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Nematodes As Pest Control: Learn About Beneficial Entomopathogenic Nematodes

Nematodes As Pest Control: Learn About Beneficial Entomopathogenic Nematodes


By: Amy Grant

Entomopathogenic nematodes are rapidly gaining in popularity as a proven method of eradication of insect pests. But what are beneficial nematodes? Keep reading for more information on using nematodes as pest control.

What are Beneficial Nematodes?

Members of the Steinernematidae and Heterorhabditidae families, beneficial nematodes for gardening purposes, are colorless roundworms which are non-segmented, elongated in shape and usually microscopic and commonly found living within the soil.

Entomopathogenic nematodes, or beneficial nematodes, can be used to control soil borne insect pests but are useless for control of pests found in the leaf canopy. Beneficial nematodes for gardening insect control may be used to squash pests such as:

  • Caterpillars
  • Cutworms
  • Crown borers
  • Grubs
  • Corn rootworms
  • Crane flies
  • Thrips
  • Fungus gnats
  • Beetles

There are also bad nematodes and the difference between good nematodes and bad ones is simply which host they attack; bad nematodes, also called non-beneficial, root-knot or “plant parasitic” nematodes, cause damage to crops or other plants.

How do Beneficial Nematodes Work?

Beneficial nematodes as pest control will attack soil borne insect pests with no harmful effects on earthworms, plants, animals or humans, making it an environmentally friendly solution. They are morphologically, ecologically and genetically more diverse than any other animal group with the exception of arthropods.

With over 30 species of entomopahogenic nematodes, each with a unique host, finding a suitable nematode to aid in pest control is not only a “green” solution of integrated pest management but a simple one as well.

Beneficial nematodes have a lifecycle consisting of egg, four larval stages and an adult stage. It is during the third larval stage that the nematodes seek a host, usually insect larvae, and enter it through the host mouth, anus or spiracles. The nematode carries bacteria called Xenorhabdus sp., which is subsequently introduced into the host whereupon death of the host occurs within 24 to 48 hours.

The Steinernematids develop into adults and then mate within the host’s body, while the Heterorhabditids produce hermaphroditic females. Both nematode species ingest the host’s tissue until they mature to the third juvenile phase and then they leave the remains of the host body.

Nematodes as Pest Control

Using beneficial nematodes for gardening pest control has become an increasingly popular method for six reasons:

  • As previously mentioned, they have an incredibly wide range of hosts and can, therefore, be utilized to control numerous insect pests.
  • Entomopathogenic nematodes kill the host quickly, within 48 hours.
  • Nematodes may be grown on artificial media, making a readily available and inexpensive product.
  • When nematodes are stored at proper temperatures (60-80 F./15-27 C.), they will remain viable for three months and if refrigerated at 37-50 F. (16-27 C.), may last six months.
  • They are tolerant of most insecticides, herbicides and fertilizers, and the juveniles can survive for a time without any nourishment while searching for an appropriate host. In a nutshell, they are resilient and durable.
  • There is no insect immunity to the Xenorhabdus bacteria, although beneficial insects often escape being parasitized because they are more active and apt to move away from the nematode. The nematodes cannot develop in vertebrates, which make them extremely safe and environmentally friendly.

How to Apply Entomopathogenic Nematodes

Beneficial nematodes for gardening can be found in sprays or soil drenches. It is crucial to apply them at the perfect environmental conditions needed for their survival: warm and moist.

Irrigate the application site both before and after introducing the nematodes and only use them when soil temperatures are between 55-90 F. (13-32 C.) in filtered sun.

Use the nematode product within the year and do not store in areas of high heat. Remember, these are living creatures.

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How long does Beneficial nematodes take to work?

You can see results immediately. Using a spade or shovel, turn up the ground where nematodes were applied, to check for dead larvae. Once you have seen dead larvae, this tells you that the nematodes are working. Depending on the size of the area and the pest population, total control time varies.

Secondly, how long do nematodes last in the soil? Beneficial Nematodes have a two month shelf life if refrigerated. However, they can live in the soil, at levels high enough to control pest insects, for around 18 months.

