Typical example of worm casts

Worm casts cause problems for golfers and turf managers a like. Earthworms are considered a pest and the annoyance they cause is understandable.  Worms do however, play an important role in recycling nutrients and breaking down organic material. The burrowing action of earthworms brings the subsoil to the surface (castings) allowing gaseous exchange to occur and aerating the soil below the surface. Following a wet winter (228mm rain Oct-Feb) worm activity has been increased and the problem highlighted. With a change in European legislation there are currently no products that control worms effectively. Previously chemicals worked by skin contact and were effective in eradicating worms in one application. The presence of these chemicals stayed in the soil for a considerable tine and were harmful to micro organisms and wildlife. As we became more environmentally aware these products were banned. In Germany and Denmark legislation restricts any use of chemicals while certain ‘pests’ such as moles are a protected species. Trials funded by the R&A have been set up using alternatives ranging from curry powder to mustard. These products act as an irritant and do not kill worms, but merely drive them further down into the soil profile.  Here at East Berkshire we have trialed a natural product derived from garlic, after assessing the results it would seem to have had little impact. The recent wet weather has compounded the problem with other Course Managers reporting similar problems. The underlying profile here is clay. It is important to consider the course and our greens were constructed over 100 years ago, and  as a result do not benefit from the drainage and performance characteristics of modern golf courses. (It is worth noting the site and nature of soil when comparing different courses). Good cultural practises can reduce the impact of damage caused by earthworms and with an improvement in the forecast for the next week or so, as ground conditions allow the fairways and rough will be verti drained and drag matted. This will aid drainage, remove the worm casts from the surface and improve the playing conditions.

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