How To Get Rid of Pill 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. While they do serve a purpose in nature they can become a nuisance in the garden, so here you will find some helpful tips on how to get rid of pill bugs.

Roly Poly bugs are fascinating when you are a kid because they can 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.

Pill bug or roly poly bug rolled up in a little ball

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 pill 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 pill 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 Get Rid of Pill Bugs in Your Garden

There are many methods on how to get rid of pill 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

Orca brand liquid mycorrhizae

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 pill bugs.

Beer Traps

Any beer will do. Pill 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.

pouring beer into a Beer Trap for Pill Bugs and Roly Poly Bugs

Potato or Other Fruit or Vegetable Traps

Cut potatoes can be placed along edges, and the underside should be 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.

someone pressing half an orange into the soil to trap Roly Poly Bugs

Bamboo, PVC or Toilet Roll Traps

PVC Roly Poly 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 matter

Pill 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.

Roly Poly bugs love living and multiplying in mulch

Diatomaceous Earth

Use Diatomaceous Earth to dry out and get rid of pill bugs

Diatomaceous earth is a safe way to desiccate or dry out pill bugs, therefore killing them. Spread diatomaceous earth 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 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 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.

Sluggo Plus

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

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Growing Spaces
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12 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?

  • I love all of this information, thank you! I have a bad pill bug infestation in my beds, they ate so many of my plants last year. I want to get a head start on their control before planting this year. I live near Atlanta GA and I have raised beds in my backyard. I also have 2 crazy German Shepherds that “help” me in the garden all year long so I need pet-safe control as well as not hurting the butterflies and bees!

    • You’re welcome! Good luck with your German Shepherd “snoopervisors”! I had to fence off my outdoor garden since I have “helpers” also.

  • Could you please send me your guide on greenhouse pests. The pill bugs are eating all my cucumber and squash seedlings.
    Thank you

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