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Getting rid of roly-poly's(or pill bugs)?

How do I get rid of these pests? They aren't a huge army but they are all spread out over my garden. They like to hide under my strawberry leaves and my beans have all been eaten to nubs! So far they've left my tomatoes alone and my strawberries don't look eaten for the most part. I've looked around and it seems 50% of people think they are to blame and 50% think slugs are. I've tried putting beer out but that only caught a few of them. Anyone have a fail proof method? Am I looking at the right culprit??

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  1. This happened to me last year and they multiplied in all of my planters. I have a terrace with large planters and these critters were in all of them. Upon close inspection, I also found tiny shells that appeared to be snails (hundreds of them) in the dirt and attached to the sides of the planters, which freaked me out. I couldn't believe they made their way onto a terrace, but they did. I ended up buying organic slug pellets that I sprinkled in each planter. I think it was a sodium-based product. Be careful to buy non-toxic stuff, because some of it can be really scary. It ended up getting rid of most of the roly polys as well as the shells (that I am sure were going to grow into full-blown slugs). I took the bugs to a nursery and they said they were harmless, but my plants (verbena and annual flowers) were definitely munched. This year, I am growing as much as possible from seed. I am sure these pests came in with the soil of purchased plants. I think the beer trick only works when you have grown slugs roaming around. And slugs will definitely eat their way through your garden.

    1. I don't think these guys are to blame they like to eat stuff that's in the process or rotting----it could be slugs, but the beer should have worked. What are you doing to protect against rabbits?

      2 Replies
      1. re: Sally599

        We actually don't have rabbits around, or at least I haven't seen any since moving to this new house(had tons at our old house!). I'll try the beer again, just to be sure it's not slugs.

        1. re: baloney

          We have rabbits even in the heart of Chicago, I can't imagine that you wouldn't have them but squirrels can also be an issue especially in early spring. I've even had starlings (birds) pull up young sprouts, lots of things are hungry this time of year. Most of the insect damage I've seen involves holes in the leaves etc while animal damage is often more severe like getting chopped off at ground level. My mom thought she had cutworms until she actually saw a squirrel chew off the bottom of a sunflower to knock it over and get the seeds.

      2. Are you looking at the right culprit? Short answer, no.
        Pill bugs eat only decaying plant matter. As a matter of fact, they are an important part of any good compost pile!
        Since the damage is primarily to your beans, I suspect bean beetles. You probably won't see them during most daylight hours. But if you get out to the garden in the early morning, you'll likely find them on the UNDERSIDES of your bean leaves. There are a couple of different bean beetles, but I'll guess that they are Mexican bean beetles. They kind of look like a ladybug gone bad! More rounded, more coppery/orange, head isn't black. Here's a link to a photo: http://www.v-p-g.com/images/bugs/MexB...
        This would explain why your strawberries and tomatoes are not being eaten---these guys pretty well stick to beans.
        Hand picking works if you have a relatively small area planted with beans (pick not only the adults, but any bright yellow egg clusters you see), or you could use an insecticidal soap (several organic brands are available, if that's important to you). Either way, remember to treat the UNDERSIDES of the leaves, since that's where you're most likely to find them.

        8 Replies
        1. re: Anne

          See? Getting the two sides of the discussion here also: pill bugs DO eat seedlings, NO they DON'T! :P But thanks for the advice, I will have to check for that bug. I have seen lots of lady bugs in our backyard and perhaps have seen different colored ones but I probably didn't pay much attention as I didn't know a bean beetle existed!

            1. re: Zeldog

              But the damage to my beans is significant, like they are dead now.

              I checked the underside of the last leaf chewed off today, saw a couple of tiny dark spots that turned out to be some sort of insect. Couldn't tell what it was but it was moving. Anyway I still don't know if they or something else is eating my bean seedlings. Hmmph. :(

              1. re: baloney

                A picture would help---can you find it in the following guide?


                1. re: Sally599

                  Gah! I totally didn't think to take a picture. And now I can't as the leaf is totally gone and I've just got a miserable dead stalk. Also, did not see the offender in the link but maybe I'm looking at the wrong thing.

