9 Effective Ways To Get Rid Of Pill Bugs In Potted Plants

Pill bugs are a type of terrestrial crustacean and are part of the woodlice family. They are also known as roly-polies. They are not dangerous to humans, but they can be damaging to your plants. So, how do you get rid of these potted plant pests?

If you have a minor pill bug problem, then pick them out by hand. Lay traps for pill bugs in bigger pots. Kill and repel pill bugs with diatomaceous earth or repel them with essential oils. You can re-pot your plant in fresh soil. Clear your yard and seal off cracks to stop them from entering your house.

Even though pill bugs prefer to feed on decaying matter and even help to process and release nutrients into the soil, they can damage the living tissue of your plant pots while feeding. Furthermore, some people just don’t like the idea of having creatures living in their in-house plants. The following methods should help you to rid your potted plants from these bugs permanently.

1. Get Rid Of Pill Bugs In Potted Plants By Hand

Your first option for getting rid of pill bugs in your potted plants is to simply pick them out when you see them.

They are not usually so numerous that this becomes a fruitless or difficult task, especially if you only have one or two little potted plants (if you have many potted plants, this method is no longer really effective). Furthermore, the pill bugs are not so tiny that it is impossible to grip them between your finger and thumb.

If you decide to go with this method, it can take some time depending on how many pill bugs are in your potted plant, how many infested potted plants you have, and how dedicated you are picking them out.

You could casually pick out the ones that you see every time you walk past your potted plant, or you could sit for an hour or so each night (they come out to feed at night) for a few days and pick out several at a time. You can also employ your children in this task—kids are fascinated by roly-polies that roll into balls when you touch them.

As mentioned previously, pill bugs actually eat decaying matter, so if they damage the living tissue of your potted plants, they did so indirectly. This means that if you take a week or so to pick out the pill bugs, then your potted plant will not suffer any ill effects.

However, the pill bugs may be too quick for you, or they may burrow underneath the potting soil before you have a chance to grab them. Additionally, you may not want to touch them (Ehm… that’s my case!).

2. Get Rid Of Pill Bugs In Potted Plants By Trapping Them

As with any kind of pest control, there is a trapping option when it comes to getting rid of pill bugs in your potted plants.

This method will only work in potted plants where there is enough space in the pot to sink the trap without compromising the integrity of the plant. You need to be aware of the plant’s root systems as well.

The aboveground portion of some plants is quite narrow, so it looks as if there is space beside it, but it actually has a shallow and widespread root system, which will be damaged by digging into the soil.

For the trap, you can use a tuna fish can or any other non-porous container with similar dimensions. You can also scale down slightly for smaller plant pots.

Sink the tin or container into the soil of the potted plant. Make sure the soil is replaced right up against the sides of the can or container. Then fill your trap, almost to the brim, with some beer or kombucha.

The pill bugs should be attracted to the smell of the fermented liquid, and they will fall into the trap and drown.

As pill bugs are mostly active at night, you can check the traps each morning and empty them out.

If you have successfully caught pill bugs with this method, then continue until you go a few days without catching any more. This may mean that your potted plants are free of pill bugs, or you need to try a different technique for the rest of them.

3. Get Rid Of Pill Bugs In Potted Plants With Diatomaceous Earth

If you are looking for a less time-consuming option for getting rid of pill bugs in your potted plants, then you should try the diatomaceous earth method.

Diatomaceous earth an organic pest control powder made from the silica-rich fossilized remains of diatoms (minuscule aquatic organisms) that are harvested from fresh- and salt-water sediments.

This method involves sprinkling some diatomaceous earth over the surface of your potting soil. Use a decent amount but do not cover the whole surface in a layer. You will also need to re-apply the earth after watering your plant or once a week or so.

Diatomaceous earth is most effective when it is dry, so do not sprinkle it onto the soil right before or right after watering your potted plant. This means that this is probably not the best technique to get rid of pill bugs in a potted plant that requires lots of watering.

Diatomaceous earth acts by drying out the exoskeleton of the pill bug, thereby killing it. You will want to remove the carcasses so that they do not start decaying, providing a food source for the remaining pill bugs.

4. Get Rid Of Pill Bugs In Potted Plants By Making Your Potted Plants A Bad Living Environment For Them

Pill bugs need to live in moist environments that provide water for consumption but also facilitate the decay of plant matter on which the pill bugs feed. Knowing this means that you can make sure that your potted plants are poor living environments for the pill bugs.

Firstly, never leave any dead leaves or flowers in the pots. Remove them immediately before they have a chance to decay. If any part of the plant is decaying but still attached, then you should remove it if you can do so without compromising the plant.

Another step you can take is to make sure that your potting soil is never too wet—provided your plant can survive in a drier soil.

First of all, you should avoid overwatering. Second, you should allow the soil to fully dry before watering again. Finally, you should make sure that you use a high-quality potting soil that has good drainage.

If your potted plants so longer provide food and water, the pill bugs will leave in search of a better living environment. However, the chances are that they will end up simply dying inside your home before they find a new place to live.

5. Get Rid Of Pill Bugs In Potted Plants With Essential Oils

There are many different essential oils that are reported to successfully repel pill bugs, the most effective of these seem to be cinnamon and oregano. However, if you do not have these essential oils, then you can try one (or a combination) of the following:

  • Citronella oil
  • Citrus oil
  • Eucalyptus oil
  • Pennyroyal oil
  • Peppermint oil
  • Rosemary oil
  • Tea tree oil

However, you do not put the essential oils directly into the soil. Instead, you will first dilute them in a water solution.

