How best to deal with pill bug infestation?

chickencoupeSeptember 28, 2013

I already spent several hours reviewing information on these bugs on this site. There's a lot of conflicting information and much good practical information. From what I gathered, beer is my best solution.

Make no mistake, I have more than the customary amount! I think they exploded in population when I began composting in 2011 through the drought. I also worked with fallen tree limbs adding to the soil and in the h-kulture bed. I'm not freaked, but they are too many in number. I just check my butterfly weed spot, for instance. There are, at least, 200 pill bugs in just a 2" square area where I planted that seed.

Do I wait until spring to reduce their population? For now, they're working that soil and it's a good thing, right?

I am wanting to dump a bunch of wood chips in my garden areas. Is this a bad idea considering?


Sometimes they eat my plants, sometimes they don't

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Because I add so much partially-decomposed organic matter both as soil amendments and as surface mulch, our garden is a pill bug and sow bug magnet. The only thing that ever has worked for me is Slug-Go and Slug-Go Plus.

In the beginning, I used Slug-go (an organic product whose active ingredient is iron phosphate) on the recommendation of other Garden Webbers and found it did control the sow bugs and pill bugs. I guess the manufacturer of the product noticed a lot of folks were using their produce not only for slugs or snails, but also for sow bugs and pill bugs, so they created a more effective Slug-Go, called Slug-Go Plus, that added spinosad to the iron phosphate. It is terrific.

I only add it in the spring. I do let the little decomposers do all their work in fall and winter, since they are essentially beneficial workers in our gardens. For me, there seems to be an ordinary level of sow or pill bugs that I can have and they don't bother plants much. However, once their population gets above that level, they start munching on plants....and they love to eat tomatoes and cantaloupes,

Our population here in our garden only soars out of control after a very, very wet year like 2007 or the spring of 2009 when we had about 21" of rain in about a 2-week period, With the recent drought years, the garden has been staying too dry for them and I haven't seen many at all. I cannot remember the last time I bought Slug-Go plus to use on them. Maybe 2010. (As a bonus, I don't have cutworm problems either in the years when I've used Slug-Go Plus for pill bugs and sow bugs.)

If you want to let them eat and decompose organic matter for you all fall and winter, there's nothing wrong with that. However, I'd treat planting areas in late winter about 2-3 weeks before I intended to plant in those areas. That will knock back the pill bugs and sow bugs to a lower population before your are putting out transplants or having seeds sprout. In my garden, in the years when the pill bugs and sow bugs are bad, they'll eat every bean seedling the minute it sprouts so I have to treat in advance for them or we wouldn't have any beans at all.

Hope this helps.

    Bookmark   September 28, 2013 at 4:51PM
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Extremely helpful! Out of everything I read, no one really had any good indications to what helped their problem (other than beer). Mostly, they were arguing whether they eat plants or not. LOL Seems simple to me. "If I hungry, I eat."

I have a grub problem because of the same. I expected an imbalance with the changes I"m making. It'll take time for beneficial organisms to show up, as you've diligently elaborated on other posts.

I seize up with the grubs in the shovel before I murder them. I hate not knowing which species they are.

I'm seeing 25 grubs within a shovel-full. I think I can get away with knocking whatever they are out of the garden beds in spring.

I planned on buying milky spore, but it looks like you've helped me kill two bugs with one product!


    Bookmark   September 28, 2013 at 7:12PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Bon, I think the argument about whether or not pill bugs and sow bugs will rage on forever. Different people have different experiences. My experience is that in our climate, they'll eat everything they can find in dry years, though they aren't as much of a problem in wet years. It also depends on how much organic matter you have available for them to munch on. If they run out of organic matter to break down, they'll immediately start eating your plants. As you noted, they have to eat something when they get hungry.

Grubs at the level you're seeing would worry me, but then, most grubs are not an issue, so it wouldn't worry me a tremendous amount unless I am having an ongoing issue with the types of grubs that are destructive. Grubs are simply the larvae of beetles, and there are many beetles that are beneficial. If you have too many of the types of beetles that are destructive next year, then the time to use milky sport powder to lower their population would be next August.

