The Q&A Archives: Bugs in soil

Question: Do potato bugs do damage to plants? And how do I get rid of them? The soil outside is loaded with them. It just makes me wonder what they are doing if anything.

Answer: The problem with common names is that they mean different things to different people in different parts of the country. On the west coast, the term potato bug refers to the Jerusalem cricket, a ground-dwelling critter that is usually discovered while preparing the ground for spring or winter planting. This insect never appears in large numbers and is not considered a pest that requires control. Their numbers are kept in check by birds and rodent predators, fly and worm parasites, curious cats and gardeners' hoes.

In Ohio, I think the term refers to Sow Bugs (wood louse) which are fat bodied crustaceans with delicate plate-like gills along the lower surface of their abdomens which must be kept moist. They move slowly grazing on decaying vegetation.

They don't generally harm plants, unless there is a large population, in which case they can feed on plant leaves. They prefer to live in damp, dark places so removing plant debris from the garden will help eliminate their hiding places. If you find lots of sow bugs in your garden you can control them by rolling newspaper into a tube, moistening it, and laying it near your plants in the evening. Next morning pick up the tube (which will be full of hiding sowbugs) and dispose of it. You may have to repeat this trapping process several times to control the entire population.

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