The Stopwatch Gardener

A gardening blog from Sheila M. Averbuch

Flatworms and other garden pests


Click for larger imageTis the season to be anxious about weeds, garden pests, drought, flood — you name it. In my part of the world, the growth spurt in July is almost indecent, and unless the weather is just right, overgrown plants are suffering from too much or too little water, or from a host of beasties preying upon so much succulent growth.

But I’m not going to talk about any of that. In my garden, two frightening garden pests appeared within weeks of each other: a New Zealand flatworm, a pest which eats earthworms and may presage soil death, and my first garden gnome, a pest which offends good taste and many presage meerkats dressed like Chelsea pensioners.

Is that a flatworm or a potato peel?

A few weeks ago, I moved a trug near the place where I was digging out an apple tree. Curled up where the trug had been was a snotty little circle of flat slime, like a pressed slug. I washed and poked it under the tap — it looked almost exactly like an old peel from a potato or sweet potato, but I suspected from the texture of it that it was something alive. I left it on a plastic lid near the tap, and a few moments later, it was squirming about with its pointy little nose, horrifying me. Yes, it was a New Zealand flatworm.

The best resource I found was this flatworm info website from Northern Ireland, and if you find one in your garden in Scotland, do report it to flatworm expert Dr. Brian Boag, who isn’t currently collecting samples but is mapping its spread. You can also contact his colleagues for England and Wales flatworm sightings.

I put out some black sheeting to try to catch any others, but I have only found the one. When I was digging out the apple tree, I had remarked on the relative lack of earthworms there; there are some observations that earthworms in parts of Scotland have reached an equilibrium with the flatworms, and are not wiped out; we shall see. Ground beetles are thought to predate flatworms, fortunately.

Why is there a gnome in my garden?

My sister-in-law gave each child a garden gnome in their party bag for her girl’s fifth birthday, and my daughter brought hers home and jubilantly placed it in the garden, someplace “he wouldn’t get wet”.

He’s what you might expect: round, hatted, smiling. Now here’s the mystery: why doesn’t he bother me? I’ve been working on making sure the garden isn’t only my place — with the aid of some very wise readers like Carolyn, I let my kids plant literally anything they wanted into their barrel gardens this year, quashing my micromanagement instinct — but still, I would have thought I’d be horrified at gnome creep in my garden.

I’m not. He’s lovely. And after our little dog died earlier this month, my daughter put the gnome on top of Lizzy’s grave. We’re all pretty devastated by losing Lizzy, and I’m glad she has a bit of company. And maybe it will scare off the flatworms.

(Actually I picked up the gnome the other day and what fell out? A ground beetle. Mother Nature is a cunning one.)

posted under Garden design, Gardening
10 Comments to

“Flatworms and other garden pests”

  1. On July 31st, 2011 at 3:27 am cat davidson Says:

    So sorry about your dog – it’s terribly hard to loose a member of the family. We have planted a tree on top of all our old pets and livestock, always nice to smile when the blossoms come out and bring back memories.
    I have just compiled a small ( But hopefully set to expand) list of great Scottish gardening blogs, and have included you in the list – I hope this is okay.
    If you know of any more I have not yet included, please do drop me a comment. Thank you, best wishes, Cat @ Abriachan

  2. On August 3rd, 2011 at 9:35 am Janet Says:

    I haven’t visited your site since I had a good greet into my cornflakes over your dog.
    I remember my mother letting us put gnomes in the garden. There were five of them and all different and very special to me as a child.
    But now, I wouldn’t give one house (or garden) room! Sad we grow up sometimes….

  3. On August 3rd, 2011 at 11:33 am The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Janet — I promise to blog about more positive things in the future, with less mourning! Thank you for your comment. My daughter has her own barrel garden where the gnome may take up residence, but at the moment he is on sentinel duty by Lizzy, and he’s doing a bang-up job. 🙂

  4. On August 3rd, 2011 at 11:34 am The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Thanks Cat for your comments; I will have a look at your list and let you know if there are any others you should investigate! Thank you also for including me.

  5. On August 5th, 2011 at 2:44 pm richard andrews Says:

    The flatworms are not really flat and have a rounded body instead. They do have a flat belly though. The flatworms can either be extremely tiny or can grow to become several inches long. They are pointed on both ends and are characterized by eye spots on the head. Their colors may vary from being translucent white, green as well as brown. It could also be blotchy and mottled as well.

  6. On August 5th, 2011 at 3:32 pm The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Richard — stop, stop! You’re giving me nightmare flashbacks. *shudder* I take it you’re very familiar with these?

  7. On August 22nd, 2011 at 5:57 pm Mark Gillham Says:

    I also have a flatworm problem (in Peebles) – very few earthworms in my garden (none in my allotment). I’ve been in touch with Dr Boag too as well as some other academics but they seem to think there’s not a lot of hope of establishing a decent earthworm population. I’ve set up a blog to to see if anyone has any helpful advise –


  8. On August 22nd, 2011 at 6:38 pm The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    Looks interesting Mark, thanks for that! Those creatures make me absolutely cringe. it doesn’t sound positive for the earthworms, alas.

  9. On December 22nd, 2011 at 9:58 am KEITH CHERRY Says:

    Read ‘The Earth Moved’ by Amy Stewart, ISBN 0 7112 2450 1
    A book about earth worms.

    Pages 126-128 & 142. Early farmers in N.Z. thought that our worms would do a better job than the indiginous ones. So they imported them and arable farming output increased, following the pattern of introduction, by as much as 70% !
    One can infer from this that on balance the N.Z. flatworm cannot compete.

  10. On December 22nd, 2011 at 10:19 am The StopWatch Gardener Says:

    thank you Keith – Sounds like a fascinating book! This is the kind of thing my husband would absolutely love. By the way, one of the places in my garden that has the most earthworms is my raised vegetable bed, where I saw loads of them yesterday! So it looks like the invaders are not decimating my locals, not yet anyway!

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