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 wreak havoc on a garden. To my great frustration, countless seedlings have been destroyed by rollie pollies in my garden.
As an organic gardener, I’m not willing to use pesticides to control pill bug numbers 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.
5 Ways to Keep Pill Bugs from Destroying Your Garden
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 the 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.
Do you have other pests in your garden? Read this post for organic pest control that really works.
2. Set traps to catch rollie pollies in the 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
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
Set a shallow container (such as a pie plate) with the rim flush to 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 toilet paper tube, newspaper, or duct tape collars
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
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 tape when stem grows larger to keep tape from suffocating the stem.
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.
Toilet paper tube collar
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 2-3 seeds, I plant 6-8 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 soil level rather than pulling. (Pulling may disturb the roots of remaining seedlings.)
5. Use Diatomaceous earth (DE) as a barrier method
Diatomaceous earth (DE) is 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.
The rough texture of this powder injures the skin of soft-bodied insects. When insects walk through it, they dry out and die.
Apply 2 inch barriers around plants or groups of plants, and reapply after rain.