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Digital Subscriptions > Kitchen Garden Magazine > June 2018 > WORMS YOU DON’T WANT

WORMS YOU DON’T WANT

The invasive New Zealand flatworm is entrenched in the north of the country, and slithering south. Gaby Bartai talks to the research team who are on its track

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Picture: Annie Robinson/University of Aberdeen

By the time you find your first New Zealand flatworm, it’s too late. Lurking under stones, planks or pots, they keep a low profile, but they are impossible to eradicate and their effect on soil ecology is profound. New Zealand flatworms feed exclusively on earthworms, with such efficiency that populations can be virtually wiped out.This has serious repercussions for soil structure and fertility.

I first encountered flatworms some 15 years ago, in my father’s Shetland garden. Enriched with barrowloads of compost, it should have been teeming with earthworms. By the end of his time there, hardly any earthworms were left. Flatworms – thought to have arrived with topsoil for a local building project – were squashed on sight, but it was a losing battle.

Today, my father gardens in central Scotland, and as we work the soil there, uncovering fat pink earthworms in every spadeful is a delight.This time he is taking no chances: any plants he is given are quarantined and repotted, no soil or compost gets moved in, and the boots I wear there stay there.

The good news is that forewarned, you can keep flatworms out. Most Scottish gardeners know to be vigilant, but gardeners in England tend to be less well informed, or to assume that it’s a Scottish problem. No longer: the infestation is spreading south, and gardens are especially at risk. Flatworms like cool, damp conditions, so gardens and allotments, with well-watered soil, plenty of earthworms and lots of refuges to hide under, make attractive habitat.

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About Kitchen Garden Magazine

In this month's issue of Kitchen Garden ... - £2814 Worth of garden goodies to be won - Get the buzz for heavier harvests 6 easy ways to bigger pickings - A taste of summer with courgettes, cherries and beetroot - Make crumbly compost in just 4 weeks! - The future of seeds post-prexit - 25 crops that sow themselves - The secret of keeping Bantams - Garden cleaning products on test - Grow a great lawn - Cauliflowers made easy
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