We have a gazillion different kinds of ground beetles here and they are very beneficial, so I don't worry about them. In the years when we have an outbreak of the types of beetles that munch on plants, all I do is put a little bit of alfalfa (the kind that is compressed into rabbit feed pellets is fine for this purpose) into a 5-gallon bucket and just leave it there, sitting under the yard's security light. The beetles are drown to it and drown in the alfalfa tea. I scoop them off the top and toss them on the ground or on the compost pile, and the next morning, there's a whole lot more floating in the alfalfa tea. After a few weeks of that, all the problem beetles are gone.

Since you have small children, you might not want to use a 5-gallon bucket if you think they might wander over to it and play in the alfalfa tea, but even a fairly shallow pan with water just 3 or 4" deep will attract and drown a lot of the bad types of beetles. You'll find beetles floating on pure water too, but they are a whole lot more attracted to alfalfa tea than to tap water alone.

I have had years where the raised beds in my garden were full of grubs, though not as many as you're seeing, and they did zero damage to the garden plants.


    Bookmark   September 30, 2013 at 7:15AM
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"then the time to use milky spore powder to lower their population would be next August.

Thank, kindly, for that. It is a problem. It's only because I'm adding massive amounts or worm tea and organic materials in these areas. I'm also using ALFALFA hay stock from the bunnies. Sounds like everything probably loves this. I'm even letting it mold over in some areas.

But everything I read about organic and what you've taught over the last 2 years tells me it's expected to find this imbalance.

The key is surviving the imbalance!

    Bookmark   September 30, 2013 at 9:15AM
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ChickenCoupe, from your first paragraph in the original post, did you just decide not to worry about it and start drinking alcohol to help forget the problem?

I admit I never read any of the original pill bug discussions so the beer thing caught me off guard. LOL.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2013 at 10:21AM
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LOL, Scott!

    Bookmark   September 30, 2013 at 10:58AM
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Lisa_H OK(7)

Bon, the first couple of years I composted I had a lot of problems with slugs. I would have to go out at night and hunt them down and spray ammonia on them. I imported a toad to my garden. I'm not sure what finally made a difference, or if I just gave up looking :), but the slug thing seems totally in balance now.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2013 at 1:02PM
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That's good to hear. All in good time. âÂÂ¥

    Bookmark   September 30, 2013 at 1:14PM
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By spring 2014 the number of grub worms per shovel full were no where near the same but they were apparent. Perhaps they were concentrated in an area I was adding organic material. I don't remember. I do remember bringing the subject up again. I put off using the Spinosad against grubs and had no problems. Something kept chowing on my corn seed forcing me to replace some of them, but no idea what and it wasn't a big deal. Those smaller corn caught up with the others.

I did use Spinosad once on the corn for corn earworm control, recently. Today, when watering the corn I noticed tons of dead pill bugs and wondered why. Oh yeah.. Now, beneficials: Lacewing, lady bug, predator spiders and wasps, and assasin bugs and wheel bugs are present. Wouldn't dare use Spinosad, now.

I have a new found respect for pill bugs. So far they haven't been an issue on my healthy plants. But the diseased leaves are eaten up very quickly by them and I appreciate that. If what I read is correct what they poop out is detoxified. Yet, they probably can spread it through their tiny legs. Not sure.

It's all been fun, tho.

    Bookmark   July 4, 2014 at 5:54PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Pill bugs and sow bugs are great decomposers. They just become a problem when there's too many of them or when they lose their focus and decide to start eating things they shouldn't----like tomatoes. I found one inside a tomato today when I was harvesting, and I chewed out the pillbug and let it keep the tomato (cause, you know, who wants to eat a tomato that a pill bug already has sampled?).

After the horrendously wet years of 2004 and 2007, the pill bug and sow bug population in our garden gradrupled or quintupled, and that's when I started using Slug-Go (iron phosphate) as needed, and then later on, Slug-Go Plus (iron phosphate plus Spinosad) once the they added the Spinosad. I don't have to use it for them every year, but I watch carefully because when beans are sprouting, the pill bugs and sow bugs like to eat the bean sprouts.

    Bookmark   July 5, 2014 at 1:21AM
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Thanks so much, this is great information. Having quite a pill bug problem this season.

Don B.

    Bookmark   August 18, 2014 at 10:09PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Don B., Thanks for stopping by and I am glad the info helped.


    Bookmark   August 18, 2014 at 10:50PM
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