Worms for Soil Improvement

Here is a question from Rory:

I’ve really enjoyed your website. My wife and I are new to Nashville,
TN and the soil is very hard and claylike and I’m looking for
something that I can have throughout my yard not just in composting
bins or in composting areas. Something that won’t hurt my grass. It
sounds like I need some combination of red worms and soil worms. What
would you recommend for me who wants to improve soil conditions
throughout the entire yard. Something I can sprinkle around the yard
and forget about.

Hi Rory,
Unfortunately, there really isn’t any type of worm (composting worm OR soil worm) you can simply “sprinkle around the yard and forget about”. This is one of those situations that reminds me of the “chicken vs the egg” debate – lol – i.e. which comes first, the worms, or soil that’s been richly amended with organic matter for a period of time? In all honesty, if you just drop worms in your yard, more than likely all you will do is fertilize the grass with dead worms – or perhaps feed some local birds that might then fertilize your grass somewhat with their droppings!

You really need to start with the organic amendments first – or at least at the same time.

When I first moved to my present location our soil was absolutely awful – really hard clay that was very difficult to work with. Initially – before getting serious about outdoor vermicomposting – I mixed in some really rich top soil to help improve the gardens. Of course, things REALLY improved once I installed my vermicomposting trenches – and just generally when I got more serious about “vermi-gardening”.

Assuming you are not interested in setting up actual in situ vermicomposting systems around your yard, my recommendation is to focus on getting as much organic matter into your soil as you possible can. If you don’t want to rip up your lawn (to work on the soil below) try top-dressing heavily with a rich compost, and use a mulching mower (without the bag of course).

If you have gardens, it will be even easier since you can add a lot more material (compost, aged manure etc) all at once and really mix it in.

Taking these steps should not only improve the quality of your soil greatly, but it should also improve the ecology of your soil – likely resulting in many more soil worms moving into the area and helping you to continue improving the soil (just make sure you keep adding that organic matter).

Hope this helps, and doesn’t make you feel like I’m picking on you! Believe me, there are lots of other people with very similar questions.

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  1. Hey, Bentley, I’m going to bookmark this question and answer. I get similar questions all the time and I also get people who want to buy native earthworms. My response is the same as yours. The worms are a result of the organic matter (and moisture to a certain extent) in the soil. Dumping a bunch of worms out in the yard, native or red wiggler won’t do anything for the soil, unfortunately.

    • thuan
    • April 25, 2012

    May I suggest Alabama Jumpers. It was very difficult to amend my soil with organic matter. When I water, the water just run because the clay soil won’t soak in water. So last year I started with bark mulch and compost; I layered on about 2 inches. I started to add vermicompost or vermicast into the soil. Started only to use organic fertilizers (chicken manure…), insectiside like neem oil and such. This year I bought Alabama Jumpers and placed them into the soil. I collected as much leaf litter as I can and place them on the soil then another layer of bark mulch on top. The Alabama jumpers are supposed to come up and eat the rotting leaves and come digging down during the daytime. In essence, aerating the soil while adding worm casting along. It seems to work. As I layer back the leaves, I can see the small holes and tunnels in the clay soil. This takes longer to amend the soil but I think it is the best way. No chemical fertilizers. You can find Alabama jumpers through the business directory link on this website. I did! What to you think Bentley?

    • Spinoza
    • April 26, 2012

    First, I agree with Bentley that if soil is the issue, try to improve the soil first. In this case bringing in organic matter seems the best first step to take.

    I have seen a case in Belgium where a soccer turf didn’t drain off excess water. In 2009 a Dutch firm released 100 kilo of Lumbricus terrestris on the pitch. Apparently in 2010 there were no problems with excess water anymore. However, I wonder if this can all be attributed to the worms. By the way, this is not a recommendation, since L. terrestris can be an invasive species in the US.

    source: http://translate.google.com/translate?hl=en&sl=nl&tl=en&u=http%3A%2F%2Fwww.nieuwsblad.be%2Farticle%2Fdetail.aspx%3Farticleid%3DVS29KTQ1

  2. Used coffee grounds spread in a thin layer over the grass is helpful too. Starbucks gives it away by the bagful, although for a lawn you will want to pull out the filters for the regular compost or worm bin. You might be able to get enough grounds in a weekend to cover your yard (depending on size). The additional organic material will eventually start working into the soil. You might also consider using a dethatching rake and a soil areator, then top dress with coffee grounds – or place dried leaves in about a half inch layer over the top of your lawn using the mulching mower to chop everything up. It will be a bit slow, but if you build it, the worms will come.

    • Bentley
    • April 26, 2012

    CASSANDRA – glad you found the post helpful!
    THUAN – Jumpers are an option, although not a great choice in all locations sine they prefer warm temps – also some potential risk of them becoming an invasive species (since they love munching leaf litter).
    Your particular regimen (with the various kinds of organic matter) sounds great.
    SPINOZA – that is very interesting! If the soil was reasonably fertile I can definitely see how that would work well. One of the complaints that farmers have about L. terrestris is that they create big burrows (by worm standards) and end up channeling all the water away from the plants. Great for draining a soccer field I’m sure – not so great when trying to keep your crop watered.
    And yes, depending on your location, introducing a worm like L. terrestris may not be the most ecologically responsible thing to do.
    PATRICK – great suggestions!

  3. Hi everybody!
    I have been working on my front lawn for years. When we moved in, it was bad; think dust bowl bad from the 1930s. I started off by mulching when I mowed and broadcasting some worm cast on one half. I wanted to see if there would be a difference and I was not going to use any synthetic chemicals. Living in Kansas, I am fortunate to utilize some of the advice from some of the best experts in North America when it comes to soil; the old leathery skinned farmers. It was shared with me that I need a top layer on my lawn like mulched leaf litter. After that, I read that weeds grow best in poor soil with a slightly higher ph. On one half of the mulched lawn, I applied worm castings and some Epsom Salt (magnesium sulfate). Last year, (with no success) I felt that lawns were over rated and quit messing with it. This year however, the half I gave up on is… lush, thick and green with few weeds!
    I would only suggest repairing your lawn like I did with some research and time. The old guys told me my yard didn’t deteriorate over night and would take time to fix or I could spend a lot of money on chemicals and have instant success. I chose the slow, slow, cheap method and used what use to be my kitchen scraps; vermicompost.

    • john
    • May 28, 2012

    make a worm tube

    get a 4 inch pvc pipe say 3 foot long and an end cap drill holes all around it 6 inches from one end down to the end.
    dig a hole and burry it 6 inches deep to cover the holes add some bedding and worms place some food in it the worms will migrate out into your yard and feed your lawn and come back for food

    i red where someone has done this and could see a 20 foot circle where things improved


    • Christel
    • August 11, 2013

    I have a very sandy soil. We put on a layer of black dirt, tilled it in, planted 3 types of grass seed and we actally had grass this year. (been in this house for 7 years and have only been able to grow weeds)

    We have in the past also planted over two dozen trees and shrubs. I have never ever seen a worm in our yard. I was wondering if I could add worms to my yard to help A. the soil quality, and B. water retention. I have to water 2 inches a week to maintain green, where as my neighbor across the street with worms in her yard only has to water 1/2 inch a week. Any advice would be greatly appreciated!

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