One of the challenges that gardeners face—especially
in the spring and the fall—as we’re putting out new transplants and planting seedlings
are pill bugs and sow bugs. Now, these are actually not insects because they have seven
pairs of legs—so fourteen legs unlike an insect with six. They’re actually a member
of the crustacean family like lobsters and crayfish. They like damp areas, dark areas,
and they typically feed on decaying, organic material so they’re not a bad thing to have
in our gardens and landscapes because they help with the breakdown of organic material.
But, they do like an occasional feeding of young, succulent plants and seedlings so we
have to take some care when we’re putting out new plants. Sometimes when I’m putting
out things like lettuce that I know is going to be attractive to pill bugs, I start out
a little bit in advance of planting my lettuce by reducing the number of pill bugs. I do
that with beer trap. Just a simple coffee or cat food or pie pan with just a little
bit of beer in it sunk to the level of the soil will attract them and then they fall
in drown and die and you can take care of them and get them out of the garden. Avoid
having boards and logs and other trash and debris in your yard because they’ll tend to
collect under those areas, but you can actually make traps like that. You can put clay saucers
in the ground with a little bit of potato or apple and put that under a board and then
that will attract a lot of them. Then you can kill them and get the numbers down in
your garden. But again, once your plants get established, they’re not going to be as tasty
to the pill bugs so it’s really just an early planting pest that you’ll have to deal with.
Now there are some things that you can use around the house that might be of help for
you. Sometimes coffee grounds will help to repel them around seedlings. One of the secrets
too is not to mulch plants too early because having a thick layer of mulch around the plants
will give them a hiding place. So, it’s best to let your plants get up and get established
a little better and then pull the mulch up around them as the stems start to toughen
off. You’ll also benefit from watering more in the morning and not having the foliage
really wet in the evening because that makes conditions really nice for snails, slugs,
and pill bugs and could add to the number of problems that you have around your plants.
Another thing that you can do is sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the plants, but
I don’t find that that has a long-lasting effect. Even red pepper—hot red pepper like
cayenne pepper—sprinkled around seedlings can also help you with deterring the pill
bugs. There are some commercial products available that are very helpful and very effective.
One thing you could do is spray with orange oil—just a diluted orange oil sprayed on
the surface of the soil—and also to spray under those traps that you might put out in
the garden will help reduce the numbers very quickly. The other product that you can use
is the Bio-organic spray—some of these sprays that use essential oils—work very effectively
on the pill bugs and sow bugs. Another product that is wonderful is Sluggo-plus. Now, you
may have heard of Sluggo being used for snails and slugs. This has the iron phosphate of
Sluggo, but it also has the plus which is spinosad. That works very effectively on millipedes
and pills bugs, sow bugs, and all kinds of things. The difference between a pill bug
and a sow bug is that sow bugs tend to be a little bit flatter and they don’t roll up
into a ball like the pill bugs. So, the Sluggo plus breaks down into a fertilizer. It is
a bit expensive, but you do get the benefit of having that insecticide control, plus a
little bit of fertilizer added to it. You just sprinkle that lightly into the soil and
it will give you a long-lasting effect and get those numbers down. So, wetter years we’re
going to have more problems with pill bugs so be prepared for dealing with them when
we’re going to have wet soil.