THE INVASIVE SPECIES THAT HAS ME FREAKING

I used to dig in my garden, unearth a worm and be delighted. I took it as a pat on the back for my hard work in making good soil that earthworms would want to be in doing their good work. But for the past year or so that delight has been gone. It has been replaced with dread. Dread that one of those worms would be unlike any other worm I'd encountered in my garden before.

A few years ago the first so-called jumping worms (aka Amynthas agrestis) were spotted in Wisconsin. They'd made their way here originally from Asia with stops in many northeastern and Midwest states and now at least Oregon in the Northwest. Call them crazy worms, Alabama jumpers, Jersey wigglers, snake worms or some variation of those, but I'll tell you what I call them: Bad news.

Wisconsin DNR graphic

These worms, which hang out on the upper layers of soil, are massive digesters of soil. This is not a good thing. What they leave behind is loose soil resembling coffee grounds and largely devoid of nutrients. Give them a little time and they destroy the composition of the soil to the point where plants are no longer anchored.

They reproduce without mating, laying impossible-to-find cocoons in the soil that overwinter even in cold areas, and oh, by the way, they mature so quickly that two generations can be produced in one season. They do their damage quickly.

Earlier this year, Jeff Epping, director of horticulture at Madison, Wisconsin's Olbrich Botanical Garden, where the worms were found a couple years ago, reported that a 5-year-old stand of Arborvitaes in the garden were all leaning to the east after a strong storm with west winds. These trees, which should have been well rooted, appeared to have been rocked because they aren't properly anchored in the loose soil. And Epping has dealt with them in his own garden. In May he reported on the damage he's noticed.

"I am also living with them in my home garden and have noticed very significant changes in my soil in parts of my garden," he wrote. "My soil structure has changed from typical silt loam soil to a granular, almost sandlike loose structure. The granules are so loose that I can easily scoop my hand into the top 3 to 5 inches of soil with minimal effort. The soil granules also seem to be a bit hydrophobic and certainly not moisture retentive. During periods of drought in the summer the plants in the worst jumping worm areas suffer from lack of moisture, way more than the areas where the worms are less concentrated."

In other words, no way in hell do I want these things in my garden. The odds, however, are not my favor. In fact, it's probably more of a matter of delaying the inevitable, because the worms are close. I knew they had been found in our county, but last week as I was working in a garden maintained by our master gardener group, I found a very suspicious worm. My master gardener training suggests that what I should have done was carefully collect the worm, study it to see if it matched the description of a jumping worm, photograph it, then put it in a Ziploc bag for further identification if needed and to solarize it before disposal (yeah, that means what you think it means: Cook it in a plastic bag in the sun). Instead what I did was scream, jump around, flip it onto the sidewalk, poke it to see how it moved, take a couple videos of it, squish it and throw it in the busy street. Because I'll be honest, I'm grossed out and I'm freaked out.

I'm waiting for positive confirmation from the DNR, but I have no doubt it's a jumping worm. When I went back later I found the distinctive coffee-ground soil and four more worms without looking hard. With my wits about me (and, um, another gardener with gloves) we bagged these.

Sidenote: Literally in the middle of writing this I received a call from my sister-in-law, who lives a couple miles from the garden I was working in and about 10 miles from my house, that she found several jumping worms.

Here's a really gross video from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:




Right now, my focus is on crossing my fingers that I can keep them out of my garden a bit longer and that means that I'm taking a lot of precautions.

Here's what I'm doing:

  1. No more passalong plants (probably). This is sad because this is how I get a lot of plants from family and friends. If I have to get a plant from someone I will root wash it at its garden of origin and then either pot it up in potting mix or take it home and immediately plant it. 
  2. No more plant sales. A lot of plant sales in the area were cancelled last year in order to slow the spread of jumping worms. They don't hatch until about mid-June here, which is after many sales happen, so it would not be difficult to take some eggs home in a pot with a new plant.
  3. Practicing OCD levels of garden cleanliness. When I work at the garden where I believe I spotted the worms I scrub all my tools, removing every speck of dirty. Same for my shoes and I have a pair of gloves I will only use there. All material collected there (weeds, deadheaded flowers, other detritus) is bagged for disposal. This as far as the DNR instructions go, but I'm taking the extra step of sterilizing everything with Lysol as well. I told you: OCD.
  4. I won't bring any commercial mulch onto my property. I'll still use so-called arborist chips from  trees we cut down here, but that's it. It is believed that the worms cannot withstand extreme heat, meaning that most commercial mulch should be OK, but it is believed they are still being transported this way (and I suspect that's how we got them at the garden downtown).
Jumping worms are shiny, even iridescent, and have a white or light collar that is flush with their body. In other words, really gross.

