what are garden centipedes

What are Garden Centipedes (and How Do You Get Rid of Them)?

When you hear the word “centipede,” the brown, many-legged, many-segmented insect probably comes to mind. This isn’t the type of insect we’re talking about today. While a garden centipede is called a centipede, it’s not really a centipede at all. From identification to eradication, learn everything you need to know about the garden centipede in this comprehensive guide.

What is a garden centipede?

Garden centipedes (also called garden symphylans) are not insects. Like regular centipedes and millipedes, garden centipedes are members of the subphylum Myriapoda. Because garden centipedes are in the Symphyla class, however, they are not actually centipedes. Instead, garden centipedes are their own thing: symphylans.

Garden centipedes are tiny, quick-moving creatures that live in your soil. These many-segmented pests average a little over a quarter of an inch long and are a whitish-translucent color.

garden centipedes
Photo credit: Andy Murray

Depending on the time of year, you can find garden centipedes anywhere between 3 inches and 3 feet beneath your soil line. In spring and early summer, you might find garden centipedes a few inches beneath your soil. When the weather gets hot, garden centipedes travel further down (up to a few feet) to cooler parts of the ground. They also burrow further into the ground to molt.

Centipedes in the garden: good or bad?

Garden centipedes are a pest that feeds on sprouts and young plant roots, so they are a bad thing. They can also be a reason why your root vegetables, like sweet potatoes, have holes in them. Garden centipedes are a little like root-knot nematodes in that once you realize you have them, you’re likely already infested.

Signs of garden centipedes

If your plants are generally unhealthy but you can’t find signs of pests or disease, you may have garden centipedes. Because garden centipedes are so small and live in your soil, it can be hard to spot an infestation unless you know what you’re looking for.

How do you test for garden centipedes?

Testing for garden centipedes is easy, and you only need to go as far as your kitchen to gather what you need to make the test.


  • 1-2 potatoes
  • Shish-kabob skewers


Cut your potatoes into 2-inch chunks.

Stick a skewer into each potato chunk.

garden centipede trap

Bury your potato chunk into your garden bed, 2-4 inches below the surface of the soil. Be sure to leave the skewers sticking up above the ground — you’ll be using them as a handle to pull your potatoes back up.

Leave the potatoes underground for 1-2 days.

garden symphylan trap

Pull up your potatoes and inspect them closely. If you have garden symphylans, you should see them feeding on your potato slices.

How to get rid of garden centipedes

Unfortunately, garden centipedes are hard to control — there are no effective pesticides for garden centipedes that are approved for home garden use. Additionally, garden centipedes live deep in the soil, making insecticides useless unless you really soak your soil. Like many pests, such as slugs or aphids, the best way to get rid of garden centipedes is to prevent them in the first place. Some ways to prevent garden centipedes include:

Reduce organic matter: Garden centipedes love organic matter, especially manure. Although it’s important to have a healthy mix of organic matter in your soil, too much of it can cause issues with garden centipedes. Also, any organic matter that you use in your garden should be fully decomposed.

Tilling: Tilling your soil can crush garden centipedes that live in the top few inches of your soil.

Soil compaction: Another way to prevent garden centipedes is to pack down your soil after planting. Garden centipedes travel through your soil, anywhere from a few inches to a few feet below the ground. Because garden centipedes are so small, however, they’re not strong enough to make their own burrowing tunnels. Instead, they move through existing air pockets in your soil. Air pockets in your soil are a sign of good soil structure, but these air pockets do make it easier for garden centipedes to survive.

Soil solarization: Soil solarization may get rid of garden centipedes. To solarize your soil, you’ll need to cover your garden bed with clear plastic and use the power of the sun to bake your soil for 6 to 8 weeks. Although soil solarization is an effective way to manage soil-borne pests and diseases, it also requires you to cull your plants. Additionally, solarization kills beneficial insects along with pests.

Get some chickens: Some gardeners claim that their backyard chickens like to feast on garden centipedes, so allowing your chickens to roam your garden beds may help reduce your pest population. Do know, though, that chickens aren’t discerning and may also eat any plants that you have growing in your garden.

Quick tip! If you suspect (or have confirmed) that you have a garden centipede problem, you should plant more seedlings than you think you need to make up for any you’ll lose to the centipedes during the growing season.


Are garden centipedes dangerous?

Garden centipedes aren’t dangerous, but they can devastate your garden. These pests are hard to spot, and they’re hard to get rid of. Garden centipedes feed on roots, root hairs, and seedlings, causing plants to wither, produce smaller yields, and even die.

Do garden centipedes bite?

No, garden centipedes do not bite.

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