What are these white eggs in my soil?
Are they harmful?
Why are they there?
Don’t worry, Plantophiles comes to the rescue!
What are these white ‘eggs’ in my soil?
There are several creatures that lay eggs in the soil. If it is damp, fertile and well aerated, it will attract all manner of living organisms. Generally speaking, most of them are harmless or even beneficial to your garden. The only eggs that could cause concern are slug and snail eggs. Even these could be seen as an opportunity, as they retail for a pound a gram in the best restaurants. If you would like to know about your eggs, package a few in a see-through, escape-proof bag, and take them to your nearest garden centre or agricultural extension office, for identification and advice.
Snail or slug eggs
Snails and slugs compete with gardeners and can seemingly indiscriminately destroy months of hard work. They eat all parts of their favourite plants, including the seeds, leaves, roots and fruit.
Their eggs differ according to the species. They are either spherical or oval in shape, and covered in a gelatinous slime. They are usually about half a centimetre in diameter, the size of a small pea.
The colour can vary from transparent to opaque white or creamy gold, changing to pink when they mature. The size of a cluster of eggs could be between three (3) and five hundred (500).
The eggs need to incubate in a warm, dark and moist environment. They are usually found just above the surface of the soil, under leaves or rocks or rotting wood.
Dealing with slug eggs
If you are not going to harvest them and sell them to your nearest Michelin restaurant as snail caviar, the quickest way to get rid of them is to squash them.
Alternatively, feed them to your poultry or fish and watch them enjoy a gourmet meal. The eggs are rich in protein and will be beneficial to their systems. A longer-term solution may be to train the poultry to seek the eggs out themselves.
As the eggs are found on the surface, regular light digging will disturb their habitat and diminish their viability. They will not survive being exposed to light, heat or the desiccating atmospheric conditions above ground.
Snails and slugs will lay their eggs before winter, hoping that they will survive until the temperatures trigger their hatching. You can expose the eggs and cause them to freeze if you rake over the surface of your soil when the temperatures are low.
Another way to destroy the eggs is allow the soil to dry out completely, before planting a new crop. This will cause the protective, slimy coating and the eggs to dry out.
Remove any hiding places in order to deter further clusters from being laid. Beware that certain types of mulching materials may provide the environment sought after by the parents. Bark should not be used if you have a snail or slug problem in your garden.
A counterintuitive approach may be to deliberately create a desirable nursery environment, such as placing a plank of rotting wood in the garden, with the intention of luring the snails or slugs to lay their eggs there. If this is successful, you will know where they are and can dispose of them, having prevented them from being laid anywhere else.
If you do not manage to stop them from hatching, there are ways to prevent more eggs from being laid by eradicating mature slugs and snails.
These molluscs are attracted to yeast and carbohydrates, and are therefore partial to beer.
Prepare a beer trap by filling a deep plastic cup with their favourite ale, and burying it to just below the lip of the cup. Lay the trap near the area of your garden that they target.
The pests will fall into the liquid and drown. The carcasses need to be removed daily and the beer replenished when it has evaporated significantly.
More humane ways of deterring them from entering an area to feast and lay their eggs, are:
- wrapping adhesive, copper tape around plant pots and raised beds
- creating a barrier of ruffled tin foil around individual plants
- surrounding the targeted plants with crushed eggshells, bramble twigs or other substances that cause them discomfort to move over
- sprinkling diatomaceous earth on the surface of the area you wish to protect
- spraying a chilli and garlic mix which burns their exposed undersides as they move over it
- rotating crops so that they do not have time to establish a colony in a given area
Other white eggs in the garden
Lizard species that lay eggs, favour similar conditions to those sought by the molluscs. These eggs have an opaque, leathery shell that is mottled. Lizard eggs range from round to elongated ovals.
These reptile residents are beneficial to your garden as they eat slugs. It would be a pity to disturb a lizard nest. Only around 40% of lizard hatchlings survive to maturity.
If you accidentally dig one up, try to return the eggs to the same place, taking care not to turn them. Ensure that the environment around the nest remains dark and moist, to ensure their viability.
Snakes lay eggs similar to those of the lizard, but larger. If you suspect they may be venomous, and you wish to have them removed, call the nearest wildlife center to remove them expertly.
Egg look-alikes in the soil
Ants and flies also lay their eggs in soil. These look like a cluster or clump of rice grains. The eggs grow into larvae that also resemble white eggs.
Ants are beneficial to a garden in a number of ways. They feed on the eggs of many garden pests, and during their foraging, they aerate the soil and help with pollination. They become a problem when they move indoors, however.
Likewise, flies have a productive role to play in the garden ecosystem. When their eggs are in the larvae stage, they breakdown manure and rotting animal matter. By virtue of these actions, however, they are seen to carry disease to animals and humans.
Soil mites are tiny white insects that scavenge in the soil and may be mistaken for eggs. They clean up the garden, eating fungi, dead insects, small live worms and algae.
Fungi, like slime mold, are also found in the kind of habitat that snails and slugs like to lay their eggs in. They can easily be mistaken for eggs. If the number of ‘eggs’ increases rapidly over a period of days, you are probably dealing with one or other type of fungus.
This is beneficial to the garden as it breaks down decaying matter in the soil, and releases micronutrients that are more easily absorbed by plants. If the soil is too damp, the ratio of dying matter increases and so will the fungus.
Fungi should be active in a compost heap where they will have a rich source of food. Fully prepared compost should not have much decaying matter in it and therefore will not support the growth of fungi.
White ‘eggs’ in commercial potting soils
Potting soil that is bought from a nursery should be healthy and support many forms of life, not that these are always desirable.
It is often packaged in bags that have holes in them for the aeration of the microorganisms that live in the soil. All life on earth needs oxygen in order to survive. The bag should also have a moisture content that supports this life.
Potting soil is invariably stored outside for a period of time, where space is at less of a premium than inside a garden center or nursery. It is feasible that any of the creatures mentioned above, including mold, may find their way into the bags, however this is unlikely.
The white ‘eggs’ in shop-bought potting soil are most likely to be pellets of slow-release fertiliser, or tiny polystyrene balls that are often used by commercial vendors to aerate soil and promote drainage.
Marcel runs the place around here. He has a deep passion for houseplants & gardening and is constantly on the lookout for yet another special plant to add to his arsenal of houseplants, succulents & cacti.
Marcel is also the founder of Iseli International Commerce, a sole proprietorship company that publishes a variety of websites and online magazines.