Wednesday, June 10, 2009

How To Get Rid Of Pill Bugs - The Research

Our beautiful raised bed garden has turned into a sea of potato bugs / pill bugs / charlie bugs / rollly-pollies / sow bugs. See that beautiful photo of my beans? They ate that entire row of young bean plants in a night and then started on an Early Prolific Squash. I have never seen these docile cute little bugs swarm before. They are voracious.

Where did they come from? While we certainly have our share of all sorts of bugs we've never had this many sow bugs. As I did my internet research on how to be rid of them I learned they like to feast on decaying matter and young seedlings. I'm guessing they had a very cozy life inside the organic compost I used to start my garden. I don't mind sharing some of our garden with nature but this is nuts!

So, how to be rid of them? Since our goal is to raise vegetables and fruits without chemicals we are looking for a natural, "Little House on the Prairie" solution to this problem. Here's a variety of solutions we've learned thanks to a handy google search.

What you need to know about these fellers is they work at night. During the heat of the day they go dormant. They lounge in the shade of plant leaves, crowded together, hording moisture. At night, when the humidity rises, they go to work.
  • Remove them by hand. Pick em up. Smoosh em. Or relocate them. This didn't work for us as there were just too many. At the height of it I could pick up trowels full of them.
  • Reduce the moisture in the garden by watering in the mornings. These little buggers thrive on moisture. If you water in the mornings the moisture will soak in throughout the day and the top layer of soil will be dry by evening. In theory, without moisture the pill bugs will go elsewhere. This helped but would not have sufficed on its own.
  • Once your plant is mature, try to raise the vegetation off the ground as they will eat a whole squash!
  • Use Sluggo Pellets, which supposedly dissolve and add iron to your soil. I didn't try these as I didn't feel 100% sure about the "naturalness" of this product.
  • Set a trap using over-ripe fruit. Place fruit in various spots of the garden. The sow bugs will make a meal of the fruit throughout the night. In the morning, pick up the fruit loaded with pill bugs. Toss it. This TOTALLY WORKS!!
  • Set a trap using newspaper. Take tightly rolled newspaper and soak it with water. Put it in the garden at the end of the day. The rollie-pollies will feast on it all night. In the morning, you should find a paper loaded with pill bugs. Toss it. This TOTALLY WORKS!!
  • A blogger from Australia says he uses cayenne pepper and/or curry powder as a deterent. He puts a mixture of cayenne pepper and curry powder in the soil around his tomato and potato plants and has found that to be an effective deterrent. I haven't tried this one yet but I have found that cinamon is an effective deterrent for ants...that'll be a whole other post.
  • Use Diatomaceous Earth. Diatomaceous Earth eliminates the pill bugs by dryingthem out and can be harmful to worms. I love my garden worms so I haven't tried this solution.


  1. I discoverd a great pill bug trap by acccident.
    Place duck tape on pieces of wood or along the edge of your garden. When the pill bugs try to walk over it they stick to it. Place it right under your rippening fruit and they wouldn't be able to get to it.

  2. Thanks for gathering these tips. I'll be trying them out for sure, since my seedlings have been getting chomped to nothing. Are you sure that diatomaceous earth can harm earthworms? I'm pretty sure it does not. I may try some of that, and may try a garlic/pepper spray as well.

    1. Make sure you use the food grade diatomaceous earth and it will not kill your earthworms. Do not use the one make for swimming pools. I am fighting ants also and use it around my plants.

  3. We tried Sluggo Plus and diatomaceous earth after they little buggers ate our spinach sprouts. Now they are working on our carrots! We will be trying your methods now. Thanks!

  4. I was tempted to try Sluggo Plus, but I read that it contains a substance called spinosad that kills bees. I can't say for sure that it's true, but I'm not willing to risk it, as bees are essential and we're clearly unintentionally killing them off with certain pesticides! Thanks for the alternative methods!

  5. DE shouldn't hurt your worms, it works by damaging exoskeletons on a microscopic level leading to dehydration. Then again, it may not work on a crustacean like a pill either, it depends on how advanced their regenerative capabilities are. Insects have very poor regenerative abilities and know it which is why it works so well for them.

    1. Actually pill bugs are not "bugs" at all but are actually crustaceans and are,in fact called isopods.

  6. DE works well on pill bugs. I use inside my home.