How to Get Rid of Pill Bugs in the Garden (13 Proven Methods)

Pill bugs, or rollie pollies, are the only crustaceans that have completely adapted to spending their lives on land. Their name consists of the words ‘pills’ and ‘roll’ because they tend to roll into tight pill-like balls when disturbed. These insects are one of the most common species that can be found in the U.S., and while you may find them interesting, they can be pesky little creatures that can demolish your gardens in case of infestation.

In this article, you will learn how to get rid of pill bugs in the garden once they take over the garden-greens. We will also discuss the damages they impose and how you can prevent them from infesting your lawn.

Pill Bugs Identification

Pill bugs are usually two to four inches long with seven pairs of legs. These pests are slate gray, dark brown or black with deep gray antennas. Although they are oval in shape, you will find them in a perfectly round, ball-like shape when they are rolled up. The rollie pollies are easily recognized by their back bodies that are made of seven hard-coated individual plates, segmented by lines.

How to get rid of pill bugs in the garden
Image of a bug sitting on a plant leaf

Pill Bugs Behavior

Pill bugs mostly reside in moist places, such as damp garden soil, grass clippings, flower pots, garbage cans, or under vegetable debris. These pests remain inactive during day time to prevent water loss, staying under protective shades. However, rollie pollies remain fiercely active at night time, sometimes entering homes or other buildings through door thresholds. 

Although these pesky insects wreak havoc on the garden as they feast on decaying or weak-root plants, they don’t bite humans or spread any diseases.

When Do Pill Bugs Become Destructive?

Pill bugs can be particularly destructive to your garden in specific situations. Here are a few cases:

1- Too Much Mulch

When mulch is used in abundance, it provides the rollie pollies with the ideal condition to live with moist plants, hidden from predators. Mulch also provides the perfect cover for pill bugs where they can grow and multiply in numbers rapidly.

2- No Natural Predators Around

The presence of natural predators, such as birds, toads, spiders, and wasps, prevents the pill bugs from infesting your garden. However, if the plants are located in a predator-free zone, these pests overpopulate the garden within a month, if not less.

3- Weak Root Structure

If the root structure of your garden plants is not healthy, they can become easy targets for rollie pollies and other bugs of the same nature, encouraging them to begin their infestation.   

4- Insufficient Organic Matter

In the kind of depleted soil where there isn’t enough organic matter for the pill bugs to decompose and yet insufficient moisture to live, they are forced to eat living plant matter in your garden. This ultimately destroys your garden’s plants in no time.

Preventive Measures for Pill Bugs

It is a lot easier to keep the pill bugs from invading your garden than it is to get rid of them after their infestation. Here are a few preventive measures you can take to protect your garden from these pesky pests:

  1. Remove piles of grass clippings and leaf litter from around the garden regularly.
  2. Store firewood off the ground and away from your garden.
  3. Get rid of wood debris and rocks that can be used as a moist harbor aging place for the pill bugs. 
  4. Don’t over mulch the garden soil.
  5. Water your plants in the morning, so the water is dried by the afternoon.
  6. Drain standing water from the garden and around the property.

Following these strategies, you can prevent these garden demolishers from infesting in your lawn. Now, let’s discuss in detail how to get rid of the pill bugs in the garden.

How to Get Rid of Pill Bugs in the Garden

The key to removing pill bugs from the garden is by eliminating the moist sites that make their survival possible. However, once the garden is infested with these bugs, it is essential to take extra steps that can help you clear them out in the quickest time.

get rid of pill bugs in the garden
get rid of pill bugs in the garden

There are several ways to get rid of pill bugs in the garden. Here are some of the most effective techniques you can easily try at home:

1- Beer Traps

Using beer traps is one of the best and widely used methods to capture pill bugs in your garden. Here is a step-to-step guide you will need to follow to make it work:

  • Clear out any decaying organic matter, including dry leaves and plant debris from around your garden. 
  • Dig holes in various places near the affected plants using a trowel or hand spade. Make the holes deep and wide enough to hold a standard-sized can or glass. Make sure you don’t dislodge any of your plants’ roots while digging the ground.
  • Wash and dry empty used cans or plastic glass before pressing them into the prepared holes. The lip of the can or glass should be level with the ground’s soil. Repeat the step until all the cans are fixed inside the soil throughout the garden.
  • Pour the beer inside the cups till it reaches the top of the can or plastic glass. You can use any beer as the rollie pollies are not picky and can easily get attracted by all kinds equally.