                  I threw in another bean a week or two ago and is just sprouting so I'll report back and see if the problems continue. Will definitely take a pic this time around.

          1. re: Anne

            I have pillbugs in my garden - they do not eat my veggies. Maybe they are carnivores.

            1. re: Anne

              Are you looking at the right culprit? Short answer, YES!!! Although rollie pollies primarily eat dead and decaying matter, they will also eat live plants, primarily young seedlings,, I have caught them in the act! I seeded and reseeded and reseeded cucumber, watermelon, and cantaloup several times before I found the culprit. The seedling would come up and look fine, the next day it would look sick, the next day it would be laying on the ground. I checked these early in the morning, moved the mulch away from the plant, and seen where they had eaten the stem and dug in around the base of the plant. Dia earth,,, good bye rollie pollies,,,, hello new healthy seedlings!!!

              1. re: Anne

                They eat green plants also.I have watched them do it.Mostly sprouts.They will eat beans,pepper plants and melon plants. They hide under things in the daytime and come out at night. They will travel a considerable distance(for their size)to get to your plants.

              2. Beg to differ but sow bugs can eat seedlings. They are little threat to mature plants but can damage the little guys significantly. However sorting out whether they or slugs or snails are the worst offenders is difficult. Trapping them with rolls of damp newspaper is a technique that works for all of the above. Simply roll up the paper and dampen, then put in the garden overnight. Check the center the next morning. It should harvest a significant number of these moisture loving pests.

                1. I don't think your problem is sow bugs now. They don't eat entire leaves. Cutworms, maybe and you would be lucky to see them. Try a physical barrier like a paper cup with the bottom out around the bean plant when it sprouts.

                  1 Reply
                  1. re: EdwardAdams

                    Thank You (stemwinder) for this.. whoever says pill bugs don't harm anything..have not been out
                    and watched them with a flashlight. Maybe they used to be harmless, but now they are going for the green! I have tried Diatomaceous Earth, and it works for a while, then they come again. Cayenne pepper seems to run them off. This is really frustrating! Earier today before dark, I looked at one of my pepper plants that was still standing, uneaten... At 11:30 pm, I went out after I had sprinkled DE on it..but the darn thing is nearly gone..pill bugs all over the stem. No sign of any other bugs or slugs.. I think it must have something to do with the soil we all use, or whatever compost or mulch.

                  2. As you can see forums are a great place for ideas but a bad place for facts. Check educational or government sites and the consensus is they eat young seedlings.

                    Pill bugs are the worst pest in my garden; they wipe out young seedlings as fast as they come out of the ground. Yes they like damp rotting organic material but seem to prefer tender young stems and leaves.

                    For years I believed the naysayers and chased every other pest but the harmless pillbug until I spent a couple of hours with a flashlight in my garden at night and watched them devour my lettuce, beet and spinach seedlings. They hide out along the edge of the landscape logs or any place they can get out of the sun then at night they come out and feast. They are not able to do any damage to more mature seedlings but will chew a young seedling down to the nub.

                    Around my raised bed gardens it is impossible to get rid of them, as they are attracted to the damp wood. The only way I have found to protect my seedlings is to surround them with diatomaceous earth or a 3" high barrier. The diatomaceous earth works well until you water then it gets washed into the soil. For a barrier I've used 3" high garden edging or galvanized flashing and even foil tape stuck on the landscape logs. I remove it as soon as the plants are of sufficient size.

                    2 Replies
                    1. re: stemwinder

                      Diatomaceous earth can hurt beneficial organisms, such as earth worms. Sluggo pellets are my slug and pill bug deterrent of choice. You can read about it, how it breaks down into iron which is a good amendment for soil. I only use it around baby seedlings, and around the strawberry plants as the berries get ripe. Once the plants get big enough they can fend for themselves.

                      1. re: stemwinder

                        I just went and watched those little pests eat my onion stems, and I had wondered why my cilantro was only getting so big before they just seemed to disappear. Now I know. I'm getting some DE tomorrow!

