.
Nematodes, sometimes referred to as roundworms, are one of the most common types of harmful worms.
Most species are typically small and slender in appearance, some have a somewhat pear-shaped appearance, but most of them are microscopic, meaning they are invisible to the naked eye.
They stir up quite a long list of problems in your plants. According to Good House Keeping, this includes: root knots/galls, excessive root branching, injured roots, leaf galls, and lesions, and even twisted and distorted leaves.
Different types of nematodes feed on leaves alone, while some burrow into the soil and attack the roots. Other species also attack foliage and flowers.
They thrive mostly beneath the soil or above ground, but some can even swim in water! Moist soil also helps them multiply, so make sure your soil is well-drained.
But not all nematodes are harmful, a fraction of them actually break down organic matter, which makes them incredibly beneficial to compost piles.
Flatworms are another type of worm with species that are both harmful and beneficial. A good amount of them are parasitic, tapeworm being the most common. They’re usually found in the digestive tract of animals and can grow up to 65 feet long.
Bristle worms and similar hairy caterpillars on land may cause skin irritations and pain when touched.
Insect larvae are also considered a type of worm that can be destructive to crops and organic gardens.
And then there are the good worms, those that are vital to the ecosystem in many different ways. They help create a better aerobic flow and pathways in the soil that help our plants access food, oxygen, and water.
They play a huge role in the reconstruction and cultivation of the soil and make up a significant part of the network that helps to break down waste and turn them into nutrients.
Where do earthworms come in, what are their benefits?
As previously mentioned, earthworms have a lot of misconceptions surrounding them. Let’s discuss this.
Everyone assumes that all earthworms are the same. This is false. There are over 3000 species of earthworms around the whole world, and they are classified into three main groups: anecic, endogeic, and epigeic.
Anecic earthworms are known as deep-burrowing earthworms. They move vertically making burrows in the soil, but come to the surface during the night time to feed on soil and leaves. Typically red or brown in appearance, they are among the largest species of earthworms.
Endogeic earthworms are known as surface-dwelling earthworms. They move horizontally in the soil to move and feed. They are often pale in color, in variations of grey, pink, green and even blue.
Epigeic earthworms are known as organic matter-feeding earthworms. They are likely to be found and thrive in compost and other areas that may contain rotting vegetation. They are more drawn to warm and moist environments.
Not only do they help break down compost, but they also consume contaminants from the soil. Bright red in appearance, you may know them as “red wigglers” or “redworms”. They also contain many more segments on their bodies and are often referred to as “tiger worms”.
Most earthworms tunnel the soil, loosening it so that oxygen, water, and good bacteria can make their way into the roots of the plants. The looser the soil, the more access roots have to their food and water sources which means the healthier the plants.
Earthworms consume organic matter excrete them as something called castings. They are proven to be great fertilizer because of the nutrients they provide to plants.
Some earthworms, however, eat anything in their path. That means healthy fungi, invertebrate, healthy bacteria, leaves, algae, moss, and other microorganisms and nutrients that the soil needs.
These worms may benefit our yards and gardens, but some ecologists consider them as destructive in forest because they consume much of the lush carpet on forest floors, turning forest soil from rich in fungi to rich in bacteria. This robs forests of many organic nutrients.
Is it okay to put earthworms in potted plants?
You will find a worm or two in your potted plants if they were once outdoor plants that you brough indoors. But putting your own set of worms in a plant will not benefit them at all.
One or two worms will not be an issue, but if they multiply, there will not be enough soil for them to burrow in and eat, which may likely cause them to make their way out of your pot to find another food source.
Earthworms are non-selective and will eat both living and dead matter, which means they can and will eat your plant’s roots, especially if there’s not much else for them to feast on, like organic material.
This will negatively affect the overall growth of your plant.
Earthworms aerate the soil, which is a good thing. But despite the many benefits that earthworms can give us, it’s best to keep them outside, where there is a huge amount of living and dead matter for them to consume.
Potted plants don’t exactly make for the best environment for earthworms, and are more likely to stunt or devoid your plant of any growth.