The Q&A Archives: Eliminating Sow Bugs

Question: I am having a severe problem with doodle bugs (sow bugs/rolly-polly bugs) which are eating anything and everthing I plant. It takes them about 2 days to eat the fresh stems off at ground level.

I have been unable to locate a way to control these hungry bugs. Is there an organic means (such as sprinkling chili powder) to control them? If not I will use a pesticide if necessary. I need to rid my flower beds of the majority of these little critters so that I can plant again before it gets to cold.

Answer: Sowbugs feed primarily on decaying plant material and are very important in the process of decomposing organic matter in the garden. However, they may occasionally feed on seedlings, new roots, and leaves that are touching damp soil surfaces. Sowbugs breathe through gills and require a moist environment. Try to limit moisture on the soil surface by using a coarse mulching material such as bark mulch that will allow moisture to pass quickly through, down into the soil. Also try to remove old decaying leaves from the plants, and eliminate hiding places in the garden such as boards, flowerpots and groundcovers like ivy. Black plastic mulches are also helpful in discouraging sowbugs because they eliminate soil dampness and get too hot in the summertime to provide shelter for sowbugs. You can also spread sharp sand or diatomaceous Earth around plantings to discourage these bugs. They don't like the sharp edges of these materials, but both materials will have to be reapplied after a rain.

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