Night crawlers do more good than harm

My lawns are a mess due to excessive night crawlers. Is there a method I could use to at least discourage them if not rid my lawn of these worms? I think they are night crawlers as they leave little hills of mud, causing my lawn to be bumpy.

I understand that they are good for the soil, but too many cause an unsightly lawn. Do you have a suggestion to help with this problem?

— Gloria

Though they can be aggravating, night crawlers are really quite beneficial to the lawn. Think of them as nature’s rototillers. They feed on the thatch layer that can form beneath the turf, and they mix the thatch and subsoil as they do their burrowing.

The net result is that they improve aeration, water percolation, soil fertility and soil structure. Night crawlers also reduce thatch levels that otherwise inhibit the penetration of adequate oxygen, water and fertilizer. This is very good for the lawn though it can be kind of hard on the people who walk on it or try to mow it.

As far as I know, there is no chemical registered for controlling night crawlers. I’ve heard of reports that treating the lawn with Sevin will take care of about one third of the night crawler population. The problem with this is that it kills all the other beneficial insects in the soil plus the night crawlers.

About the only thing I can recommend is to core aerate now or power rake this fall or early next spring and then go over the lawn with a water filled roller. This will help minimize the piles of dirt that accumulate from their feeding activity. Doing these things helps but doesn’t eliminate the problem. You’ll probably have to do it several times to keep the piles down. They are mostly active in the spring and the fall, so hopefully, as we get into hot weather, they should start to disappear.

Be a little careful about over-using a lawn roller, as you can start to compact the soil, which can lead to lots of other problems.

Another thing you could try is to keep the soil in the lawn a little drier. Drier soil is a less desirable environment for night crawlers.

One trick that I’ve heard is to mix some dish soap in a bucket of water and apply it to the area where the night crawlers are active. The soap is irritating to them and they will quickly emerge from the soil where you can collect them and move them somewhere else.

I recently planted a basil plant in a pot on my front porch, and it seems some kind of bug is eating it. Something is chewing it down to the stem. I had this same problem when I planted the basil in my garden. There don’t seem to be bite marks, more like it has melted away. Any tips would be wonderful. I miss having fresh basil.

— Katie

There are a number of things that might be going on here. There are several critters that feed on basil leaves, but two common ones. The first one is a small caterpillar. They usually don’t take the whole leaf quickly. They may eat it all but it takes several days or even a week or more. They also usually leave a calling card of small black pellets that are their droppings.

The second one are slugs. They can consume entire leaves overnight but they will usually leave slime trails on the remaining parts of the plant. Slugs would probably be my first guess as to what’s giving you trouble. You can sprinkle out a slug and snail product called Sluggo to take care of them. It’s safe to use around edibles such as basil.

The last possibility I’ve seen occasionally is that the leaves are actually rotting away from a disease organism. If the plant is in a humid, moist environment (like if it’s squeezed in between other plants) there are disease organisms that will actually take entire leaves overnight. This can easily be corrected by modifying the environment so that the foliage is exposed to our naturally dry air. Ensuring good air circulation will always take care of this problem.

If none of these is striking a chord with you, bring in a piece of the plant for us to look at. We can usually tell you what is going on.

Dennis Hill is the nursery manager at Bookcliff Gardens, Send questions to Bookcliff Gardens, 755 26 Road, Grand Junction 81506; or email .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).


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