So what do you need to be on the lookout for if you live in an area where jumping worms have been found? Here's how you can identify them:
  • Look for the grainy, coffee-ground like soil at the surface. 
  • The worms will be in the top layer of soil just hanging out waiting to ruin some gardener's day. 
  • When you disturb one, they will behave unlike other worms, thrashing and writhing.
  • There will often be clusters of them.
  • They slither like snakes.
  • (This one is perhaps the most horrifying.) Sometimes when you pick one up their tails will break off and keep wriggling in your hand. You will know if this happens to me if I disappear for several days, having passed out and probably gotten a head injury.
  • They are shiny and almost iridescent. 
  • The band around them (called the clitellum) is white or light and smooth, whereas it is raised on other worms. It also encircles the body of a jumping worm where it is incomplete on other worms.
What to do if you find them:
  • Collect them for positive identification in a sealable plastic bag. Take a picture if need be, then repot them to your state DNR or extension master gardener service.When you're done with the worms, put the bag in the sun to kill the worms, then throw it away intact.
  • Repeat this as you find more. Anything you can do to slow the spread is important.
  • Be vigilant about cleaning your tools, even among areas in your garden if possible. 
  • Don't share plants from your garden. If you must, root wash them and remove all soil before repotting them or passing them on.
  • Try not to scream and freak out like a certain blogger may have.
Invasive species (both flora and fauna) happen, unfortunately. Rarely do we want to deal with them, but they are a fact of life. This one is particularly scary because it can do such serious damage (which goes well beyond the impact on gardeners; it could be catastrophic for agriculture) and as of now, there's no real method of control. 

I'll do my best to delay their arrival in my garden, look suspiciously upon every worm I encounter and yes, I'll probably scream, swear and generally freak out when the day comes that I find them. Some days that's just how it goes in the garden.

More information on jumping worms:

IT'S TIME TO TALK BULBS + SOME FOR YOU TOO

Longtime readers will know that I'm not one to rush the seasons (other than winter, which I'm happy to mentally check out of sometime around January 5), but we need to talk about autumn. And maybe a little bit about spring. Because even though my garden is currently enjoying a very summerlike couple of weeks, the autumnal equinox is Friday, which means it's time to get serious about fall garden jobs.
daffodil study
Some of my favorite daffodils that I grew last year, including three split corona varieties and one multi-flowered variety.

And among all the less-than-pleasant jobs (endless raking, anyone?) is one that I guarantee will bring you more satisfaction than any other: bulb planting. OK, so you'll have to wait a few months for the real satisfaction but I promise that there is nothing better seeing the first flowers pop up in spring when the rest of the world is gray.

Because I live in an area with a lot of deer and, more recently, a healthy rabbit population as well, I only plant bulbs that are critter resistant. I can protect my garden in summer from animal browsing by using animal repellents, but I'm not going to pull on my parka in late winter or early spring to go out and spray flowers. That means that my go-to fall-planted bulbs are daffodils and alliums, both of which I can all but guarantee won't be eaten by anything.

naturalizing daffodils
A naturalizing daffodil mix I planted in a wooded area last fall bloomed for months in spring, starting with these yellow trumpet daffodils before they gave way to all sort of other varieties.

When planting almost any bulb, my advice is the same: think drifts, not dots. There is something so spectacular about swaths of flowers in spring. Some bulbs naturalize better than others, so last fall I planted a naturalizing mix in the woodsy area along the driveway. They were fabulous last spring, but I anticipate they will get even better as they multiple in future years.

An exotic and unusual double with orange accents.
Daffodils are tough buggers, as this one that seemed intent on blooming through a nest of mayapples proved. 

There are "fancier" daffodils out there as well, and those I like to save for areas closer to the house where their finer details can be admired. The doubles look like roses, the miniatures are charming and sweet and those with reflex petals are downright intriguing. But last year I discovered a group of daffodils that really stole my heart: the split coronas. I can't explain why I had never paid much attention to this before, but last spring they were the real standouts for me.

mount everest allium
'Mount Everest' allium was a lovely addition to this part of the garden in early summer. 

purple sensation
'Purple Sensation' alliums looked great from afar and up close. 

If daffodils are the good-doers of spring, alliums are the statement pieces of early summer. Although they come in myriad forms and a handful of colors from deep purple to blue and snow white to pale pink (with the occasional yellow and maroon thrown in), all alliums do one thing better than any other flower: draw your eye. Be they tall like 'Globemaster' or 'Gladiator' or shorter in stature like 'Ivory Queen', just the form of alliums is an attention-getter. I let them stand in the garden long after their flowers have faded as even the dried flowers add important texture.

Quick aside: Here's the how-to on my favorite way to plant bulbs. When you buy them in massive quantities as I tend to do, you have to find an efficient way to get them in the ground and this is fast!

