Critters in the Garden: What Exactly Are Nematodes?


Nematodes are tiny, microscopic worms that live by the droves in the soil all around the world. Many of them inhabit the earth in your yard and garden, feeding on either the insects or plants living in it. There are two main types of nematodes: harmful and beneficial ones. Learn how to detect and rid the harmful ones from your garden, and how to effectively use the beneficial ones with our quick guide to nematodes!

Harmful Nematodes

Detecting harmful nematodes in your garden usually begins by noticing the quality of certain plants, especially tomatoes and peppers. If the plants seem to be stunted in growth, become susceptible to disease showing blotchy or shriveled foliage, you will want to pull one out of the garden to check the roots of the plant. If there are tiny bumps along the root of the plant, this indicates a population of harmful nematodes in the soil.

These harmful nematodes are essentially parasitic, feeding on the plants in your garden, and most commonly known as root-knot nematodes. They burrow into the roots of the plant stem to feed on the plant, then lay their eggs, which hatch and the new offspring then continue to feed on the plant. This causes the plant to weaken, the leaves brown and production reduces, and allows bacteria and fungi to enter the plant through wounds and weakness caused by the nematodes.

Getting rid of harmful nematodes takes time, but can be done through completely organic and non-toxic processes. The main method is to practice crop rotation in your garden, by not planting vegetables from the same family in the same beds between 2 or 3 growing seasons. Another method, especially efficient in smaller gardens, is to add organic matter such as compost to the beds, as the biological organisms in this matter help reduce populations of harmful nematodes. If you live in a climate that supports planting winter cover crops, you can choose to plant a variety that is not a host for root-knot nematodes. Otherwise you can choose to grow vegetables that are labeled specifically as nematode resistant.

Beneficial Nematodes

On the brighter side of the soil, beneficial nematodes can help keep other pests such as plant eating insects out of your garden patch. These natural pesticides can be found at your nearby garden center, or even be ordered online, and help control populations of pests such as cutworms, fleas, termites, grubs and ants. Beneficial nematodes actually enter the body of a harmful insect and begin to feed on it, moving on to the next host insect once the matter of the previous one has been completely consumed.

Although nematodes are often supplied in concentrated form, it’s important to remember that you are handling living creatures when administering them to your garden. Follow the directions provided on the package, which often involves mixing the nematodes with water and spreading them over the necessary with some sort of liquid lawn applicator. Nematodes can also be applied to seedlings that you will be planting out into your garden patch.

Make sure you use a reliable supplier to source your nematodes, and follow their directions explicitly. Nematodes are often most effective if applied in Spring or Fall, and should be applied to your garden in the evening to avoid overheating or drying out of the nematodes in sunlight.

Although you may not see immediate results from applying beneficial nematodes to your plot, you can rest assured that they will be doing their part in eliminating harmful insects that prey on your veggie plants. Applying beneficial nematodes is a long-term solution that should be practiced alongside other organic and efficient gardening methods such as crop rotation, compost fertilization and companion planting.

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