Last Updated on March 10, 2023
Doodle bugs. Roly poly insects. Both are cute names for a pesky creature that invades veggie gardens and homes alike. That’s right. Your old nemesis the pill bug. Whether you have a long, unhappy history with this goober or you just noticed them scurrying among your greens, the chances are that you want to get rid of them. Well then, this article is for you. We explain what pill bugs are and how you can show them the door.
Table of Contents
What Are Pill Bugs?
When you look at what pill bugs actually are, they can become very interesting! Pill bugs belong to the woodlice family but they are not lice. These animals are the only crustacean that has fully adapted to living on land. This cousin of the crab looks primitive with a panelled body and lobster-like legs. Shaped like scurrying ovals, they also have the ability to roll up into balls when they feel threatened.
How to Identify Pill Bugs
Below is a checklist to help you identify these tiny crustaceans (as they are often confused with another garden pest called sow bugs).
- Dark brown to black color.
- Blue-gray color and yellow spots are also known.
- Size: 1/4 to 1/2 inch long.
- Seven pairs of legs.
- They have no wings.
- A pair of antennae.
- Their bodies are oval-shaped.
- A plated body (like a centipede).
- Can roll up into a round ball.
Top 11 Tips to Banish Pill Bugs From Your Garden
These goobers love to eat plant matter and unfortunately, they do have a taste for vegetable gardens. This can lead to a lot of damage, especially when you are looking at a big infestation. Let’s look at the most effective ways to get rid of pill bugs, so you can grow your favorite foods or flowers in peace!
1. Get Rid of all Organic Debris
Pill bugs love places that are dark, damp and filled with organic material. More correctly, decaying material like leaves and rotting stems. They also prefer to hide from predators under logs and rocks.
In essence, when you get rid of their habitat you are well on your way to controlling this pest. Take a day to pick up unwanted rocks, stumps, leaves, and get rid of that old compost heap that you started as a project but later abandoned. It is a pill bug palace!
2. Check Your House for Bugs
Sometimes, pill bugs will either spread to your house or leave the house to infest the garden. Either way, you don’t want them in your home. Once again, these goobers prefer dark and damp places. Check the basement and other humid areas like the laundry room, boiler room and places where you might have problems with leaking water.
The good news is that pill bugs are not as destructive as other house pests. Unlike mice, rats and cockroaches, you don’t have to worry about structural damage or diseases.
3. Food grade Diatomaceous Earth
This is one of the easiest options if you do not have the time for a high-maintenance repellant. Diatomaceous earth is also a fantastic choice if you are concerned about all the toxic solutions available. The good news is that this powder is absolutely harmless to people and plants.
Simply sprinkle the powder to create borders around your plants, then sit back and watch the results. But how exactly does it kill the pill bugs? The product is made from the shells of diatoms and despite being ground to a fine powder, the pieces are still sharp enough to shred the underside of the bugs. This damage is ultimately fatal to the crustaceans.
4. Neem Oil
Neem oil is another organic option. However, it is not quite as safe as diatomaceous earth. The effectiveness of neem oil relies on pill bugs’ aversion to its smell and taste. You can apply the oil to problematic areas. However, neem oil is not always safe for pets, kids or sensitive individuals. If you have animals in the garden or family members who might be negatively affected, rather use diatomaceous earth or the citrus tactic (see below).
5. Give Them Oranges
For some reason, oranges are yummy to pill bugs. So, if you have a bag of oranges lying around, cut each fruit in half. Place the halves around the plants in your garden where the pill bugs appear to hang around the most.
The halves should be placed with the fleshy side against the earth and left overnight or for a few days. The pill bugs will conglomerate on the flesh and you can catch them that way. After a few rounds, you can replace the orange halves with fresh fruit.
6. Organic Insecticide Spray
When you are overrun by these creatures, you can fight them off with something more active – like an insecticidal spray. However, you really do not want to spray a poisonous substance everywhere in a garden where kids and pets romp about. Also, toxic sprays have no place in a vegetable garden.
It might take a while to find a good organic spray but once you do find a brand that works, you won’t regret playing it safe. Your food will be safe to consume and your offspring can play with their pup without the risk of accidentally ingesting a poison.
7. Snail Bait
Some brands of snail and slug bait can also reduce pill bug populations. Once again, you might have to shop around to find something that is both organic and effective. Always use a toxic solution as the last resort and then only when you don’t have children or pets.
8. Give Them a Meal
This sounds counterintuitive but the tactic is actually very effective. Aim for their favorite food. Not only does this draw them away from your plants but you can also catch more of them this way.
Place a pile of garden waste near problem areas, preferably rotting material. Once your heap is teeming with pill bugs, you can simply pick up the waste and move the goobers elsewhere. Over time, this technique will definitely reduce the number of pill bugs on your property.
9. Create a Concrete Garden
Don’t worry, this garden is not as bleak as it sounds! Pill bugs prefer to hide under the soil and concrete stands in the way of this instinct. So, if your soil is teeming with tiny crustaceans, why not create a potted garden on your porch or cultivate your veggies on a raised stand? It does not necessarily have to be made from concrete. It can be treated wood, stone and even metal – anything with a surface capable of stopping a pill bug from burrowing.
10. Beer Traps
Pill bugs do not prefer any one brand. You can use any type of beer to lure them away from your garden. Simply use a shallow dish, fill it with beer and leave the bowls out wherever you have noticed the pill bugs. You can replace the bowls with fresh beer every second or third day. Either way, the pill bugs will drown themselves in the brew.
11. Increase Air Circulation Around Your Plants
Pill bugs love plants that are packed closely together. The latter offers them everything that they need to thrive – protection, humidity and darkness. Have a good look at your garden. Are the plants too closely planted together? Do they drop enough leaves and debris to create a layer organic litter (and a constant source of food for the pill bugs)? If so, then you might have to thin out your crop so that the sun can reach the soil between individual plants. This will not only increase air circulation but it will also reduce the darkness and moisture.
Q: How dangerous are pill bugs and do they bite?
Pill bugs are not dangerous to humans. They are not venomous and they do not bite. Indeed, pill bugs do not even harm the environment nor do they spread diseases or contaminate food. The only problem they seem to cause is when they damage flower or vegetable gardens.
Q: What natural enemies hunt pill bugs?
Pill bugs appear on the menu of many predators. Their main enemy is a spider (aptly known as the pill bug killer). However, other animals that also dine on these crustaceans include frogs and toads, centipedes, ants, lizards and even birds.
Q: Can ground covers help control pill bugs?
Yes, they can. However, before you lay plastic sheets on the ground or mulch the area, you have to absolutely clear the area of organic debris and other tasty bits. Failing to do this will actually just make your problem worse.
Q: What companion plants repel pill bugs and other insects?
If you love organic deterrents that do most of the work, companion plants should be a part of your pill bug arsenal. Around your main problem areas, establish plants like mint, fennel, lemongrass, basil, catnip, bay leaves and rosemary.
Q: Can I use a homemade soap spray to control pill bugs?
Yes, you can make your own soap-based repellant for pill bugs. Get a liquid soap that is both natural and antibacterial. Use a tablespoon of soap and mix it with roughly two litres of water. Shake the bottle and spray the affected areas early in the day. Right after dawn is ideal.
Q: How long can a pill bug live?
Amazingly, a pill bug can live for two years. Female pill bugs can produce up to two broods every year, each consisting of between 100 and 200 eggs. The eggs hatch between three and four weeks later.