Ask a Master Gardener: How do I get rid of sowbugs?


Cherokee Princess Flowering Dogwood

This Cherokee Princess Flowering Dogwood, photographed Thursday, April 24, 2014 at the Garden Spot in Bellingham, is a good example of a flowering tree whose branches can make an elegant display in a large vase filled with water.


Question: Sowbugs are taking over my garden. As cute as they are, I need to control them. Any ideas?

Answer: Clean up, clean up, clean up. Sowbugs love to hide under whatever they can find: compost, manure, rocks, board. Anywhere it is cool and damp, you're likely to find a sow bug. Any cool crevice can harbor one or more sowbugs. For those of you not familiar with this name, maybe you know this little bug by the name of "pill bug." It earns that name by its ability to roll up into a ball whenever threatened. A sowbug has seven pairs of legs on a gray, oval-shaped, segmented body about a 1/2-inch long.

The solution to control these bugs is both simple and impossible. As a gardener, you probably will shudder at the solution: Clear your garden area of any materials that will appeal to these bugs. The drier the area, the better. That means a lot of work, but it also will help to keep healthy your seedlings with young, succulent growth, a favored food of sowbugs.

You also can trap the bugs. Put rolled up newspaper or cardboard in your garden. At night, the bugs crawl into these for shelter. Simply collect and dispose of the whole thing early the next morning.

Be aware, however, that the battle is weighted against you. Sowbug females hatch 25 to 75 young in a brood, retaining the eggs in a body pouch until after they hatch. You'll have to do a lot of trapping to keep up!

Q: Recently I saw a magnificent display of blooming branches. How would I go about forcing branches to flower inside my house?

A: Nothing says spring more than a wild display of branches covered with blossoms gracing your dining room table or mantle.

You can buy these branches, ready to pop out, at florists. But it's the easiest thing in the world to do it yourself. Simply got out into your yard, find some trees that are in bud, just about ready to burst out into full flower. Stand back and look at the tree or shrub, and determine what cuts will do the most good for the overall looks of the plant. Think of it as early pruning. And then cut a few branches.

Bring them into house and pop them into a large vase filled with cool water. Some people say they get better success by smashing the ends of the branches before immersing them. You can try both and see what works best for you.

Any fruit tree works well, but don't be limited to flowers, either. Many shrubs have lovely new leaves that make a vibrant display inside. Willow is one of my favorites, as it will eventually root in the water, giving me new plants. Weigela, viburnum and even barberry are some others I use regularly.

So go ahead and load up your house with riotous displays of spring. Just be sure to change the water when it begins to look cloudy.

Q: I didn't add fertilizer when I planted my bulbs last fall. Can I apply it now, and if so, what should I use?

A: You can apply a complete fertilizer, if you do it soon. Then in the fall add a nitrogen supplement. The bulbs produce new roots in fall and actively absorb nutrients throughout the winter and spring.

There are many good organic fertilizer mixes. Pick one designed specifically for bulbs. A good organic fertilizer you can use to add nitrogen for the bulbs is bloodmeal. Don't try to work these into the ground, as you might damage the newly- emerging spring plants. Just sprinkle it around, and let the spring rains wash it in.

Master Gardener Kathleen Bander is a resident of Bellingham and life-long gardener. For more information on Whatcom County Master Gardeners, go online to Ask a Master Gardener will appear in The Bellingham Herald weekly through the growing season. If you have a gardening question you'd like answered in the column, please email it to

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