I saw some pill bugs in my potted plants and was afraid they might be eating the plants. So I researched what are the possible ways to get rid of pill bugs and wrote this post. If you have a pill bug problem as well, you should find good information here.
The best way to get rid of pill bugs is to place heat lamps or heating mat near the potted plants. The increase in temperature will drive them away. You can also move the potted plants to a sunny location so the pill bugs move away from the plant.
There are several other ways you can get rid of pill bugs in the potted plants. I’ve listed many of them below that you should work for you as well.
1. Leave the pill bugs alone
I know this sounds counterintuitive but hear me out. Pill bugs in a low population don’t harm your potted plants. They like to stay in a damp, dark place eating decomposing plant material.
So if you see a few of them roaming around near your plants, it’s OK to leave them alone. Do keep an eye on their population and if you see them increasing, you may need to try some of the alternatives.
2. Keep the garden clean
Pill bugs like to nest in places that are damp and dark. They like to feed on decomposing organic material. So check the area near the potted plants.
Make sure there are no unwanted debris like wood pieces, leaves, grass clippings, or damp soil lying around.
Keeping the area clean will discourage the pill bugs from moving around and reaching your potted plants.
3. Provide alternative food to the pill bugs
Pill bugs like to eat the decomposing organic material in the garden. This could be material like leaves, grass clippings, fallen vegetables, and fruits.
If you keep the area near your potted plants clean, you naturally deter the pill bugs from reaching the plants. But in some cases, they might find a way to the pots.
They may start chewing on your potted plants when such decomposing material is not available to them.
You can provide them alternative food options like leaves, grass clippings, or fruit and vegetable waste. Keep them near the potted plants and the pill bugs will be attracted to the material.
Once the pill bugs have reached this alternative food source, you can move it away from your potted plants. If you have a compost pile, you can add the material to it. Pill bugs are a good addition to your compost pile as they will help decompose the organic material.
4. Use good quality potting soil
The biggest reason pill bugs may get attracted to your potted plants is when the potting soil remains damp for too long.
A good quality potting soil will retain moisture for the plant’s roots but drain out the excess. That’s the type of potting soil you want in your pots.
The surface of a well-draining potting soil will not remain damp for too long. And prevent the pill bugs from making a nest in it.
I also like to water the potted plants in the morning. This helps the soil to absorb the moisture. Once the sun comes out, it dries out the surface of the potting soil.
5. Use a barrier around the stem of the seedlings
Potted plants have an advantage that they naturally keep some distance from the pill bugs.
You can ensure that they cannot reach your seedlings by placing a toilet paper tube around them. You can also use plastic cups by cutting off their base.
This acts as a barrier that the pill bugs cannot cross to reach the stem of the potted plants.
6. Keep fruits and vegetables above the soil
Heavy fruits and vegetables like melons, tomatoes, and cucumbers would tend to touch the soil. That makes it easy for the pill bugs to reach them.
Growing such fruits and vegetables in pots does offer some protection as the plants are raised about the ground. But they can still touch the ground when loaded with heavy fruits and foliage.
You can protect such fruits and vegetables by providing them support. Using a tomato cage or stake will help the plants and tomatoes stay away from the soil.
You can use a sling made out of an old T-shirt to keep your heavy fruits like melons away from the soil.
7. Discourage pill bugs from reaching your plant
Pill bugs like damp areas near the plants to make their nest. If you place your potted plants on concrete, there are less chances of water accumulation or dampness.
The dryness of the concrete will act as a desert and discourage the pill bugs from reaching your potted plants.
Another option is to grow the potted plants in a hanging basket. This keeps the plants away from the ground and discourages the pill bugs from reaching them.
8. Encourage beneficial insects and animals
There are certain insects and animals that like to feast on the pill bugs. This includes centipedes, frogs, ants, birds, spiders, and lizards.
If you find some of these near your potted plants, don’t kill them. Let them stay in the potted plants and you will find the population of pill bugs decreasing naturally.
If you’re the courageous type, you may try to catch a few frogs and lizards and put them near your potted plants.
9. Physically remove them from the plants
If there’s a moderate infestation of pill bugs in your potted plants, you may want to remove them by hand. This is one of the best methods to get rid of them naturally without affecting the plants.
You can wear gloves if that makes it feel a little better to pick the pill bugs from the plants.
Pill bugs like to feast on the potted plants when it’s dark. So the best time to physically remove them from the plants is in the night.
If picking bugs makes you feel squeamish, then this method is not for you.
10. Use diatomaceous earth
If there’s a huge infestation of pill bugs in your potted plants, they will start damaging them seriously. It might be time to start killing them off in such a situation.
One of the safest organic methods to get rid of pill bugs is using diatomaceous earth. This material is a fine powder that has a sharp texture. The diatomaceous earth is not harmful to plants, animals, or humans.
The bellies of pill bugs are soft and as they move through the diatomaceous earth, the material will cut them up. The population of pill bugs will naturally reduce as they avoid trying to reach your plants.
This method will not work when there’s rain because the diatomaceous earth will get washed away before taking effect.
11. Use neem oil to get rid of them
Another organic method to get rid of pill bugs is using neem oil. This is a natural insecticide that is poisonous to pill bugs and kills them off.
You need to make a diluted neem oil spray as per the instructions provided by the manufacturer. Spray this on your plant’s leaves and stem if you find a pill bug infestation.
The neem oil does have a bitter taste that will stay on your plants. So if you’re growing vegetables, you need to wash them well before consumption.
This method will not work when there’s rain because the neem oil will get washed away before it can kill the pill bugs.
12. Use insect spray to kill the pill bugs
If you have a heavy pill bug infestation that is eating all your plants and none of the other methods are working, you might need to use an insect spray.
You can get an insect spray such as the Monterey Garden Insect Spray that is a natural, bacterial product. The spinosad bacteria in this spray will kill the pill bugs instantly.
It does not have any harmful effects on plants, pets, and humans. And it does not place any flavor or odor on your potted plants.
You can also use a snail bait such as the Garden Safe Slug & Snail Bait to get rid of the pill bugs. Place it near the potted plants and the pill bugs will be attracted to it.
The pill bugs will feed on this material and begin to die within 3 to 6 days. This material is organic and safe for plants, animals, birds, and humans.