Wireworm Woes: Identify, Prevent, and Control These Pests

Ed Wike
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Wireworm Overview

Wireworms are the larvae of click beetle species. Click beetles are less than 1/2 inch long and can be brown, black, or yellow. They generally feed on the roots of grasses and broadleaf plants prior to becoming adults. Though immature wireworms are too small to do direct damage to most kinds of crops, they feed on plant material encouraging disease organisms to gain a foothold and reduce root health of host plants.

Wireworms often injured plants that were previously stressed. This could happen when plants are overgrown or overwatered, but wireworms can also cause direct injury. When the wireworm larvae feed just under the surface of the soil, their activity may damage seedlings just after they emerge from the soil. The best treatment for wireworms is prevention.

Soil should always be checked for wireworms befor plants are planted in the soil. We try to prevent wireworms as best as possible. Wireworms are difficult to control, and no control strategy works on all of them. Control strategies include:

  • Rotating crops
  • Rotating with pastures
  • Using ground covers
  • Planting on ridges
  • Water management
  • Using traps
  • Using insecticides
  • Tilling

Prevention is always the best way to control wireworms. These worms can be seen in the spring when the soil warms up. They can be seen scooting around when the soil is turned or watered. One way to avoid wireworm damage is to build up the soil over time. When the soil is cultivated regularly, the wireworms are often exposed and can be seen more easily.

Life Cycle Of Wireworms

Wireworms are the larvae of click beetles. They may look like wiggly pieces of wire, but wireworms pose a real threat to your plants.

The extremely destructive larval stage of the wireworm occurs in the soil. This is because female beetles emerge from the soil, mate and lay eggs underground.

After the female beetles mate, hatching takes place within a few weeks. The larvae start looking for food in the soil. By Spring, adult beetles come to the fore.

Wireworms can damage your garden, and because they often live underground where you cannot see them, wireworm issues go unnoticed.

How to Know You Have Wireworms?

The easiest way to spot wireworms in your garden is to look for damaged plants.

If wireworms infest your plants, you have probably identified only a small problem.

The greatest damage goes unnoticed, as the larvae burrow underground, devouring the roots of your plants.

This is why it is so important to identify wireworms early on and to act quickly.

Signs of a Wireworm Problem

Here are a few signs that indicate a wireworm problem:

  • Dead plants
  • Yellowing leaf bottoms
  • Hollow, rotten stalks
  • Gnawed and damaged roots
  • Uneven rows or plants

Common Habitats

Wireworms that damage turf roots and feed on young plant tissue are typically found in turf sites with a history of organic matter accumulation.

Organic matter such as dead stems, rotted leaves, and large amounts of thatch provide the organic material the pests need for egg development.

Habitats with a history of a thick lawn (more than 2.5 inches) that was never aerated help promote wireworm development.

An individual female lays up to 500 eggs in the soil.

When the eggs hatch, the larvae, or wireworms, feed on the organic matter and digest it.

The larvae will reach adult size and begin to pupate in August.

The adult worms in the soil can be seen near the surface, just below the thatched layer of soil in late summer.

What Do They Eat?

Wireworms are the bane of many northern gardeners. They are the larval stage of click beetles, and they feed on the roots of susceptible plants. Make sure to identify the culprit if wireworms are found in your vegetable bed. Once you have confirmed they are wireworms, you’ll want to control them by either keeping them from coming into the garden or eliminating them from your garden. It is important during the early part of the season to keep wireworms out of your garden, because they can quickly become established when they are small.

The best way to keep them out is to keep your garden healthy and well fed. Well-fed plants are more resistant to wireworm damage. Feeding the plants with compost tea at the beginning of the season is a great place to start. Wireworms do not like to live in a well-nourished garden because there is less room for them to get established.

How To Get Rid Of Wireworms

Wireworms are a destructive pest. They are often irritating to homeowners who suddenly see their lawn or garden turn to mush and completely destroyed. Many people are unaware that wireworms are responsible for the damage they see year after year until they discover them. Wireworms feed on the roots of grass and garden plants. As they burrow into the roots of the grass, they disable and eventually kill the grass.

Introducing birds to your garden is one way to get rid of the wireworms as birds consume a large amount of larvae.

