Is your garden drowning in doodlebugs? I think I've won the bugger war (no apologies to OSC; he doesn't deserve it).
By Six Strong Hands on July 02, 2013
You can call them pillbugs, or roly-poly's, or woodlice, or sow bugs (there's another kind that looks just like a doodlebug, but the bugs I'm talking about are the roll into a little ball kind). I've always felt quite friendly towards these little guys. You gently pat one, it rolls into a ball, it's non-stop good times for poor kids (at least it was for me).
They are nocturnal, they are usually not a problem for gardeners, and some people like them because they feed on decay, like the world's tiniest composters. They are not insects (too many legs), they are crustaceans and related to lobster and crabs (I wonder if anyone has steamed and buttered a pile of doodlebugs...it's not any yuckier than eating something that looks like an overgrown albeit delicious spider).
I realized I might have an infestation in May. I was putting in some seedlings, and about fifty doodlebugs came boiling out of the soil the minute I started digging. I scratched into more soil, and many, many more bugs came pouring out. I started watching for them, and realized that my daisies didn't actually have a fungus. The bugs were destroying the roots of big, well established plants, to the tune of about one plant death a week. When I pulled up the dead plants, doodlebugs were literally dangling from the roots. After about a week, the damn bugs weren't limited to the roots and stems of the plants. They were crawling on the leaves and flowers, mowing them down like horrible little lawnmowers.
I've been researching this subject a little, and it seems there are experts and and gardeners who refuse to believe that the bugs will eat leaves and flowers, but they do indeed eat them, and they absolutely can destroy an entire row of established plants.
It was a much wetter spring than usual here, and I suspect that is the key to this infestation. A few weeks ago, I was knitting on the porch around ten pm, and I smelled that strange, specific smell that I've only heretofore smelled in swamp country. My garden flat out stank of rotted things. I'd removed the winter mulch in early spring, and I hadn't put any more down yet, I'd been vigilant about removing dead leaves, etc. I hadn't put the compost or manure down yet, like I usually do; the only viable culprit was the overly rainy season.
Let me list what has most definitely NOT worked in my doodlebug infestation: tuna cans filled with cheap beer (both with the tuna remains rinsed, and without rinsing), eggshells, homemade insecticide with oil/soap/water combo, diatomaceous earth, and the usually tried and true smoosh-the-bug-when-you-see-it routine. I'd read that many people use the beer in the tuna can thing to great success, with doodlebugs racing in from all corners to drown themselves willingly, frat-boy style. It didn't work, even with many refills due to evaporation. Ditto with the eggshells scattered about (apparently the bugs are supposed to avoid crawling on them due to, I dunno, prickly feet?), and the homemade insecticide. I had high hopes for the diatomaceous earth. The biggest problem is the cost (almost twenty dollars a bag) and the fact that you can't water the garden with the DE on, because it doesn't work if it gets wet (also, make sure it's food grade DE, not pool grade). I used an entire bag, scattered everywhere, and didn't water for a week. I had some dead bugs, but not many. Five days later, we had a tremendous downpour that lasted for a day and a night, and it washed it all away (the flowers were looking quite wilted at that point, esp. the daisies with their shallow root system).
For my experience, I think the DE works best in the house/garage (I have doodlebugs crawling on the floor, through the carpet, across the tiles, along the shower floor; they're everyDAMNwhere). I'm going to save up and buy another bag and use it in the house and garage. The house will look like Johnny Depp on a cocaine binge, but I suspect it will help in the long run.
The only thing that has worked in any manner is a product with the charming name of Sluggo Plus. I've read comments in gardening message boards, and some people are concerned that it will hurt bees, but apparently it only hurts them if scattered on fruit or floral blossoms; if scattered on the ground it's harmless (I sincerely hope so since I haven't seen more than a few bees this year).
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