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Hammerhead Predatory Worm Migration and What You Can Do About It

According to an article written by The Daily Journal online about hitchhiking predator worms, we need to be on the lookout for their migration, especially because of the danger they pose to our friendly earthworm.

The Hammerhead Predatory Worm (Bipalium sp) is an invasive predatory worm species that came to the US from Southeast Asia. It is believed to have arrived in other countries, including the US, in the soil of nursery plants. It gets its name because the head of the worm looks similar to the head of the hammerhead shark. The ones in the US usually have a dark horizontal stripe down its side.

Due to the heat and humidity of their natural habitat, most Hammerhead worms are found in southern states. Although they are well established in Louisiana, Texas and Florida,  they were not believed to be in the central United States.  However, one as long at 1 ft. was recently found as far north as Springfield, MO.

Besides the horrifying appearance, what makes these worms such a pest is that they are incredibly carnivorous. They have a voracious appetite for any kind of invertebrate.  While they will feed on any insect, they are especially fond of phylum Annelida, better known as earthworms. It has been said they can track earthworms underground where they kill and eat them.

To make matters worse, the hammerhead worm emits a mild neuro-toxin that paralyzes their prey. It then spits out juices that partially digests and liquefies its victim. Then it consumes the liquid and immediately begins hunting again. Wherever it goes, it leaves a slime trail like a slug, which, by the way, is also on its menu.

Because they are an invasive species, and we are currently unaware of the effect they have on soil fertility and nutrient cycling, it is recommended that you kill them when found. However, you can’t just cut them into pieces. The pieces will regrow a new head and any organs they need. If you cut it into three parts, you will end up with three worms. They are asexual and multiply by tearing off its tail, allowing it to regrow a new head and organs. It sounds like something from a horror movie if you ask me.

Although currently there are no known controls to target the Hammerhead Worm, and they seem to survive freezing temperatures, gardeners can rid the soil of them by heating it to 93ºF for five minutes. Otherwise, these predators are something we will have to live with.

Fortunately, from all current indications, it poses no threat to humans or pets but is most definitely a danger to native earthworms and beneficial insects. I won’t personally test that theory.

What I would suggest, as in any situation when you are fighting soil pests, is to place high importance on increasing a healthy environment in your soil.  With earthworms being so beneficial to the soil and subsequently the health of your turf, working to increase beneficial microorganisms is a must. Check out this article on how important Organic Matter is as a food source for microorganisms and how to know the right amount needed for your soil.

Russ James
AgriGro Turf Specialist


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Sources:
“Hitchhiking hammerhead worm kills native earthworms” by Daily Journal Online,  Jul 13, 2020, Updated Jul 28, 2020

Is it Time for a Perennial Reset?

Perennials are a staple in many of our gardens. We love that they come back year after year—making our garden efforts last from season to season. But there comes a time every few summers when we must decide how to best care for our perennials. Usually, that involves sectioning the plants off so they can reset.

Dividing Perennials

Whether you’re a gardening expert or a novice, perennial division is something that should be added to your gardening list each year. Otherwise, flower growth may be stifled and you’ll notice parts of the plant towards the center will die and new growth will take place along the edges.

Depending on how big the plants are and how fast they grow, they should be divided every two to five years. You’ll also want to check the weather before you dig so you don’t start the process during an unusually wet, dry or hot stint. Completing this task in late July or August will give your perennials time to take root before the winter comes.

Fibrous-Rooted Perennials

(Examples: Phlox, Boltonia, Physostegia or Grasses)

There are two ways to divide these types of perennials. First, use a shovel or a knife to separate the new growth from the plant. Then replant the new growth. 

The second option is to place two spading forks back to back near the center of the plant. Gradually move the handles of the forks together to pry the plant apart. Then, replant the new growth.

Fleshy-Rooted Perennials

(Examples: Hostas, Daylilies or Society Garlic)

Use a spading fork to separate the plants into smaller sections. Make sure each section has at least three strong shoots. Then, using a knife untangle the roots and replant new growth.

Note: Plants with woven roots may have to be pried apart with a shovel. Do this carefully and take your time!

Tuberous-Rooted Perennials

(Examples: Dahlias or Peonies)

Starting away from the plant’s crown, use a shovel or spading fork to dig up the plant. Be careful and do not cut through any large roots. Separate the plant into small sections with a sharp knife. Make sure each section has two or three visible buds or “eyes.” Then, replant at a depth of 1 to 2 inches—this will help ensure beautiful flowers.

Note: It is best to divide Dahlias in the fall.

Rhizomatous Perennials

(Examples: Irises)

Create some space between the bottom of the plant and the ground. Carefully, dig the plant up and lift gradually to avoid any damage. Then, separate the plant into sections, you can often do this by hand. Next, use a sharp knife to cut the plant into sections. Replant new growth at the proper depth.

Next Steps

After the division is done, make sure to apply Ultra®. Ultra® is a certified organic soil, seed, and foliar treatment that helps accelerate emergence, strengthen roots and stalks, and improve plant health. 

When applied to the soil it will increase soil health and function resulting in more vigorously developing plants, below and above ground, that is healthier and more capable of defending itself against pathogens and stresses. When foliar applied, Ultra® can increase many beneficial plant functions like photosynthesis, nutrient acquisition, and utilization, plus the plants ability to get more photosynthetic output to reproduction.

Ultra® is OMRI listed for use in organic production.



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SOURCES:
“3 Perennial Gardening Pointers; Gardening.” Sherwood Park News, Apr 24 2020, ProQuest. Web. 11 July 2020.
Freeman, Joe. “Dividing Perennials.” Flower and Garden Sep 1997: 12. ProQuest. Web. 11 July 2020.