Pill Bugs

(Question)

Hi,

Every year my front and rear garden is over run with pill bugs. We are in east York and have sandy soil. Since we’ve moved in four years ago, I’ve put a lot of time into our garden and every year newly planted plants are destroyed. Last year was particularly bad with well established plants being attacked and killed. We have sandy soil which is extremely well drained and not moist. I also have two small kids so I’m not overwatering. I’ve tried placing beer traps in the gardens and removing mulch to ensure there are no obvious wet/moist places to hide but nothing has worked so far. I’ve read that they are suppose to only eat decaying plants but they are attacking everything here. Help!!

Thank you!

(Answer)

 

The conditions you are describing do not sound like those that would harbour pill bugs and I wondered if there might be something else affecting your plants?  Have you seen copious amounts of pill bugs or are there any other insects on your plants?

Pill bugs and sow bugs are nocturnal scavengers in the Class Crustacea and are closely related to lobster, crabs and shrimp.  They breathe through gills which must be kept moist to extract oxygen and are therefore found in damp areas which enable them to survive.  While they mainly feed on decaying vegetation, they will sometimes feed on tender garden seedlings.  Feeding damage is similar to that of slugs leaving ragged holes in between leaf veins.

Their breeding cycle includes the production of several generations each year.  Eggs are kept in a water filled pouch under the female.  Newborns remain under the female for several weeks after hatching.  Pillbugs live for two years, undergoing 10 stages of molting during this time.

According to the University of Idaho, the following is recommended to reduce their population:

  • Minimize breeding sites by watering plants early in the day so that the soil surface dries by night when pill bugs are most active.
  • Avoid heavy mulches that shelter pests early in the season.
  • If you are growing edibles that rest on the ground such as strawberries or cucumbers try to raise produce of the ground to reduce feeding.
  • Diatomaceous earth can be used around affected plants.

Should you want further information on safe pest control products please see the TMG guide on organic pest control at https://www.torontomastergardeners.ca/wp-content/uploads/2012/08/Organic-Pest-Control-Products.pdf

Good luck!