Organic Pest Control And The Pill Bug

Tips and techniques on organic pest control and the pill bug in your garden or greenhouse

strawberries can be used as roly poly traps

Strawberries and sandboxes and what is the difference between a Pill bug and Sow bug?

And more importantly, are they harmful to your garden? 

And what organic pest control methods work for Pill bugs?

As a child I spent many summer afternoons playing in the sand box.  Near the sandbox was my mom’s strawberry patch. The strawberry patch was a place for me to graze in between sand play and a home to one of my favorite insects to play with: the Pill bug or Roly Poly.

organic pest control roly poly in a ball
Pill bug in a ball

I would gather them up to send them fearlessly down the small toy slide in the sand. Some would crawl down the slide and others would roll up into a ball and roll quickly down.

Now I have a garden of my own and help tend the garden beds in the Growing Domes. I noticed the Pill bugs in the beds and fondly thought of my childhood.

But wait-what happened to the seedlings and transplants?

I had a suspicion those little Pill bugs had something to do with it! And, what types of organic pest control is effective when it comes to dealing with Pill bugs?

It was time to do some research:

  • The Pill bug is not really an insect, but a crustacean that is a relative to the shrimp.

shrimp is a crustacean

Shrimp? I guess I could see that.

  • The Pill bug (Armadillidiidae) looks very similar to a Sow bug. Okay.
organic pest control roly poly
Pill bug
  • Now, the Sow bug (Woodlouse)
    organic pest control sow bug
    Sow bug

Notice the flatness of the body of the Sow bug compared to the Pill bug

  • We have numerous Pill bugs in our beds, but I’ve also seen a few Sow bugs wandering around amongst the Pill bugs. After all, they both like moist environments and their food source is decaying plant material and organic matter.
  • The Pill bug has the ability to roll into a tight, round ball like a “pill” while the Sow bug, with a flatter body, can only hump up and form a C shape.
  • Both are crustaceans and decomposers, but they will feed on seedlings, young plants, new roots, leaves, fruits, and vegetables they can reach from the ground.
organic pest control pill bug
Pill bug feeding

Yep, despite the fond childhood memories, bye-bye peppers. Bye-bye lettuce. Bye-bye beans and chard.

I love life. I love Pill bugs; I really do. But I love my garden, and I want to benefit from my hard work gardening!

Here are some organic pest control tips on how to keep Pill bugs from nibbling on your plants.


  • Cut off bottom of paper cups and put over seedlings and small transplants
  • Water in the morning so the top of the soil is dry by night.
organic pest control cup method
cup method

If you have small numbers that are nibbling here and there, bait them and catch them!

Remember, those little guys love moist environments, they even breathe through gills!

And they are decomposers.  So bait them by creating a little island oasis of moist material for them to decompose, right in the middle of your bed.

Since they are most active at night, you can catch the congregation in the early morning at the bait site and simply pick them up and put them somewhere else.

Some bait material ideas:

  • Corn cobs

  • Potato chunks in a small plant tray placed just into the soil

  • Slices of cantaloupe or some other type of melon

  • Rolled up wet newspapers

  • Beer in a cat food can sunken just below soil

Beer in a cat food can? What can I say, it works.

If they’re devouring seedlings and transplants in large numbers, it’s time to get serious!

Here are some things that you can spray or spread that are a little more aggressive.

  • Spray diluted orange oil on soil

  • Use a mixture of cayenne pepper, 2 tbsp of household detergent, 1 quart of rubbing alcohol, all added to a gallon of water. Spray this in the area or drench infested places.

So, there you have it. Some organic pest control tips on how to deal with that childhood, non-insect,  friend, the Pill bug or Roly Poly!

Stay tuned to see what we do and how it works in our garden beds.

organic pest control roly poly
Feeding signs of Pill bugs

Organic Pest Control: Pill Bugs

Until next time, happy Pill bug hunting!

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