Although rollie pollies (also called pill bugs or potato bugs) usually eat decaying and decomposing plant matter, occasionally, pill bug numbers are high, and they can wreak havoc on a garden (and your favorite strawberries!). This post shares my favorite natural pill bug control methods.
To my great frustration, countless seedlings have been destroyed by rollie pollies in my garden. As an organic gardener, I’m unwilling to use pesticides to control pill bug numbers when they get off balance, so I’ve had to get creative. These are my time-tested and favorite ways to keep pill bugs from killing my seeds and seedlings.
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Best Natural Pill Bug Control Methods For the Home Gardener
1. Don’t give rollie pollies in the garden what they want
Pill bugs prefer damp and dark hiding places. Try not to make life comfortable for them.
Remove wet leaves, fallen fruit, and dead plant matter from your garden. Try not to overwater your garden, as rollie pollies are also attracted to moisture.
This step can be helpful, but if you still have problems, keep reading through the rest of the ways to keep pill bugs from destroying your garden.
2. Set traps to get rid of rollie pollies in your garden
If an area of your garden has an overabundance of pill bugs, setting traps is an effective way to bring the numbers back in balance. Check traps daily, and remove and either discard or transplant the pill bugs to other areas of your yard.
EFFECTIVE WAYS TO TRAP PILL BUGS INCLUDE:
Citrus or fruit traps as a natural pill bug control method
Cut the fruit in half and place it face down in the affected area. The pill bugs will be drawn to the fruit. Check traps in the morning, and dig down a bit to collect the rollie pollies. Fruit can often be used for 2-3 days in a row.
Beer or yeast traps as a natural pill bug control method
Set a shallow container (such as a pie plate) with the rim flush to the ground; fill with beer or 1-2 Tb yeast dissolved in water. The rollie pollies will be drawn to the beer or yeast, fall in, and drown.
3. Make paper tube, newspaper, or duct tape collars how to get rid of rollie pollies in your garden
Sick of losing my seedlings to rollie pollie damage, I wrapped the stems in duct tape (sticky side out) and it worked! The seedlings are thriving with no pest damage to the stems. This technique is quick, simple, and effective. I’ve also used newspaper and toilet paper rolls as collars effectively.
Duct tape collar as a natural pill bug control method
Wrap a small piece of duct tape (sticky side out) around the stem of a seedling. Bury one-half of the taped stem in the ground, leaving some of the tape above ground as well. Remove the tape when the stem grows larger to keep the tape from suffocating the stem.
Newspaper collar as a natural pill bug control method
Tear a couple-inch strip of newspaper and carefully wrap it around the seedling stem, burying some if possible. As the seedling grows, the paper will fall off — no need to remove it.
Toilet paper tube collar as a natural pill bug control method
Slide the tube over the seedling and into the soil. It’s best to have the collar buried an inch or two below the soil.
I’ve had mixed success with this type of collar. Sometimes it works. Other times the pill bugs get inside the collar.
4. Overplant to overwhelm the rollie pollies in the garden
Certain crops are best started in the garden from seed, which makes using collar methods ineffective – the seedlings are often eaten before there is anything above ground to protect. When this happens, I usually try overplanting.
For example, instead of planting 1-2 seeds, I plant 3-4 seeds. In my experience, at least one of the seeds is overlooked or somehow protected by the other seedlings and not eaten by the rollie pollies — success!
If more than one seedling survives, thin additional seedlings by cutting at the soil level rather than pulling. (Pulling may disturb the roots of remaining seedlings.)
5. Use Diatomaceous earth (DE) or Nematodes to combat pill bugs in the home garden
Using diatomaceous earth (DE) to combat pill bug overpopulation:
Diatomaceous earth (DE) can be an effective means of controlling pill bug populations around your plants. DE is safe to handle (for animals and pets, too) but not to inhale – wear a mask while using.
DE, or diatomaceous earth, works to kill pill bugs by dehydrating them. Diatomaceous earth is made up of tiny fossilized aquatic organisms called diatoms. When pill bugs come into contact with DE, the sharp edges of the diatoms cut through the bug’s exoskeleton and absorb the moisture, causing the bug to dehydrate and die.
DE is commonly used in organic pest control as it is non-toxic to humans, pets, and the environment. It is important to follow the instructions on the product label when using DE to ensure effective and safe usage.
To use DE for pill bug control, apply a thin layer around their frequented areas, wear gloves and a mask, avoid windy conditions, and re-apply after rain. Apply in the late afternoon when the bugs are active and follow the product label for safe and effective results.
Using nematodes to combat pill bug overpopulation:
Nematodes are microscopic organisms that are often used as a natural method of controlling pests in gardens.
Specifically, the Steinernema carpocapsae nematode is effective at targeting and killing pill bugs. These nematodes are applied to the soil in the garden and penetrate the skin of the pill bug. Once inside, they release a bacteria that quickly kills the pill bug.
Using nematodes for pest control is considered a safe and environmentally friendly option as they only attack specific pests and do not harm beneficial insects or soil quality. However, it’s important to follow the application instructions carefully to ensure the nematodes are introduced properly.
Additionally, nematodes may not be as effective if the soil is too dry or too hot, so it’s important to monitor the environmental conditions in your garden to determine the best time to use this method.
Which natural pill bug control methods should you try in your home garden?
I’ve found the best way to bring pill bug numbers back into balance is by incorporating a combination of these methods. Effective methods for combating pill bug damage in a home garden include reducing favorable environmental conditions, creating physical barriers, using predators, manually removing the bugs, and using natural repellents.
Looking for more information about managing pests?
Do you have other pests in your garden? Read this post for organic pest control that really works.