The Horde

Back in the mid-90's, I played a computer game called "The Horde" a lot. In it you were meant to defend a town from an attacking group of red goblin-like creatures. I remember it being quite frustrating, as many games back then were, but I don't remember too many details about it. There is one thing that will stick in my mind forever though: just when you thought you had scrambled around and killed enough goblins to end the level, this hunting horn/goblin cry would sound and another, bigger wave of goblins would come running out of the countryside toward your village.


In other words, it was futile. You'd never be able to handle the horde, and the game ended up being more frustrating than enjoyable. That's how gardening sometimes feels to me. Do you see this green and bushy marigold? It was struggling earlier in the summer, but I didn't give up on it and it rewarded me with vigorous growth and so many blooms!


***


Well, five days later it's a different story:


There's definitely something wrong with this plant, but I just can't seem to place what it is exactly... oh yeah, IT HAS NO LEAVES!!


What the heck is stripping leaves from a marigold? On the few remaining leaves I could see some damage, but couldn't identify it:


It doesn't look like slug damage, and it's certainly not from rabbits or other larger animals.

I got my answer when I checked the plant early the next morning, before it was too light:


Pillbugs! (Also known as "sowbugs" or "roly poly" depending on where you live.) This is crazy!



I've never known them to do this to a plant, as they usually eat decaying plant materials, not live plants. From the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture page about these crustaceans:
Sowbugs and pillbugs are scavengers and feed mainly on decaying organic matter. They occasionally feed on young plants but the damage inflicted is seldom significant.
Well I guess I won the roly poly lottery then, didn't I?


There were quite a few on the ground, leaving the area -- they're primarily nocturnal so when it gets light they seek refuge:


They're starting to attack the blooms too:


I'm glad this was just a marigold, and not something more unique or beloved. Looks like I need to find a replacement plant for this spot... I've been meaning to take a trip to the local nurseries, as it's been months and months since I've been there.


I learned something about pillbugs today: they can come out of nowhere and destroy your village -- I mean plant.

I think I just heard a horn-like goblin cry coming from the back garden!

(That was probably just the new neighbors' beagle.)

.

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sandy lawrence –   – (September 11, 2012 at 9:39 AM)  

Alan, I've given up on marigolds. Mine get attacked immediately after planting and are gone within a week. It has always been surprising to me when nothing else around them is damaged - just the marigolds. I didn't know what was decimating them, but thanks to your post, I probably know now.

Matthew  – (September 11, 2012 at 11:27 AM)  

Wow, that's interesting! I thought nothing would eat Marigolds, much less pillbugs! I've always loved marigolds: easy to grow from seed, drought-tolerant, and generally pest-resistant (except for pillbugs, apparently!).

Gerhard Bock (Bamboo, Succulents and More)  – (September 11, 2012 at 2:06 PM)  

Wow, I've never known pill bugs to eat live plant material. The only time I ever see them is under rocks, etc. Maybe yours were on drugs?? LOL.

Christine @ The Gardening Blog  – (September 11, 2012 at 2:15 PM)  

Haha, I like the comparison to the game. Gardening does feel that way quite often. Some evil army attacking your players out of nowhere ... just when you are about to level up!

The Germinator  – (September 18, 2012 at 7:42 AM)  

Ahhh that makes sense now. I had the same problem with Marigolds but every time I looked for pests I just found pillbugs. So I thought that it can't be them doing the damage because they're goodies, turns out they're badies... errr goblins

Anonymous –   – (June 23, 2013 at 11:35 AM)  

Although an older post, this was extremely helpful as I just discovered these pests on my marigolds as I was dead heading the plants. I too was under the impression that marigolds were very hardy and not much affected them. Because of the problems with impatiens I tried marigolds in a shadier, more damp area this year. They are actually growing well & adding color, but are now under attack! Good to keep the conversation going so others become aware ~ unfortunately marigolds are not fool proof! The photos were perfect and really helped identify my problem.

Anonymous –   – (June 18, 2017 at 4:33 PM)  

Great article. Appreciate you posting pics of the damage. I was just hit two nights ago and I already have several plants destroyed. I picked up some Neem oil and going to give that a try on plants and my vegetables. Not positive it's pill bugs but it looks like Neem will work on most pests and not harm plants, vegetables, or good insects like honey bees or earth worms.

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