At normal levels, roly-polys stay busy converting dead plant material into rich organic matter. However, this year their high numbers have meant problems for many homeowners. Usually found outdoors, they are starting to move inside as well.
Pillbugs are crustaceans that are more closely related to shrimp and crayfish than insects. They are primarily Mother Nature's recycling program.
Roly-polys feed upon decaying vegetable matter such as leaf piles, grass clippings, pet droppings, old wooden boards and various types of mulches. Likewise, they can damage young, tender vegetation or fruit, and eat beans, lettuce, strawberries and other garden crops.
Although they do not cause structural harm or damage to homes, they frequently invade damp basements and crawl spaces in search of a suitable habitat. A heavy infestation indoors generally indicates that there is a large population outside.
Controlling pillbugs is not a necessity, unless they have become an unwelcome guest. There are several chemical products that are labeled for use inside the home, including diazinon, Baygon, Dursban and pyrethroids. These materials should be sprayed into cracks, crevices and other hiding places, particularly in dark, damp areas.
For nonchemical control, seal all outside cracks, gaps and openings to restrict access. Once inside, pillbugs tend to dry up and die quickly. Vacuum regularly to get rid of dead bodies.
Because inside infestations result from high outside populations, it is usually best to also treat outdoors. Chemicals used inside the home are safe and easy to use outside. When treating outdoors, spray foundation walls, steps and porches and around shrubbery, window wells and sidewalks.
In general, insecticides need to be applied at least 5 feet out to create a barrier. For complete control, disturb or move plant mulch, piled leaves, boards and compost piles to ensure the chemical reaches the ground.
-- Bruce Chladny is horticulture agent at K-State Research and Extension-Douglas County. For more information, call him at 843-7058 from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays.