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  • Writer's pictureJenna Bonnoront

I'm Bringing in the Army!

I have had it with insect pests munching on my veggies. Those dirty little freeloaders seem to think they’re entitled to a meal without helping with any of the work. If they’d just pick up a hoe or do some weeding, I’d be happy to share! But it doesn’t appear they’ll be chipping in any time soon. So, I’m bringing in an army… but it’s not what you think. The army I’m employing is a platoon of microscopic round worms known collectively as beneficial nematodes. Specifically, I’m utilizing Steinernema feltiae-- dubbed “Garden Army Nematodes” by the creative marketers at Gardens Alive, the company where I purchased my nematodes.

This is how my 'Garden Army' nematodes arrived.

Beneficial nematodes are microscopic worms whose preferred target just happens to be the grubs or larvae of many common garden pests (over 200 pests from up to 100 insect families according to the University of Vermont). There are many different types of beneficial nematodes naturally occurring in soils all over the world. However, their populations are typically not concentrated enough to control pest infestations. Modern farming practices (such as repeated and relentless cultivation and soil steaming) kill beneficial nematodes, so the populations in many areas are much lower than they would normally be.

Nematodes are a particularly effective and lethal form of all-natural pest control. Once applied to the soil nematodes seek out their target prey. Steinernema prefers to wait patiently and then ambush its prey, while other types, such as Heterorhabdtis (the nematode made famous by its preference for Japanese Beetle grubs) prefers to actively seek & destroy pests by cruising through the soil in search of its prey. The nematodes enter their target and once inside, they produce a bacterium that is injected into the hosts blood which converts the hosts bodily tissues into a suitable food for the nematodes. The host pest dies (typically within 48 hours) and the nematodes move on- continuing to seek out prey as long as it is available. It’s like something from a horror movie- Wes Craven eat your heart out.

While this may sound gruesome, the beauty of beneficial nematodes is, that they will not prey on ladybugs, earthworms, honeybees, or most other beneficial insects. They are harmless to plants, people and pets, and they are as easy to apply as watering your garden. In the search for the perfect organic solution to pest control, beneficial nematodes rise to the top.

Adding 1/4 teaspoon of nematodes per 1 gallon of water

Keep in mind that different species of nematodes will target different pests. It helps to know which pest populations are most active in your garden when choosing which nematode to utilize.

I chose Steinernema feltiae for its ability to target the larvae of cucumber beetle, a major pest in my area. It is also known to target the larvae of cabbage maggot, onion maggot, raspberry crown borer, thrips, fungus gnats and leaf miners.

If you want to target the larvae of fleas, cockroaches, cutworms or iris borers, choose Steinernema carpocapsae.

Both S. feltiae and carpocapsae are effective against the larvae of codling moth, corn earworm, cucumber beetle, armyworm and fruit flies.

Heterorhabdtis bacteriophora targets larvae of tree and vine borers, weevils, asparagus beetle, Colorado potato beetle, corn root worm, flea beetles, and grubs- including (as I mentioned) those of the Japanese beetle.

If you’re having trouble deciding which nematode is right for you, Arbico Organics features a very useful chart

Keep in mind that nematodes are living critters and a there are a few general tips which will help with their survival and success:

  • To apply nematodes, you will typically mix them with water and apply to garden soil. You can use a watering can, handheld sprayer or whatever you have handy. Your nematodes should include specific application rates and instructions; mine were to add ¼ teaspoon to 1 gallon of water, with each gallon treating 50 square feet. The package I purchased is 5 million nematodes which will treat 200 square feet in total.

  • Nematodes are very sensitive to UV light exposure. Apply in the early morning, late afternoon, or evening so as to avoid direct sunlight

  • Ensure soil temperatures are between 45° and 95°F when applying.

  • Nematodes prefer moist conditions- Applying during a gentle rainfall is ideal. If it hasn’t rained recently, water the application area thoroughly during and after application. Watering every 3-4 days if rainfall does not occur will help keep your little buddies happy & healthy

  • You should start to see decreases in adult pest populations in 1-2 weeks following the application.

Watering my nematodes into the garden soil. It rained all day-- perfect conditions for my little army.

I’m heading out to the garden to get my wonderful, microscopic army applied! Hopefully, they get to work quickly and destroy my pesty pests! We’ll see how this season goes! I’d love to hear from you- Have you used nematodes? Did you notice a decrease in the targeted pest population? Will you use them again? Spill all the gory details please!

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