Once the beer trap is ready, wait for night time when the pill bugs become active. The beer’s smell will automatically lure them in that direction, making them fall inside the can and drown. 

As the bugs accumulate in the cups or when the beer evaporates, empty the cans and replace the traps with a fresh batch of beer.

2- Cornmeal Trap

If you want a non-beer alternative to get rid of pill bugs in the garden that is equally effective, you can try out the cornmeal trap. Here is what you will have to do:

  • Put in several tablespoons of cornmeal in a small plastic sealed container. 
  • Cut a small hole on the bottom of the container, big enough for the pill bugs to enter easily.
  • Place the containers near your garden plants. Make sure the holed side of the container is facing down. 

Once the bugs detect and follow the cornmeal scent, they climb inside the container and start ingesting it. The pill bugs are attracted to the cornmeal but can’t digest them because of ingestion problems, which is why they die soon enough.

3- Ground Covers

Another excellent way to deter pill bugs is by covering the ground with plastic, cardboard, or fabric garden sheets. Although these sheets are mainly used to control weeds, they can also serve as a barrier for the rollie pollies. 

Before you lay a sheet over the garden soil, remember to declutter it by removing the dead leaves, plant debris, or other decaying organic matter.

4- Strong Roots and Healthy Soil

A healthy root structure and garden soil work as a great organic pest control. You can use compost, compost tea, good bacteria, and other organic matter to nourish the soil while efficiently watering the plants in the right amounts in the mornings.

When the pill bugs find enough moisture and organic matter in the soil, they stop looking for decaying plants as their food source. Furthermore, the cell walls of your plants’ roots also become less vulnerable to the pill bugs, including the growing young plants.

5- Diatomaceous Earth

Using diatomaceous earth (DE) is an efficient and safe way to keep out the pill bugs from the garden. You only need to spread the diatomaceous powder on the edges of the flower beds, and it will keep the pill bugs and other harmful insects out of your garden for good. Unfortunately, it may also prevent other beneficial bugs from entering your yard.

Although it has been proven that diatomaceous earth is beneficial for health and many people consume it by doctor’s prescriptions, it is not safe to inhale the white powder as it may be abrasive to your lungs. That’s why it is advised to wear a mask before you spread it throughout your garden.

6- Bamboo or PVC Tube Traps

If you have an extra piece of a bamboo or PVC tube in your shed, you can make a great DIY trap to get rid of pill bugs in your garden. This is what you will need to do for making the trap:

  • Take a few inches of a bamboo or PVC tube and cut it lengthwise in half.
  • Join a sticky tape to the open bottom. Make sure the sticky side is facing inwards.
  • Place the trap beside the plants on the garden field. 
  • Make more traps repeating the same process and scatter them throughout the garden.

The pill bugs come inside the tube in search of a moist, dark spot and get stuck because of the sticky residue. This trap should be checked often as the soil moisture may decrease the stickiness of the tape quite quickly. For prolonging the effect, you can try different tapes and see which one works best for your garden.

If you don’t have a bamboo or PVC tube, you can also use a tissue roll for this purpose. However, you will have to replace that frequently as the light cardboard will easily get soaked and lose its functionality once you water your garden plants.

7- Fruit or Vegetable Trap

Spreading the fruit and vegetable traps in the garden can be beneficial in two ways. First, it will help you trap the pill bugs efficiently. Second, it will protect your garden plants until all bugs are out of your lawn. 

