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Q. Who is Mr. Smarty Plants?

A: There are those who suspect Wildflower Center volunteers are the culpable and capable culprits. Yet, others think staff members play some, albeit small, role. You can torture us with your plant questions, but we will never reveal the Green Guru's secret identity.

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Ask Mr. Smarty Plants is a free service provided by the staff and volunteers at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.

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Friday - August 04, 2006

From: Austin, TX
Region: Southwest
Topic: Diseases and Disorders
Title: Beneficial earthworms attacked by fire ants
Answered by: Nan Hampton

QUESTION:

Is there a right way or a trick to releasing earthworms? I have a friend who has an abundance of earthworms in their soil so I took advantage of the situation. I released them in my freshly tilled garden and made rows to release my worms. No ants were present I triple checked, this was in the evening I released them. I covered them up about 2-3 inches then watered them in, again no ants present and they seem to be likeing their new home digging down to explore. The next morning I was horrified to find about half a dozen of my prize worms covered with ants. I felt so bad. This happened twice, can you help? Or should I just leave the little fellas alone :-) Thanks, and by the way I love your name Mr.Smarty Plants Tammy

ANSWER:

I am sorry you lost your earthworms. It sounds as if you have fire ants (Solenopsis spp.) and even though you did a thorough search for ants before you put the worms out, you wouldn't necessarily see the individual worker ants who were out foraging for a great protein-rich meal to feed the developing larvae and the queen in the nest. Ants have a keen sense of smell and they may forage 100 feet or more from their nests. When they smelled your earthworms they would have recruited some buddies and hurried over to take advantage of the great food source.

I don't hold out much hope for your introduction of earthworms into your garden unless you begin some ant control, too. The article above offers some environmentally friendly ways of controlling the ants. Meanwhile, here are some tips from Mother Earth News and from eHow.com about cultivating earthworms. Unfortunately, neither offers tips on how to protect them from attack by ants.
 

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