How To Get Rid of Roly Poly Bugs

Organic Pest Control: Pill Bugs

Pill Bugs (armadillidium vulgare) or roly poly bugs are oval shaped hard-shell crustaceans and natural decomposers. They exist everywhere and are part of the group of creatures that break down dead organic matter into the soil. But since they are hard shell terrestrial crustaceans, they rely on moisture to survive.

 Roly Poly Bug rolled up in a little ball

Roly Poly bugs are fascinating when you are a kid because they have the ability to roll into a ball when you touch them. But as an adult, pill bugs are pesky little pests that can infest your garden and greenhouse.

They can become destructive in cases where:

1. They are not exposed to their many natural predators like birds, and become overpopulated.

2. Mulch is used in abundance, therefore giving them ample moisture and shelter from predators. Large populations of roly poly bugs can live and multiply in mulch and other damp areas.

3. In dry depleted soil where there is not enough organic matter for them to decompose and not enough moisture for them to live. This forces them to resort to eating living plant matter in your garden.

4. The root structure of your plants is not healthy making them vulnerable to pests such as the roly poly bug.

Because greenhouses often provide one or even all of these conditions, pill bugs can become an infuriating issue that can make us feel defeated as organic gardeners.

Pill Bugs also known as roly poly bugs

How to Rid Your Garden of Pill Bugs

There are many ways to get rid of roly poly bugs and Growing Spaces would like to help. Here are a few ways to get pill bugs under control and enjoy a healthy thriving garden.

Strong Roots and Strong Soil

The key to organic pest control is having healthy soil and a healthy root structure. We use compost, compost teas, organic matter, good bacteria, efficient watering, and mycorrhizae such as Orca. If Pill Bugs have enough organic matter and moisture in your soil, they won’t need to use your plants as a food source. Also, if the cell walls of your plant’s roots are strong it makes the plants less vulnerable to pill bugs. Young plants are also more vulnerable to roly poly bugs.

Beer Traps

Beer Trap for Pill Bugs and Roly Poly Bugs

Any beer will do. Roly poly bugs aren’t picky. Put beer in a used can or plastic cup and sink it into the soil, making the lip of the container match the soil level. Pill bugs will drown themselves in beer. The trap should be checked daily and changed at least every two days.

Potato or other Fruit or Vegetable Traps

Cut potatoes can be placed along edges, and the underside is checked each morning for pill bugs. I recommend a small container of oil to brush them into and kill them. Grapefruit or orange rinds, mango skin, and many other fruits or vegetables that retain moisture are also good options.

Bamboo, PVC, or Toilet Roll Traps

PVC Roly Poly Bug Trap 3

A few inches of any tube cut lengthwise in half. Then duct tape is fitted to the bottom side face up and placed on the soil by an edge where pill bugs will get stuck to the tape looking for a moist, dark place to hide. This trap should be checked often as moisture from watering decreases the stickiness of duct tape. Other kinds of tape or sticky traps can last longer and trap more at a time.

Remove mulch and dead plant mater

Roly Poly bugs love living and multiplying in mulch

Roly poly bugs live and multiply under mulch. As decomposers, they consume and use mulch as shelter. If you remove mulch, they will be forced into traps as they are always seeking moisture and darkness. Pill bugs will also feed on decaying plant material in your garden, so removing this quickly will also force them into the traps.

Diatomaceous Earth

Use Diatomaceous Earth to dry out pill bugs

Diatomaceous earth is a safe way to desiccate or dry out pill bugs, therefore killing them. Spread Diatomaceous along the edges of your planting beds where pill bugs like to live. Unfortunately, it also kills ants and various other insects, meaning it could be harmful to ladybugs and other beneficial bugs but safe for worms. Believe it or not, diatomaceous earth is even edible, and many people find consuming it beneficial to health and wellness. It is not healthy to breathe as the dust is abrasive to the lungs. Wearing a mask is recommended when spreading it.

Disposable Cups

Paper cups can protect your young plants from pill bugs

Although we try not to use single-use plastic whenever possible, we have been known to use plastic or paper cups in the Growing Domes around our new sprouts (particularly bean sprouts) to protect them from all kinds of things, especially pill bugs. Just cut the bottom off of the cup and press it into the soil around any new sprouts. Plastic cups are more rigid, so they hold up to watering better, but paper works too as they don’t have to last very long before they are removed.

In some cases, people like to leave them on and cut them off later when the plant is fully mature, for extra protection. This is fine if you don’t mind how the cups look. They are nice to leave on in the spring in case of cutworms or other destructive beasties that hatch out at that time and can do a lot of damage.

Sluggo Plus

Sluggo Plus

Sluggo Plus is a broad-spectrum organic pesticide that poisons a wide variety of insects but is safe for birds and various other wildlife. It is OMRI certified but is not safe for human consumption and is also a danger to some beneficial insects. I do not recommend it in most cases, but it may be helpful in some extreme cases for short-term use to bring a pill bug population down to more manageable numbers.

I hope these solutions get rid of roly poly bugs, and you get back to gardening with success and joy. If you have any questions about roly-poly bugs or organic pest control you can contact us at info@growingspaces.com or check out our other blogs on organic pest control

Heather with a 24 pound zucchini
Heather with a 24 pound zucchini

Written By: Heather Gray

I am a gardener and educator here at Growing Spaces. I have farmed and gardened for 27 years in clay, loam, and sand in many different environments. I’m certified in Permaculture design and have taught college courses in agroecology. My focus is on Organic, Holistic, Sustainability.

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2 Comments

  • Thank you so much for this information! We lost 12 pepper sprouts, 4 tatsoi, 4 sorrel, 2 cucumbers, 3 spaghetti squash, a tomato and a snow pea all grown from seed… So sad! I kept thinking it was cut worms but there is a massive city of roly polies roaming around the empty spot where the plants were. Finally dawned on me to look up if roly poly bugs can cause damage. We mulched to keep the soil healthy and to help it keep moisture (we’re in LA), so I’ll try these other options before getting rid of the mulch… Is it possible to keep the mulch and still find a healthy balance of beneficial bugs and plants? Or will it always be a battle?

    • We are so happy you enjoyed the information. We do not recommend mulch. Mulch harbors slugs and pill bugs. It can also create an environment conducive to mold. Are you gardening in a Growing Dome Greenhouse?

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