Identifying Wireworms

The first step to getting rid of wireworms is to identify them. They look like fat white grubs and are similar to potato bugs. They feed on the roots of grass and can be surprisingly destructive. They are neither worm nor bug, but they are the white grubs that make your grass go away. They prefer plants that are past their prime. New planting will not be at risk.


The best way to get rid of wireworms is to prevent them from getting to your plants in the first place. Most wireworms are attracted to healthy plants and will only attack your best plants. If you have healthy grass, you will not see wireworms. If you are seeing wireworms, they are attacking your lawn because it is weak. Fix the problem before you start fighting the wireworms. Start by keeping your lawn healthy and you can permanently eliminate wireworms before they destroy your grass.

Organic Controls

Given that wireworms often make themselves at home in the roots of the lawn, the most organic pest control solution is to plant grasses that will actively compete for the space. Lawns that still have dandelions in them or, in the northeastern US, common chickweed can be a great solution.

If some wireworm infestation persists, another significant strategy would be to carefully examine the grasses you have in place, and to identify any weak or vulnerable areas. Then, you can replace those sections of the lawn. Tree plantings are possible, but take a significant amount of time to take hold.

Many homeowners also decide to start using a high-quality lawn care service, whose staff is specially trained in wireworm identification and long-term strategies.

Finally, in the late 20th century, a a chemical called Aldrin was used to control corn rootworms, but has since been discontinued due to suspected health risks and an EPA ban on the product. There is also a spray treatment that uses Pyrethrum, a natural insecticide used primarily on vegetables. Although it is not considered a risk to human health, it is definitely not USDA-approved for use on grass.

Environmental Controls

Wireworm holes in lawns, along sidewalks, and underneath bushes are a common sight.

These pests endanger the health of your lawn as well as the structures surrounding it.
Even worse, wireworms can undermine the integrity of your structures.

Read on to learn how to tackle this problem with the right controls.

Preventing Wireworms

The First Line Of Defense

Wireworm prevention means avoiding the problem where possible, and limiting the impact in the garden when infestations occur. Wireworm prevention is one of the most successful ways to deal with the wireworm problem in the garden.

Another effective wireworm prevention methods is crop rotation, where the garden is moved every year to its own corner of the property. This prevents the area with the greatest wireworm pressure from being planted in the same spot for more than one year. Second best is a three-year rotation, but it doesn’t do as good a job at limiting the problem of wireworms.

Fertilizing with iron by adding it to the compost, or using iron sulfate on the garden, is a good way to limit the likelihood of wireworm infestation. Wireworms love to eat fresh, succulent plants. The chemicals in these plants naturally supply the iron that wireworms need to build their bodies. Iron sulfate blocks the ability of the wireworms to absorb the iron from the plants.

Frequently Asked Questions

So, What Are Wireworms?

Wireworms are the larvae of click beetles. In fact, wireworms and click beetles are often mistaken for each other, even by those experienced in dealing with this pest.

Wireworms are the larvae of click beetles. In fact, wireworms and click beetles are often mistaken for each other, even by those experienced in dealing with this pest.

The main difference between the two is that wireworm larvae have wire-like hairs that give them their name.

They also have darker heads than that of click beetles.

How Can You Contract Wireworms?

You can contract wireworms when you use an area repeatedly for aeration.

In this case, the wireworm larvae are lurking on the soil's surface, just below the grass.

Wireworms can also be transported to your lawn by birds, which consume them in other areas. When these birds poop on your lawn, the wireworm larvae emerge.

In addition to eating grass roots, wireworms damage the lawn by eating the base of plants.

Wireworms: Why are They So Dangerous?

Most gardeners and farmers are well aware of wireworm infestations, but some people who are less familiar with this pest and the damage it can cause aren’t quite sure what to make of it.

The reason why wireworms are so dangerous is that they are eating machines. Their larvae are designed to actively seek out the roots of plants and crops and get into them.

The damage that they cause includes stunted growth, wilting, wilted and yellowed leaves, and a proliferation of fungal infection. Seeds and roots can be painfully disfigured and weakened. This makes them more vulnerable to predators.

When seeds from plants become deformed, the plant will not grow properly. In most cases, this means it won’t produce high-quality fruit. One of the most effective ways to avoid all these problems is to treat your property regularly with a highly effective wireworm pesticide.


You rather prevent wireworms from coming into your garden. However, if they do end up in your garden, getting rid of wireworms is important.