Follow the given instruction for capturing the pill bugs:

  • Cut large slices of potato peels, orange rinds, mango skin, or any other fruit or vegetable that retains moisture.
  • Spray the peels lightly with some beer.
  • Roll out these beer-sprayed fruits and vegetable peels throughout the garden.

The scattered food will attract the pill bugs, and you can check the underside of the peels each morning for the infesting rollie pollies.

8- Sluggo Plus

Although we don’t recommend this method for most cases, it sometimes becomes a necessity to use a pesticide when the pill bugs have infested your garden in such massive numbers that they become unmanageable to handle. 

Sluggo Plus is an organic pesticide that baits and poisons a wide variety of harmful insects in the garden. Although it may harm some of the beneficial insects as well, the solution is not poisonous or toxic for birds, pets, and other wildlife animals. The product also contains phosphate, which is a naturally occurring element in soil. 

Wet the soil adequately and then spray the product on the damp soil at the rate of one pound per thousand square feet. This will be enough to bait the pests into the poisonous trap.

9- Vaseline-Paint Trap

This is another easy-to-make DIY pill bugs trap that works really well. Here is the procedure that you will need to follow to make this trap:

  • Take a piece of plastic card or cardboard paper. It should at least be five inches from all sides.
  • Paint the square material with bright-yellow waterproof color.
  • Once the paint dries, apply copious amounts of Vaseline or any other petroleum jelly to both sides of the plastic sheet or cardboard paper.
  • Place the plastic or cardboard pieces on each of the flower and vegetable beds.

The bright color is used for luring the bugs into that direction while the petroleum jelly traps and suffocates them. This will help you catch plenty of rollie pollies as long as you get rid of the dead bugs and reapply the sheets with another layer of Vaseline every day.

10- Plant Bug Deterrent Herbs

You can include several herbs into your garden that will help you keep numerous harmful bugs out of there while promoting the inclusion of beneficial ones. These herbs include:

  • Mint
  • Fennel
  • Lemongrass
  • Basil
  • Catnip
  • Bay leaves
  • Rosemary

Adding a couple of these herbs into your garden will do an exceptional job to get rid of the pill bugs in the garden. Be sure to locate the herb plants near the vegetable beds, if you have any in the garden.

11- Add Beneficial Bugs

Various bugs can be extremely beneficial for your garden as they minimize the risk of pest infestation by a huge extent. These bugs can ingest hundreds of harmful pests in a day and a thousand of them in their lifetime. 

You can buy ladybugs, mealybugs, and praying mantis, which play the most advantageous roles for gardens, from the nearby botanical store or gardening center. It would be best to let them out in your garden before night time. 

12- Try a Natural Soap-Based Spray 

Using soap is another great way to get rid of the bugs in the garden as its smell forces them to stay away. You can make a spray out of these soaps then apply it to the plants’ roots every day for effective results.

Follow the instructions below for making this spray:

  • Get a natural, liquid antibacterial soap.
  • Pour one tablespoon of soap in a large spray bottle.
  • Add two liters of water with the soap.
  • Now, pour exactly one tablespoon of rubbing alcohol in the spray bottle and shake it well. The alcohol makes the solution extra potent, keeping all the harmful bugs out of the garden.

Apply the solution to the garden plants once in a day, preferably after dawn.

13- Make Orange and Cedar Oil Spray

In general, orange and cedar oil are excellent bug repellants. You can make a spray by combining them both and then apply it to the roots of your garden plants and soil to deter the pill bugs away.

Here is the procedure for making this spray using the required quantity of ingredients:

  • Take one teaspoon of orange juice or orange oil and pour it in a large spray bottle.
  • Add one teaspoon of cedar oil and mix it in the bottle with the first ingredient.
  • Now, pour two liters of water in the spray bottle and shake it a couple of times.

Apply this mixture two times a day and repeat on consecutive days.  Now that you know how to get rid of pill bugs in the garden, you can apply these techniques whenever you feel the threat of a bug infestation in your garden.

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Moreover, the mentioned strategies to keep the rollie pollies out of your yard also work efficiently for other harmful bugs, so you can use these tricks for eliminating them as well!