What Are Potato Eelworms: Prevention And Treatment For Eelworms

Any seasoned gardener will tell you that they love a challenge. That's probably because most gardeners deal with a series of problems from the moment their seeds are planted until they plow them back down in the fall. One of the more annoying and difficult to detect issues gardeners face is with a small, eel-like worm that lives in the soil and can be a serious problem to your vegetable garden. Parasitic nematodes, also known as eelworms, can't be seen with the naked eye, but when they invade your plants, particularly potatoes, they can cause major damage. A nematode by any other name is just as nasty of a garden problem. Nematode eelworm control can help safeguard your potato crop. Learn about eelworms in potatoes and what you can do to stop them in this insightful article.

What are Potato Eelworms?

Eelworms in potatoes are not an uncommon problem. When these plant parasites are living in the soil, they quickly seek out their favorite hosts, such as potatoes and tomatoes. Once located, these tiny animals go to work eating root hairs and eventually boring through larger roots or the tubers of your potatoes. As they feed, eelworms can cause so much root damage that your plants develop persistent wilting, with floppy yellow leaves that soon turn brown or black as the plant dies. If you're lucky enough to successfully eek out a harvest, eelworms in potatoes will appear as damaged areas of flesh with multiple visible boreholes.

Treatment for Eelworms

Gardens where potatoes or tomatoes have been planted year after year in the same section of soil are particularly susceptible to infection by this kind of nematode. Eelworm control starts with crop rotations in at least six year cycles. Unfortunately, if your potatoes are already under attack, there's not much you can do to stop it. In some areas, solarization can bring the soil temperature high enough to kill eelworms and their eggs. If you've had problems in the past, try using resistant potatoes like the following early varieties:

  • ‘Accord'
  • ‘Kestrel'
  • ‘Lady Christi'
  • ‘Maxine'
  • ‘Pentland Javelin'
  • ‘Rocket'

Maincrop varieties are also known to carry some resistance to eelworm attacks. These include:

  • ‘Cara'
  • ‘Lady Balfour'
  • ‘Maris Piper'
  • ‘Picasso'
  • ‘Sante'
  • ‘Valor'
Kristi Waterworth

Kristi Waterworth was a regular contributor to Gardening Know How for many years, answering countless queries on plant pests and diseases.