If you’re looking for information on how to get rid of pill bugs in the garden, you’ve come to the right place.
They might be natural decomposers, beneficial when it comes to breaking down organic matter in the soil, but they can be destructive pests that cause a variety of problems for your plants.
They easily become overpopulated since they have very few natural predators - so it’s up to you, as the gardener, to know exactly what to do to get rid of them.
Pill bugs, or Armadillidiidae, can be prevented and an infestation treated by following these simple steps.
What Are Pill Bugs?
Pillbugs, also known as roly polies, are pests that feed on decaying matter. They are vital to the decomposition process, so while they pose problems for gardeners, they can also be quite beneficial, too.
It’s when pill bugs are present in large populations that you may start having problems. They'll feed voraciously on many kinds of plant parts, including leaves, new roots, seedlings, and even fruits or vegetables that come into direct contact with the soil.
Often found hanging out beneath rocks, mulch, and leaves, these pests love damp, dark environments.
Pill bugs can’t survive for more than a couple of days without water and are incredibly slow-moving. Up close, pill bugs look a lot like crayfish. They are usually less than an inch long and shaped like ovals.
With seven pairs of legs, a hard covering like that of an armadillo (the scientific name makes sense now, doesn't it?) and two tail-like structures bringing up the rear, pill bugs look like something out of a science fiction movie.
Will Pill Bugs Actually Damage Gardens?
There are some situations in which pill bugs can help your garden, so you should make sure it’s actually pill bugs damaging your plants before you take steps to eradicate them.
Many common pests threaten plants in a similar way as pill bugs, so rule out potential infestation from these other creatures before you take any steps toward eradication.
Because these bugs eat organic matter and many other kinds of pests, like stink bugs, it's important you be sure they are truly damaging your garden before removing them.
Pill bugs also populate the soil with beneficial microbes, bacteria, and organic matter when they excrete their waste.
Only Get Rid Of Pill Bugs If They Begin Colonizing In Your Media
However, pill bugs also reproduce rapidly. These pests mate throughout the year, but especially during March and April.
Females can produce broods of 30-40 young with each living up to the years. They can produce up to two generations per year, too, depending on the weather conditions, meaning one pair of mating pill bugs can quickly lead to a huge infestation in the garden.
Once pill bugs start reproducing and colonizing your garden, you’re going to need to take action. They can be particularly detrimental in potted plants, where they’ll munch on leaves and plant roots.
The best way to determine whether it’s necessary to look into how to get rid of pill bugs in the garden is to keep close track of your pill bug numbers and stay on top of their growth.
Pill bugs generally become destructive only when they are not exposed to natural predators, like birds, and become overpopulated (this is common in potted plants and indoor-grown plants).
How To Prevent A Pill Bug Infestation In The First Place
There are several simple ways you can prevent these pests from entering your garden at all. The easiest way is to remove the habitat that is favored by roly-poly bugs.
Get rid of weeds, fallen fruits and vegetables, leaf piles, and other kinds of garden debris. Keep things clean throughout the year, but especially at the end of the growing season, when the garden tends to be the messiest.
Pill Bugs Love Moist Conditions
You should practice proper watering, too, to eliminate the likelihood that the soil stays overly moist to provide the ideal environment for these water-loving creatures.
Mulch conservatively, using a type of mulch that is coarse enough to allow water to pass through.
That way, the surface near the plants won’t remain damp for too long. When you mulch, do so cautiously.
Too much mulch gives pill bugs a place to hide from predators and also keeps the soil wet, allowing the bugs to multiply.
That said, don’t underwater your garden, since dry, depleted soil is robbed of organic matter that these bugs feast upon - meaning they’ll turn to your plants for food instead.
Companion planting is another way you can control potential infestations of roly poly bugs.
Plants like marigolds and chrysanthemums may help keep your vegetables safe from these creatures.
How To Get Rid Of Pill Bugs In The Garden Naturally
Of course, you can always rely on insecticides to get rid of these pests in the garden. However, if you want to know how to get rid of pill bugs in the garden naturally, there are several steps you can take.
First, improve the air circulation around your plants by trellising vines and getting fruits and vegetables up off the ground.
You can also make pill bug traps out of things like cups of beer, orange rinds, and bamboo. These traps will need to be checked often and the pill bugs disposed of.
Physically Remove The Pill Bugs From Your Soil
Removing pill bugs from your soil sounds like a mundane task, but because these bugs are big enough and slow enough, it's feasible.
You can simply bring a bucket with soap and water and grab these guys out, dropping them into the bucket and disposing of them.
If your outbreak is a bit more serious, grabbing individual bugs will be quite a chore.
Instead, consider transplanting your plants into a fresh pot with fresh soil, after thoroughly shaking the root mass to eliminate any hiding pill bugs. This will give you a blank slate to work with.
Kill Pill Bugs With Diatomaceous Earth
Apply a dusting of diatomaceous earth, a material that’s made out of the finely ground fossils of prehistoric creatures.
Although this will need to be applied after watering or rainfall, it is abrasive to crawling pests and can be used to keep them away from your plants.
If you want to learn more about this natural, effective pest control method, read our complete guide on how to use diatomaceous earth.
What Insecticide Kills Pill Bugs In The Garden?
If you need to know how to get rid of pill bugs in potted plants, you may find yourself turning to sprays or pesticides first.
There are several types you can use, including insect killer granules and botanical insecticides that are less toxic than chemical insecticides (since they are derived from plants). Here are some great options:
- Sierra Natural Science 203 Pesticide Concentrate (Forumlated From Botanical Extracts)
- Safer Brand Insect Killing Soap Concentrate (OMRI Listed Plant Wash)
- General Hydroponics AzaMax Concentrate (OMRI Listed Prevention & Active Pest Control Pesticide)
In most cases, it’s far easier to prevent a pest infestation in your potted plants by keeping the roots of your plants healthy - and by growing in strong soil.
Amend with things like compost and compost tea before and after planting and you should find that your plants are far less vulnerable to pill bugs. But should you encounter an infestation anyway, we have the pesticides you need to restore balance.
Final Thoughts On How To Get Rid Of Pill Bugs In The Garden
Ready to get rid of roly poly bugs in the garden? Now that you know how to get rid of pill bugs, you can simply follow the steps listed above, and you’ll be on your way to a pest-free garden in no time.
You can get everything you need to prevent and treat an infestation of these pests (as well as many others!) by shopping Hydrobuilder’s extensive collection of pest-prevention resources.