                      2. I have never had trouble growing greenbeans, but this spring something was killing them before they could hardly get started. Finally I went out and sat down with a little twig and dug around each one only to find anywhere from a half dozen or more pill bugs gnawing away at the stem right at ground level or below. I had to sit there and remove the little jerks by hand and destroy them. Now I see they are actually eating the strawberries as they ripen. There will be several on the berry itself eating a big cavity in it. Gonna be a long summer.

                        1 Reply
                        1. re: sterlingblur

                          I'm having the same problem with some of my strawberries--I had always blamed slugs, until a few days ago, when I found a pill bug nestled into a cavity it was eating into a ripe berry! It was probably them, also, who chewed chunks out of my radishes last year.

                          I've noticed many more pill bugs than usual this year--even crawling in my raised beds during the day! So far they haven't done too much damage other than my strawberries, and so far my radishes are fine...but I certainly don't want to share my harvest with them!

                        2. I had your same problem. Just bought organic DE (can't spell it but dietemousis earth) but not the kind for swimming pools. Seems to be working so far. No chemicals.

                          1. My fail proof method is to sprinkle the cellulose packing peanuts (NOT the plastic ones) around on the ground where you've seen roly poly bugs (we've always called them potato bugs, probably because they roll up in a ball). Overnight, the potato bugs will collect to feast on them and you can just scoop them up and dispose of them.

                            1. They are a huge pain and have dealt with them on many types of plants. I came across this question with alot of good answers.

                              1. I had the same problem with something eating my young bean plants. I started this thread:
                                and found out about Sluggo Plus. It has worked very well for me.

                                1. I suspect these are not the right culprit. Roly-poly's, or pillbugs, from my experience, tend to eat organic matter in the soil. From what I know, they tend to eat only things that are already decaying, and they are a healthy part of your garden ecosystem.

                                  Beans usually will get eaten by a variety of things though, if they are allowed to touch the ground. You generally need to train them up high enough that they're dry and not in contact with the ground or vegetation easily accessible from the ground. I suspect if you do this, your beans will be in better shape!

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: cazort

                                    surely you have not been in the right garden then because i have 4 inches of mulch then 5 inches of potting soil and roly polys everywhere. i find them eating my cucumbers and canteloupes. i catch them in the act and even find them inside of my bell pepper and sweet banana peppers. they eat a hole in them and then i find a dozen in there. i planted some canteloupe by themselves last year along a pile of hard ground mulch and all of them got eaten up by roly polys. the fruit was full of them. my cucumbers this yr has scars all over them. and i catch them in the act.

                                    1. re: cazort

                                      watered potted plants for early morning still cool temps outside so they'd stay wet a while before the 107• comes again today.

                                      while doing so in front yard huge concrete patio where there are many 5 gln pots there was a 'running in circles inside a pot' cockroach. so that's what's eating or has eaten many many baby greens that are popping up.
                                      I found one weeks ago running in circles of my yellow pear cherry tomato pot with all new established growth whacked off at the soil. I was ticked and got it out to put all my weight on the bastid. we live high elevation in mountains and never see these but somehow they're around. just killed the one today also before it could do it's damage. oh and the neighbors cat left me a lovely treat yesterday of a barely dead mouse, yeah!

                                      snails are a huge problem and just now also killed the worlds largest black widow. man what's goin on?

                                    2. These could definitely be the culprits. I have exactly the same problem with beans, as well as cucumbers and squash plants. They girdle the seedlings if their population is dense enough to be dissatisfied with decaying matter. I kept trying to flick them off in early morning hours (you need to look down near where the stem emerges from the soil), to no effect. I then tried diatomaceous earth, but they went right through it...maybe there were just too many for it to be effective. I finally gave up this spring. Most of my seedlings bit it; two of my bean plants survived to maturity. I'm now planting peas and chard and wondering how to combat them. I read on some extension page that if the infestation is bad enough, one should try a soil drench, but I'm not sure what the active ingredient should be. A friend recommended nematodes, but I think this relies on a larval stage and I don't think these guys have one. Sluggo Plus sounds promising, but the pigeons eat every single pellet I put out (and I'm typing instead of devising a way to keep them out ; ) ). Anyway, I've enjoyed all the responses. Good luck to us all!!