OK, you're sold (as you should be!). But if you're expecting me to tell you to get out there and start planting, you're going to be disappointed. Because in most places in the U.S., it's still too early. You want your bulbs to have time to settle in, but you don't want them thinking, "Hey, it's go time!" I wait until there is a decided nip in the air, usually before a frost. That puts my personal bulb planting time around mid-October, although you can plant them right up until the ground is frozen if you really have to. So why the rush on talking about bulbs now? Because if you don't buy them now, all the good stuff will be gone by the time you do.

So here's me, telling you to shop. Seriously ... go for it, and I promise you will thank me come spring.

To help get you started, Longfield Gardens has agreed to give a selection of daffodils and alliums to two lucky readers. I'll be giving away one Naturalizing Daffodil Mix with 100 bulbs, perfect for creating a swath of gorgeous blooms that should multiple over the years, and one Amazing Allium Mix with 63 bulbs of four varieties of alliums, including 'Christophii', which is a favorite of mine.

Enter using the widget below. There are a lot of ways to enter to maximize your chances, but if you're short on time all you have to do is log in and click and you're in!


FRIDAY FINDS

It's been a busy late summer so I haven't spent as much time on the internet as I might have otherwise and therefore there wasn't a lot of finds to share with you, but this week there's some can't miss stuff I want to share.

First off, don't miss the most charming little garden and plant show in Belgium, compliments of Rob from Detroit Garden Works. He's on a buying trip which means soon there will be pictures of all his amazing finds. What I wouldn't give to tagalong on that trip!

Nick at Thinking Outside the Boxwood shared some amazing containers he came across recently in Boston. Lots of good container inspiration to be had.


Speaking of containers, I shared some out-of-the-box ideas for fall containers on the Proven Beauty blog last weekend. Don't tell anyone, but I'm a little sick of mums and kale with a pumpkin jammed in. One never knows what the weather will bring but last year we didn't get a killing frost until mid-November. If that were to happen again, I'd get two and a half months out of new fall-planted containers and that's well worth it to me.

Garden Bloggers Bloom Day is always fun to see, and I urge you to check out Lisa's contribution at Greenbow Gardens. Her 'Fireworks' Solidago (aka goldenrod) is outstanding. I wish more people would appreciate that plant. Check out all the linked gardens at host May Dreams Gardens.

I haven't said anything about the impact of the hurricanes on The Impatient Gardener blog or social media channels, not because I don't care, but because I like to think of this as a place people can escape the worst of what is going on in the world. The devastation from both Harvey and Irma is terrible to see, and I'm particularly heartbroken to see what happened in parts of the Caribbean, which have far fewer resources helping than in the U.S. But this story about the damage to the Naples Botanical Garden is sad. I go there almost every year when I'm in Naples visiting family (who are fine, thankfully) so I'm sad to see what happened there.


But I don't want to leave on a sad note. Tanya at Lovely Greens (that's her above) has a great post chock-a-block with fall gardening tips and inspiration, so do check it out.

The weather here is for summer this weekend you know I'm excited about that! I'll be soaking up the sun on land and water, with some time in my garden and maybe a few others. What are you up to this weekend?


IN DEFIANCE OF A TRENDY GARDEN

Two things happened on the same day earlier this week that once again reinforced my "garden for yourself" school of thought.

First, I read Garden Media Group's analysis of the gardening trends they see for 2018. One of the things it seems to show is that the trend toward a less cultivated style of gardening is growing. I think we have Piet Oudolf and the new perennial garden movement to thank for that. A few weeds are OK, leave some things standing for the birds and keep nature in mind.


Then, as I was walking out the door on a very foggy morning, I snapped a quick picture of the patio garden, which is looking quite nice for this time of year. Like a lot of gardeners, I take a lot of closeup photos, often at the expense of the larger view (a forest for the trees, situation, if you will). So it was sort of nice to force myself to see this area in a photo and be generally pleased with what I saw.

So I started thinking about the garden trends I had just read about. Granted, this report is created with the garden industry in mind. It's meant to help people in the business better target their customers wants and needs and to help garden media understand what kinds of things consumers are interested in. Still, I can't imagine a major change in my overall gardening style happening at this point.

This was the first garden I "developed" when we bought the house and I've shared a lot of the failures and successes in it on this blog. I'd say there have been a lot more disappointments than pleasant surprises in this garden, a factor of my inexperience in its original creation and an unwillingness to start from scratch.

There are still challenges, but I think this is as good as this part of the garden has looked. I'm onto something—finally—and no amount of trend following is going to change that.

Of course I could always use that report to feel a little better about the fact that there is always a weed lurking in there. And there is, perhaps, one other advantage to embracing that report, as it relates to my garden. Earlier this year, when I shared a less flattering photo of this garden on Facebook, one reader told me, "Sorry, it just looks like a bunch of weeds." If I had known then what I know now, I could have told her I was just embracing a trend.