Roly Poly Destruction! Or, what’s eating my pansies?

Feb 12, 2013

You might have noticed something munching on your pansies and violas this winter.  Usually, first guess is either rabbits or squirrels. In fact I've been asked a few times lately about how to keep the squirrels from munching on their pansies. might need to take a closer look to discover the real culprit. Yep, could be Roly Polys! Also known as pillbugs.


I've replanted the pansies and violas along my front sidewalk bed twice this winter. I just figured the first round's demise was due to my neglect. Yes, neglect. See, I'm so busy helping all of you guys with your gardens I barely have time to tend my own! Anyhoo, I didn't pay much mind, I just replanted some new ones. About three days later, they were all pretty much toast. Now, I thought to myself "really Leslie, what is your problem.." But a quick close-up inspection confirmed what had been in the back of my mind as a possible issue...pillbugs.

See those little buggers down there munching my pansies away? This is what happens when we have mild moist winters. Two in a row only makes the problem worse. Without sustained cold weather or repeat freezes, critters like these pillbugs will just keep multiplying all winter long. To the point that there isn't enough food out there to sustain their numbers. Normally, pillbugs feed on detritus, or decaying plant matter. But when that food source runs low, they'll move to the green living parts of your plants. Little bastards. Excuse my French.

Looks like I'll be putting down an application of DE (Diatomaceous Earth) around these plants to try and reduce the pillbug population. You could also spray your plants with Spinosad, an organic non-selective insecticide. Just be sure if you use Spinosad, you only spray it at dusk, AFTER the honeybees have gone home for the night.

There are 4 comments for this entry

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Kathy Abrashi
Feb 14, 2013
9:16 am



Diatomaceous Earth (food grade): Bug Killer You Can Eat!

It’s not the pool ‘DE’ it’s the ‘food grade’. Works best in dry conditions. Kills exoskeleton bugs.

Leslie Halleck
Feb 14, 2013
9:24 am

Pool cleaning grade DE is an entirely different product and would never be considered something to be used in a landscape.

But there is DE for use in gardens for pest control, and then there is Food Grade DE. They should be considered two different products as they are typically manufactured in different types of facilities. If you do not intend to use DE on livestock/pets, or in their feed, then you do not have to buy Food Grade DE, just DE labeled for garden use, which you’ll find at most independent garden centers.

If you do intent to use DE for livestock, say to control mites on your backyard chickens (in their bedding and on their bodies) then you should be sure to buy a DE product labeled Food Grade.

Just want to make sure everyone understands the distinction.

Feb 19, 2013
8:27 am

They also conribute to the demise of new veggie transplants, along with their cousins the hard shell snails

Shirley Tvrdy
May 28, 2013
6:47 pm

We have a flower bed planted with pansies, petunias, dianthus, geraniums.  I had been noticing increasing bug eating on the flowers of both the pansies and petunias.  This morning (5-28-13) 7 am I noticed what looked like roly polies (pill bugs) all over the pansies leaving either eggs or excremate all over where they had been.  the flowers were eaten down to almost the stem.  I don’t know whether there is something else that looks like them (or sow bugs) that could be eating the flowers & leaves or if that is what the culprit is.  I haven’t had time to find a local expert to find out.  I will try to get a picture and post it if possible.

Hope you can help.

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