Also question is, do beneficial nematodes really work?

"They're good on a number of beetles that live in the soil. For example, carrot weevil, asparagus weevil, black vine weevil." However, effective use of beneficial nematodes requires knowledge of the nematodes and the insect you want to control. Simply applying them like a traditional pesticide won't work.

How many beneficial nematodes do I need?

While you may need 20,000 or so to treat a square foot, they are so small that for under $20 you should get about 5 million—enough to treat 1,500 square feet. The “mode of action” of beneficial nematodes is like something from a horror film (at least for the target pests).


What Are Nematodes?

Often referred to as roundworms, nematodes are not closely related to true worms. They are multicellular insects with smooth, unsegmented bodies. The nematode species that feed on plants are so tiny that you need a microscope to see them. The adults often look long and slender, although some species appear pear-shaped. These plant parasites are not the same roundworms as the filarial nematodes that infect the human body, spread diseases, and wreak havoc on the immune system.

Some nematodes feed on the outer surfaces of a plant while others burrow into the tissue. Soil-dwelling nematodes are the most common culprits, but some species can damage plant roots, stems, foliage, and flowers.

No matter where they feed, these tiny worms can seriously damage to crops with their sharply pointed mouths by puncturing cell walls. The real damage occurs when a nematode injects saliva into a cell from its mouth and then sucks out the cell contents. The plant responds to the parasitic worms with swelling, distorted growth, and dead areas. Nematodes can also carry viruses and bacterial diseases inject them into plants. The feeding wounds they make also provide an easy entrance point for bacteria and fungi.

Beneficial nematodes that enrich the soil may feed on the decaying material, insects, or other nematodes.


Beneficial Nematodes: Tiny But Mighty!

If you’re looking for an amazing pest control option that is both organic and insanely effective, we’ve got what you desire in the form of beneficial nematodes. Adding beneficial nematodes to your spring garden arsenal is a great way to fight off soil dwelling pests that want nothing more than to destroy your newly greening up turf. With beneficial nematodes, you can easily apply a safe pest control to your lawn that increases its potency over time. Intrigued? Let me tell you more.

What are Beneficial Nematodes?

Beneficial nematodes are microscopic round worms that kill the larvae and grub stage of insects but are harmless to other organisms (no birds, or mammals will be harmed in the releasing of the nematodes).

How do Beneficial Nematodes Work?

  • Beneficial nematodes enter a host and release bacteria into it. The host dies from blood poisoning a few days later.
  • The beneficial nematodes feed upon the bacteria and degrading host tissue. As they feed, they continue to develop and thousands of beneficial nematodes are produced following a single host infection.
  • When the body wall of the dead host ruptures, usually within 2-3 days, beneficial nematodes are released and free to move on to another host to infect.
  • They continue reproducing and multiplying and soon you have an army of beneficial nematode invaders.

Sounds a little like something out of a Stephen King novel, doesn’t it? But the end result is just awesome enough to balance out the gruesome details. Beneficial nematodes thrive in moist conditions, so as long as they can swim around in your soil depths, they can continue to attack the pests in your turf.

What Type of Pests do Beneficial Nematodes Control?

Beneficial nematodes are the bomb when it comes to attacking and controlling soil dwelling pests. A few pests they attack and devour are: grubs, cut-worms, army worms, fungus gnats, chinch bugs, fleas, ants. But that is just naming a few. You can see a list of more pests they control here.


Tips for Buying the Best Beneficial Nematodes for Organic Pest Control?

Like other living organisms, there are different species of nematodes available.

Each one is different from the other in size, shape, and other characteristics.

So, it is wise to choose the right nematode that aids in killing or controlling the specific insects in your home.

For instance, if you want to eradicate fire ant colonies, get the nematodes that are specifically meant for killing ants.

On the off chance, if you buy nematodes that are specialized in killing other pests in your household, it will still work but the results may not be that good.

When buying nematodes online, you can now get the nematodes delivered to your home directly.

But keep in mind sometimes, the nematodes don’t last very long in storage conditions.

