Wednesday, June 24, 2015

Piney Fresh

For years my mulch of choice for the vegetable garden was alfalfa hay. Alfalfa is what Ruth Stout recommended and if it was good enough for Ruth, it was good enough for me.

When alfalfa got too expensive, I sometimes used coastal hay. Then, the drought hit and even coastal hay got crazy expensive. Still, I never really thought of mulching with anything else. Hay worked...until it didn't.

Last fall I started having problems with these little beasties. 

I couldn't seem to grow anything from seed. The seedlings would come up, but then slowly but surely rows of my new seedlings would disappear. I thought maybe it was cut worms, but I couldn't find any evidence.

Finally, in the spring the cause of the problem became obvious. The pill bugs had reached epic proportions. They were visibly crawling over everything and eating my plants with wild abandon.

The pill bugs were munching on everything and anything. I couldn't sow bean seeds because the pill bugs would mow them down. They even ate my basil! 

I tried diatomaceous earth and Sluggo Plus. The Sluggo worked pretty well, but the rain would wash it away and the pill bugs would return with a vengeance. I also tried trapping the pill bugs with watermelon rinds, rolled up newspaper, and pie tins full of beer, but those rascally creatures would not be deterred. There were just too many and their numbers were growing.

One day, I was talking to some fellow gardeners and someone asked if I had tried using pine straw instead of hay. Apparently, pills bugs love to break down hay, but aren't so fond of pine needles.

I figured it was worth a try, so I purchased 6 bales of pine straw at $6.95 a bale. It didn't stretch very far, but overall it probably isn't anymore expensive than using hay. I liked the look of the pine needles in the garden and decided to mulch the entire space with the pine needles after finding a free source in Bastrop.

By the way, when I went to rake up the free needles, I asked the homeowner if she had problems with pill bugs. She said, no, and sure enough I didn't see any pill bugs while I was at her house.

This is all purely anecdotal, but I have to say the pine needles are working. I have noticed a marked decrease in pill bug activity in the vegetable garden, but I'm still seeing them in other areas of the yard where I'm not using the pine needles.

I never expected pill bugs to become such a nuisance. Hopefully, the pine straw is the answer, but if not, at least the garden is piney fresh.


  1. I never heard that pine straw would deter pill bugs. Good to know.
    I have to say, I'm quite jealous of your garden....

    1. Thanks Linda. It's a lot of work, but I enjoy it. I'm preserving more of my harvest this year, so it pays me back in grocery savings.

  2. Interesting that pine will deter them. I tend not to mulch because when I do I get a ton of slugs, earwigs and pill bugs. The pill bugs are the least of it. The other two can run rampant in the garden.

    1. In our hot and (usually) dry Texas climate, mulch is a must. I'm sure hoping the pine straw is a winner in the long run.

  3. I've definitely noticed an increase in pill bugs from cedar mulch to hay. I've never tried pine straw. How many seasons does it last? Lucky you to have a free supply!

    1. The lady who let us rake the pine needles out of her yard said she had not had her yard raked for two years. I could definitely see some decomposition under the dry top layer, but most of the needles were still whole. I'm guessing 1-3 years depending on weather conditions. I will re-evaluate next spring.