                                      1. The rolypolys are definitely ON THE LEAVES of the just emerged beans, chomping away. They are definitely eating the stems. And 5 out of 12 plants are gone. I've read they were harmless, too. Not here in Kentucky.

                                        1. I'm glad I happened across this post. I wondered what was eating my strawberries, pumpkin and now my cucumber plants; it's pill bugs. This morning is removed approx. 100+ from my cucumber plant. Thanks for the tip re: using a wet, rolled up newspaper; I'm trying that tonight. They've decimated so many of my new plants this year, although have left my peppers and tomatoes alone.

                                          1. To all those who say pill bugs aren't the problem. When I pick up a fat strawberry and it has three roly polys (RP) eating it, having already burrowed in, I can positively state THEY ARE A PROBLEM!!! The cause is the decaying leaves which they love, but something tender and juicy also attracts them. Last year we planted 300 purple hull peas. Only six survived, because RPs ate the sprouting seedlings. Look up beneficial nematodes for RP treatment. I'll be pulling all my strawberries this fall and putting them in new, leafless soil in rain gutters. Presto, no more RP problem!

                                            1. My raised bed organic garden is so infested with pill bugs I truly am about to let them have it. There are what seems like millions. Crawling on everything. I witness on a daily basis, them eating my young plants.Everytime I tend to the garden I'm so overwhelmed with them. I will try the newspaper and a few other suggestions I've seen online but seriously, I may just give up, it's that bad!

                                              2 Replies
                                              1. re: BGarden

                                                Sorry to hear that Bgarden. Before you give up, have you tried contacting the cooperative extension in your area?

                                                As for me, my bean plants just started emerging yesterday, and I sprinkled some Sluggo Plus this morning to keep away the critters.

                                                1. re: BGarden

                                                  I know exactly what you mean. I havent even planted anything this year except some hot peppers and tomatoes and so far, they have eaten holes in all my peppers. I have so many roly polys that if i turn the potting soil and mulch combo over, hundreds emerge everywhere. they have to eat something and its my plants. tried chickens but they dont seem to want them.

                                                2. our gardens love them. they are the goodr bugs. not pests. all my hot pepper beds, all my herb beds..are full of rolly pollies. lol.. they ARE beneficial!
                                                  The comments are kind of weird, but I can tell you, not a ONE has ever SAW a rollie pollie eating on their plants..
                                                  (guessing shouldn't be a response)

                                                  3 Replies
                                                  1. re: gfburke

                                                    Guessing? OK, I've quit laughing. When I pick a strawberry that has 3 roly polys eating on it, I don't think I'm guessing! I do, however have a solution. Tried nematodes and they worked extremely well........for about a week! So, I'm taking four 5/8" rods 8' long and having a U welded to them ( picture yourself as the iron rod, then hold your arms out and raise your hands to vertical. With three welds per bar, I'll have six rows of strawberries in gutters sitting on the welds. Length will be 20'. No roly polys, no runners generating more plants, and everything off the ground.

                                                    1. re: gfburke

                                                      I have found them inside my cheyenne peppers, green beans, eating the leaves and fruit from my squash plants. inside my canteloupes and watermelons. If you dont have them in your plants and vegetables then you have something in your soil that keeps them there. mine only come out at night. at have potting soil on top of 6 yr old mulch. at night they are on everything.

                                                      1. re: gfburke

                                                        I just had a discussion last night with a pest expert from our local Extension service. The pill/sow bugs DO eat roots and tubers. They are, however, generally something a gardener has to live with. If you see them you can pick them off and drop them into soapy water. Also, if you grow plants in burlap or use it as a weed barrier that material will attract those bugs.

                                                      2. They are not pests, they eat decaying matter and help create humus. They like moist soil, but so do slugs. I bet the slugs are really your problem, not the pill bugs.

                                                        1 Reply
                                                        1. re: zeldaz51

                                                          if you find them inside the fruit and even in the daytime see them eating on any of the leaves that are touching the gound then you know for sure they are the problem. they are in my canteloupes and water melons and eating the rinds off the cucumbers. you can see them. cannot be slugs if you catch them in action. little bugs that roll up when you touch them and have little shell looking bodies.