Add four to six drops of your chosen essential oil or combination of oils to a gallon of water. Now, essential oils cannot properly disperse in water (oil can’t mix with water), so you will need to add a solubilizer to the water.

Happily, you do not have to go out and specifically buy a solubilizer. Kitchen dish soap is an effective, inexpensive, and convenient choice. Use an organic dish soap to make sure that it does not harm your plants.

Place the three ingredients into a spray bottle, shake it well, and apply to the soil or directly to the pill bugs.   

6. Get Rid Of Pill Bugs In Potted Plants By Re-Potting Your Plant

Another effective method is to re-pot your plant into fresh soil. You will need to make sure that as little of the old soil as possible remains trapped in the roots so that you do not infest the new pot as well.

However, what this means is that your plant is going to be disturbed. If you have a good hardy plant or your plant is needing to be re-potted anyway, then this is a good option. If the plant is delicate, try one of the other methods so as not to kill your plant.

7. Protect Your Potted Plants When They Are Outside

Some potted plants can and should be kept outside during certain seasons. Or maybe your potted plant just needs an added dose of direct sunlight to help it perk up.

Whatever the reason, if your potted plant has to spend some time outside, you do not want it to become the home of some pill bugs. When you bring it back inside and put it back among the other inside potted plants, the pill bugs are free to hop between these, and just like that, you have a bit of a pill bug problem.

To prevent this, you should keep the pots on stands or tables while they are outside. Better yet, you should put them on a tray of diatomaceous earth on the table.

Then pill bugs and other pests will not be willing to or capable of traversing the diatomaceous earth, and when you bring the pots back inside, you will leave the pill bugs outside.

8. Get Rid Of Pill Bugs In Potted Plants By Removing Attractions From Your Yard

Part of getting rid of pill bugs effectively includes making sure that they cannot come back. The first step to achieving this goal is to make your yard a much less attractive living environment for the pill bugs.

The ideal pill bug environment is dark and damp, so you need to look at your yard and see if you have any spaces that fit this description.

Move And Protect Your Wood Stack

One of the most common outside homes for pill bugs is a damp wood stack—there is a reason they are part of the woodlouse family.

Now, it is impractical to have to chop wood every time you need it, so a wood stack is not something that you can eliminate from your yard completely.

However, what you can do is keep it dry with a roof or waterproof covering. It will still be dark, but moisture is more important to pill bugs. Furthermore, a damp wood stack is more likely to rot and provide the pill bugs with food.

Additionally, you can keep the wood stack away from the outer walls of your house. If it is dry and far away from any entrances to your home, you are less likely to have stray pill bugs wandering into your house and finding their perfect home in your potted plants.

Keep Your Gutters Clean

Full of dead leaves and moisture, another common hiding and living spot for pill bugs is full gutters.

The dead and decaying leaves and other vegetation are a perfect food source for the pill bug, and the collecting rainwater provides vital moisture. Gutters are located on the outside of your house, so the pill bugs do not have far to go to get indoors.

Keeping your gutters cleaned out means that there is one less viable home for pill bugs right next to your house.

Keep Mulch To A Minimum

Mulch is an excellent soil additive providing extra nutrients that help your flower beds to look their best. However, mulch is also an excellent place for pill bugs to set up their homes.

If you can keep the yard mulch to a minimum—only about two inches deep in the flower beds—you will be taking a step in the right direction.

Another helpful hint is to make sure that any mulch you do have in your yard stops approximately twelve inches away from the outer walls of your house.

Keep Your Compost Away From The House

If you are a composter, then you should make sure that the pile of warm, moist, decaying vegetation is far away from your house. It can attract pill bugs, and, once again, you do not want them to have the opportunity to accidentally wander into your home and take up residence in your potted plants.

9. Get Rid Of Pill Bugs In Potted Plants By Sealing Up Entrances Into Your House

Pill bugs get into your house through open doors and windows, cracks in the foundation and walls, gaps in window frames and door frames, etc.

You can minimize the chance of pill bugs entering your home by installing or mending your window and door screens, filling in cracks in the foundations and walls, and eliminating any unnecessary gaps in your door frames and window frames.


Pill bugs may be annoying to have in your potted plants, but they are not dangerous to you or to your plants. If, however, you just do not want to have them living in the soil of your potted plants or if you have noticed that they have been causing indirect damage to your plant’s roots, then you have several options when it comes to getting rid of pill bugs.

There are physical removal methods like picking them out of the soil or re-potting your plant into fresh soil. You can also kill the pill bugs with beer traps or diatomaceous earth. Repelling pill bugs can be done by spraying them or the potting soil with essential oil solutions or keeping the soil drier.

Then, of course, you should take precautionary steps to make sure that your pill bug problem never returns. This you do by clearing your yard of moist and dark hiding places as well as sealing up cracks and gaps through which pill bugs can enter your house.  

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Anat Goldberg

Hi! My name is Anat and I have lived all my life in the countryside. I grew on a farm in Northern Italy and from an early age, I took care of the animals on the farm and the family garden. Over the years I have developed a growing passion for organic cultivation and pest control.

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