A while ago a reader contacted us about her tomato plants. We are sorry for the delay, but hope our response will be helpful to her and other vegetable gardeners out there.
She told us that she grew tomatoes in a spot that was previously inhabited by bushes. When digging up the stumps of these bushes that were rotting away, she found a lot of ½-1 inch, white, thin worms. She thought that these worms might be a result of the decomposition and acid of rotted tomatoes from the previous year. She wondered if it is safe to plant tomatoes again where these little critters are living in the soil. Finally, she asks if there is a method to removing these worms.
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She didn’t include a picture, but we will try to give her some solid answers regardless.
Our first thought was that these could be tomato pinworms. Tomato pinworm adults are brown moths, and they lay eggs in host plant foliage. They can be extremely destructive to crops, and are usually reported in agricultural areas of North and Central America. However, tomato pinworm larvae do not fit the description that our reader supplied. Therefore we will rule this out as an option.
After digging a little deeper (pun intended), we think she may have found pot worms. These small white worms are often found in compost bins because they thrive in conditions of low pH and high moisture. They feed on organic matter, bacteria, and fungi, all of which are also associated with compost piles. These worms are harmless to humans, but they might feed on new tomato plants.
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Since these worms are most commonly discovered in compost bins, we do not know their effect on developing plants. Some people who find these worms in their compost bins choose to get rid of them for the sake of their designated composting worms, but others let both live in the bin. Our reader can try some home remedies to reduce the number of pot worms in her soil, but she should know these are methods often used for bins, not free soil.
These remedies either focus on reducing moisture or raising pH levels to deter the worms. To reduce moisture, she can add dry bedding to her soil. There are several ways to increase pH levels. One option is adding calcium carbonate to the soil, or adding eggshells (which are a natural source of calcium carbonate). We hope our reader can figure out a successful way to plant healthy tomatoes despite the appearance of these worms.
In summary, a reader asked us about some thin white worms she found in the soil where her old tomato plants were. At first we thought these might be tomato pinworms, but later landed on pot worms.