Beware of scams and worms

It does not take long for fall to arrive, as I write this on the autumnal equinox of 2021. It has been a cool, wet, summer, but in general a good gardening season for those who managed to escape some local flooding. This was one of very few summers when supplemental nitrogen fertilizer might have increased yields or performance of some plants, except tomato plants. Lots of leaves are already dropping partly due to the increased level of leaf diseases. I think the fall colors are arriving a bit later than usual. It should be a spectacular season.

Sadly, many of our ash trees are succumbing to the Emerald Ash borer. I guess I had underestimated how devastating this pest would be. We have been told many times of impending doom, as a result of some new pest or disease arriving that will “wipe out” this or that species. Most of these warnings have not transpired into serious issues, but the EAB has lived up to the dire consequences predicted a few years ago. The good news is that we are already seeing some apparent, natural resistance to this pest. It almost seems like we are seeing some “herd immunity” if I may borrow a popular pandemic expression.

Another serious pest that is showing up in far too many forested areas in New York and elsewhere are three species of exotic earthworms. The one that is most easily identified is a species that will actually jump out of your hand as they thrash around violently if picked up. These jumping worms are smooth, glossy gray or brown and 1.5 to 8 inches long. They are a bit smaller than night crawlers and are relatively easy to identify if you take a look at their clitellum (the band around the body of a worm). The clitellum on a jumping worm is milky white to gray-colored, smooth and completely encircles the body of the worm, unlike a night crawler whose clitellum does not completely encircle the body, is pinkish to red and appears more like a saddle. Unlike European earthworms, which will burrow deep down into the soil and improve its texture, the jumping worms stay mostly on the surface and consume the humus layer that is critical to the health of many woodland plants, including ginseng and most other herbaceous perennials. The net result of this activity is a hard packed subsoil that cannot support normal growth.

These earthworms perish with hard freezes, but their cocoon like eggs survive and re-infest the following year. Most of these worms arrive in nursery stock that is potted up in containers. I strongly encourage you to remove any potted plants you buy from their pots and wash off the roots completely before you plant them in your gardens. Look for the small, white colored, cocoon like eggs and report any you find to the garden center. Dispose of any infested soil by putting it in sealed plastic bags and let it sit in the sun for several hours, before sending it to the landfill. Never buy any earthworms for composting or “vermiculture.”

I really want to thank the reader who recently sent this to me. Please send me ideas for topics of columns as well as other interesting horticultural stuff.

Here’s the scam:

People are selling seeds online for plants that do not exist in reality — they Photoshop the pictures of some really cool looking plants: spiral daisies, bright pink sunflowers, rainbow tomatoes, blue strawberries, etc. etc.

While I have never purchased any of these seeds myself, judging from the reviews it looks like after you make a purchase you are mailed some mystery seeds from a foreign country. The seeds of course, do not actually grow rainbow roses or whatever was promised.

I find this very concerning because not only are people being scammed and who knows what is being done with their personal information — the seeds that are being sent are unregulated and could pose a threat to our native vegetation.

Below I will list some examples. I have found these seeds being sold on independent websites as well as listings on e-commerce sites like Etsy, Ebay and Amazon. The scammers make it extra confusing by mixing the listings of fake plants with listings of real plants. They also tend to add a lot of fake five star reviews.

Reach Bob Beyfuss at

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Johnson Newspapers 7.1


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