Brian Kidd argues that woodlice can be friends not fiends

Woodlice - kill them or use them to your advantage?
Woodlice - kill them or use them to your advantage?
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Three letters arrived in the past two weeks about woodlice, so I thought this article might be helpful.

But I shall try to explain that woodlice do a good job as well as cause damage and it’s a good idea to see if they can actually help you.

Every garden has woodlice, but numbers are usually related to what there is to eat. The cleaner the garden, the fewer the woodlice. But it’s not all bad news because we can capitalise on their lifestyle and benefit from their habits.

Woodlice enjoy damp conditions. This is why they are found in their dozens beneath pieces of old wood, which they eat. This process is the natural way of breaking down dead material.

We can put this knowledge to use by leaving decaying wood in a place in the garden. Then, if we want to get rid of them, pick up the wood, bang it on a path and treat them to a smart size eight for a quick dispatch.

If you are really fed up with so many, doing this regularly will reduce numbers considerably if you do it every day. It’s better than scattering insect powders. All that does is make them go elsewhere. They aren’t going to stop to eat insect powder. They aren’t daft!

Ant killer powders will only kill them if applied directly to them. No-one tells us how agonising it may be to be slowly suffocated or burned, so the mechanical way is much kinder and better for the environment.

Why not put them live into the compost bin? I have never seen so many on the compost heap. It is teeming with them. The conditions are right if the compost is covered with polythene to retain the moisture with a carpet on top of that.

Given these perfect conditions, woodlice have just the right conditions and do a marvellous job breaking down material in the heap.

When it comes to digging the compost into the soil, the woodlice go with the compost into the bottom of the trench. They are then covered with soil. A few may escape but most are buried and continue to feed because the compost is full of air. If they die, they add valuable fibre to the soil. It’s not really wise to leave compost on top of the soil because it encourages millions of weeds and more woodlice.

The real problem for gardeners is the fact that woodlice don’t just eat dead material. They also ruin crops like strawberries and raspberries and even go for ripe tomatoes in the greenhouse at night.

It starts with a tiny hole in the tomato’s skin which gradually becomes larger each day.

In this instance it’s a case of trying to stop them gaining access to the plant. This can be done by sprinkling a ring of Doff Ant Killer on the soil around each plant. If you want to be more environmentally-friendly, get a six-inch deep ring, something like an old fruit can, and cover it inside and out with grease, or Trappit Barrier Glue made by Agrilan so the woodlice are trapped as they try to gain access to the plants’ stems.

TIP OF THE WEEK

This is the last chance to move shrubs and trees from one part of the garden to another. Simply choose a nice day. You’d be surprised how many people leave this job until it is too late.