And chances are they may die soon or can arrive dead at your home in storage.

So, it is good to buy them from a reliable supplier as they exercise good caution over storage facilities, and as a result, you will get the quality nematodes safely for your intended purpose.

The Conclusion

Applying the nematodes in the infested area is easy.

Even if you are a DIYer and do it by yourself, it works great. Which means you do not need any help from a professional.

The need for hiring an expert only arises when you think the infestation is huge and out of your control.

Professionals will employ other pest removal techniques along with the nematodes for the best results.

They will also make sure that the techniques they employ will not hinder the nematodes or their performance in any way.

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Welcome to ProShieldPest.com. I am Tina Jones. I have been lately working as a pest removal professional in Winslow, Arizona. At present, I love to spend my time with my family as a retiree.

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How to Apply Beneficial Nematodes to Garden Soil

    Follow the instructions on your chosen nematode package!

Keep in mind that you can buy beneficial nematodes in various amounts. The package should state how many square feet of soil surface it can treat, so do a little garden math first.

Beneficial nematodes come in a powder that needs to be mixed with water. Once mixed, you can either use a pumpsprayer or a watering can to apply them to the soil surface. We prefer the watering can method for our raised garden beds, as it is quicker and penetrates the soil more deeply. Using a watering can close to the soil surface also reduces accidental over-spray to plants or non-target areas, which is important for bee health.

To reduce runoff and improve absorption, it is best to apply beneficial nematodes to already-wet soil. Thus, plan your nematode application either after a good rain or right after you’ve watered your garden. If your soil has a crust over the top or otherwise does not readily accept water, you may want to lightly aerate it before application (e.g. poke the top with a pitchfork or similar). The goal is to get those good guys down into the soil as quickly as possible.

Only apply beneficial nematodes when the soil temperature is in the 40’s to 70’s Fahrenheit. Freezing temperatures may kill them. Hot temperatures over 80F can also kill beneficial nematodes, especially if you apply them to the soil surface on a hot day and they fry before they get a chance to migrate deeper. Therefore, apply nematodes in the evening or once direct sun is no longer shining on the soil surface. Do not treat if bees are active or present.

If possible, apply a fresh layer of mulch on top of the treated soil immediately after nematode application (or the morning after). This will help keep them damp and alive, and also provide a buffer from above-ground bees.

We treated our soil with beneficial nematodes only one time (one evening application) over the last year, and have seen amazing results. Yet some instructions say to treat twice over the course of the first week in order to catch the grubs in various stages of their life cycle.

  • Remember, nematodes are living things, so plan to use them soon after they arrive at your home! They have a shelf life of about 2 months in the refrigerator, but can live for 18 months or longer in the soil, especially if there are suitable hosts present so they can continue their lifecycle.
  • Applying a splash of nematode-water to already damp soil. The chickens: “Did you say GRUBS?! We’ll help!”

    What is the best time of year to treat soil with beneficial nematodes?

    Treat your garden soil with beneficial nematodes whenever the curl grubs are visible and present! And, when the temperature conditions are ideal as described above. Spring and/or fall are generally a good time to treat in most locations. Curl grubs are most active in warm weather. Some sources recommend a spring application, as the grubs will be vigorously feeding closer to the surface on new plant roots in the spring. Yet others suggest treating in the late summer to fall, to kill the grubs when they’re still small – and the benefits will carry over to next spring.

    I am not an expert on all the species of curl grub beetles, but I suspect that there are slight differences in each of their life cycles that would make spring versus fall more effective. Not to mention all of our varying climates. Therefore, if you are struggling with a severe infestation of grubs in your garden soil (or lawn), it may be best to treat twice per year.

    And that is how you kill the nasty little grubs in your garden soil, organically.

    I hope you found this article to be interesting and useful. Even better, I hope it helps you rid your soil of grubs, naturally! After all, grub-free soil leads to happy roots and healthy plants – exactly what we’re all after, right? Please feel free to ask questions in the comments below. Also, please spread the love by sharing or pinning this article. Thanks for reading!

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