Q. I was cleaning up my raised bed garden today, getting ready for spring planting, and I saw lots of worms. I know worms are good and I was happy to see them. But, I also saw A LOT of rollie pollies! These were mostly under some newspapers that I had originally put down near the base of some plants as a mulch. Are the rollie pollie beneficial to my garden or should I try to get rid of them?
A. Rolly-pollys are a real menace to things that we eat which are soft bodied. Particularly bothered are things like strawberries.
The roly pollies, sometimes we call them pillbugs or sowbugs, can be a very common pest of soft fruits and vegetables. These crustaceans (they are not insects but are more closely linked to lobsters) usually feed and abound in rotting or decaying plant matter which we usually call organic matter.
Stuff from plants which collects on the surface of the soil where it is wet will begin to decay. This decaying organic matter is a usual source of food for these common pests. They can be good guys since they feed on decaying plant matter and convert it to something that can be recycled and benefit the plants.
Once they get established however they can get a little overzealous and start to consume other plants or plant parts which are soft and succulent. Even new, small transplants! If strawberries come in contact with the soil surface where these creatures are feeding they don't distinguish between soft decaying organic matter and soft succulent strawberries.
So the control measures usually focus on keeping the strawberries from touching surface of the soil or decaying plant matter. This would require that the fruit be kept elevated off of the soil surface.
Other people may recommend using diatomaceous earth but I am not convinced that this will work with your roly pollies. It is better suited for very soft bodied pests which crawl along the surface of the soil.
These very sharp diatoms, at least this is the thought process, cuts or lacerates the pest and they succumb to the lacerations. You can also use traps in the beds and remove them from the traps as they accumulate.
This does not exterminate them but it does help to reduce their numbers and hopefully the damage from their numbers. These traps can be something that lies on top of the soil surface, just like you noticed with your newspaper, such as strips of carpet, cardboard or wood.
Removing these pests from these traps is simple. Since they like their social gatherings in darkness they tend to gather in these shady spots. Remove the shade and remove them by hand.
You can also put out semi rotten tomatoes or other vegetables which will act like magnets and attract these varmints. Then you can scoop up these rotting fruits and vegetables along with the pillbugs and dispose of them. That won't get rid of them permanently but it will take the numbers down.