Those Darned Pillbugs!


pumpkin seedling, pillbugsI think I’m going to have to eat crow… or something along those lines! Last June, I wrote about pillbugs in a blog post. In it, I talked about their reputation for munching on the stems of young Cucurbits (melons, cucumbers, squash, and pumpkins) while they’re at their most tender stage, as well as their benign role of helping decompose matter in the garden.

In my post, I emphasized how pillbugs are NOT the enemy, so we shouldn’t try to wipe out all the ones we find. Instead, I suggested we protect young Cucurbit seedlings by sprinkling diatomaceous earth around the lower area of their stems and stated that all other types of plants should be perfectly fine.

Well, now I don’t know what to think. I recently found the stems on a couple of my pole bean plants munched in a very similar manner to the Cucurbit damage I saw last spring. Could this mean pillbugs are perhaps not so benevolent after all?

After finding the pole bean damage, I grabbed my trusty bag of diatomaceous earth and sprinkled it around the base of all of the bean seedlings to give them some protection. Just in case you think I’m mistaken about what caused the damage, I found 2 small pillbugs “attached” to the stem of another pole bean seedling. So I feel confident with my diagnosis.

Several of my young broccoli plants also had been munched near the bottom of their stems. Out came the diatomaceous earth again! 

Today, I discovered the poor pumpkin seedling in the photo above. As you can see, that plant is doomed (if you click on it, you can really see the damage). As a matter of fact, I pulled it up because there is NO way it’s going to survive. I poked in another seed, but who knows if it will be left alone by those pesky pillbugs?!

Now, it isn’t like the poor pillbugs in my garden are starving. There is a ton of decomposing matter out there that they are more than welcome to munch on. But, for Pete’s sake, leave my seedlings alone!

Since pillbugs perform an important task in the soil food web, I recommend that you keep a watchful eye on all of your plants as they start to establish themselves. Be ready with some diatomaceous earth if you see any signs of damage. Better still, go out at night with a flashlight and check out what’s going on, just to be on the safe side. But hopefully, Cucurbits and pole bean and broccoli seedlings are the extent of the pillbugs’ secondary diet! I still don’t plan to eliminate all of the pillbugs in my garden, though.