Gardening is a hobby or lifestyle that many people—myself included—enjoy as a way to get outdoors, grow food, or help to ease the stresses of life. At some time or another, you’re bound to come across many legged critters running around. So why the heck do you have millipedes in your garden?
Millipedes in your garden aren’t always a bad thing. They typically feed on decaying leaves, fruit, vegetables, and other rotting plant matter. These “leggy” arthropods hang out in damp, soft soil and can be a benefit to your garden, but if food is scarce, they can feed on living plants.
We will go over the reasons millipedes are in your garden. Some reasons can be beneficial to your garden, while there are a few times when millipedes are quite unwanted. Then we will discuss what to do about these garden dwellers!
Millipedes Must Maintain Moisture
The reason any pest is in your garden, or anywhere they are not invited, is because there’s something beneficial to them. All living creatures are looking for shelter, food, water, and a mate. Not necessarily in that order.
If you have millipedes in your garden, there’s something in there they benefit from. Millipedes feed on decaying plant matter, and occasionally other rotting insects.
Now, about moisture. These “thousand-legged worms” will dry out quickly if they are not surrounded by a humid environment. They breathe through tiny holes near their legs called spiracles.
Millipedes can’t close these holes, so they dry out quickly, but they can also drown if there’s a lot of rain.
Since gardens are carefully looked after, watered when dry, and usually have a lot of organic material, the damp garden soil attracts millipedes. This provides a perfect home for them.
Millipedes like to burrow into the ground in the search for damp ground and food to eat. In this way, they are much like earthworms and can help to aerate the soil for you. This is a benefit that millipedes can offer.
Mulching your garden with wood chips or leaves is a great way to keep the soil damp, especially during the hot summer months when water from the sky is scarce.
However, this action can also attract the bugs. Millipedes love to keep themselves moisturized by hiding in mulch beds and under leaves.
They’re Attracted To Food In Your Garden (Soil, Plant Matter, And Compost)
Gardens also provide plenty of sustenance to millipedes. Gardeners will frequently add natural fertilizers and soil additives to help their plants grow, but these materials often ring the dinner bell to millipedes.
Adding compost to your garden is a great way to strengthen your plants, add nutrients, keep the soil moist and reduce waste. Millipedes are attracted to compost because there’s plenty for them to snack on. They may have come from the compost pile to your garden.
As long as there’s plenty of decaying matter in the soil for millipedes to eat, they won’t bother your plants. They have been known to eat tender seedlings, but they rarely eat tougher, more established plants. Either way, a garden provides plenty of food for millipedes.
The byproduct of millipedes is quite beneficial to plants as well. Just like worms who drop off “casings” (another word for droppings) as they feed on leaves and other matter, millipede feces is a power-packed fertilizer for plants.
Now, if your garden or flower bed is close to your house – you should take a look at our piece on the things that attract millipedes to your home.
Your Garden Is Providing Shelter For Millipedes
Gardens offer plenty of places to hide away from predators and the damaging, drying rays of the sun. The soft, loose soil is easy to tunnel into, and millipedes will search out this un-compacted dirt.
According to NC State Extension, millipedes look for dark, humid areas that are rich in organic matter. These areas include compost piles, rotting logs, and mulched areas such as flower beds.
Though millipedes can secret a foul-smelling odor when they feel threatened, there are still some animals that will dine on them. Hiding in dirt tunnels helps to keep them protected from those predators with less discerning tastes.
The hot rays of the sun will quickly dehydrate millipedes, leaving behind desiccated, curled up husks of what once was a leaf recycling machine. To escape the dangerous sunlight, millipedes will take to the underground areas of your garden.
Millipedes Love Rotting Fruits And Veggies
There’s not much better to millipedes than produce that has seen better days. It happens sometimes.
You have a squash you don’t see, a tomato that fell off the bush, or something similar and you overlook it. Before you know it, the fruit is mushy and turns into a slimy mess.
This has happened to me a few times before, especially with yellow squash and zucchini. The plants grow quite large; the leaves cover up areas I was sure I checked just the other day. But low and behold, there’s a rotting vegetable on the ground that was missed.
These minor mistakes can attract the millipedes. It’s not necessarily a bad thing, because they will eat the rotting vegetables and help to break them down into more nutrients for your garden soil.
Rotting fruits and vegetables not only provide plenty of food for millipedes but there’s a lot of hydration in those forgotten fruits. They are irresistible to these arthropods.
Your Nearby Woodpile Brought In Millipedes
Woodpiles offer everything millipedes need to live their best lives as well. Especially if the stacks of wood haven’t been disturbed in some time. There are plenty of hiding places, food, and moisture in an undisturbed, and rotting woodpile.
If the woodpile is close to the garden, freshly overturned soil could attract millipedes that are feeling crowded. Millipedes rarely stray too far from where they have food and shelter, except for when they go on their bi-annual migration.
So if you have a woodpile close to your garden, they could have just taken a quick trip to find better living conditions.
Your Compost Brought Millipedes In
We know millipedes love rotting vegetables and fruits, so it just makes sense that millipedes will be found in compost.
It needs both kitchen scraps and yard waste to make a well-balanced soil additive. Millipedes just happen to love nearly everything that goes into making compost.
There’s nothing wrong with having millipedes in your compost pile because they are one organism that helps to break down solid waste into rich soil.
Millipedes could have come from the compost pile. They were just moved from one place with plenty of moisture and food to another place full of moisture and food.
There’s Water In Your Garden That Millipedes Are Searing For
If your area is going through a drought, millipedes will search out sources of water. As an avid gardener, the yard can be so dry and so crisp that the grass crunches when you walk on it, but the garden will be well watered.
This will bring on the millipedes!
When the entire yard is a dried-up wasteland, millipedes will seek any moisture they can find, and a garden will often offer a pleasing respite.
Millipedes Could Be After Your Smaller Plants And Seedlings
Millipedes typically can’t do much damage to an established plant, even if it’s pretty hungry.
Most larger plants can shake off the damage and keep growing, but if they tackle new seedlings or a ton of hungry millipedes land on bigger plants, they could do more harm.
Millipedes prefer rotting vegetation, but if there’s not enough food for them all, they can turn to smaller plants.
Microgreens are delicious. Apparently, millipedes got that same memo!
Monitor your garden when you first plant seeds or seedlings, because millipedes could be attracted to the easier to munch baby plants.
If you’ve found millipedes inside on your smaller, potted plants – take a peak at our guide on the things to do if you find a millipede in your house!
Potted Plants Attract Millipedes
Gardening in pots and containers has gained a lot of appeal. For those who have limited space, don’t want to dig up the yard, like the aesthetic appeal of decorative pots, or for other reasons, gardening with pots is the way to go.
Pots and containers offer a lot of appeal to millipedes. There are plenty of places to hide. Millipedes can hide out from the sun by crawling under the pots. The space underneath is cool, damp, and offers protection from predators and the sun.
The soil in pots and containers is usually damp, and full of organic matter millipedes will readily gobble up. You want your plants to grow well, so they are taken care of, from regular watering to quality soil, all of which attracts millipedes.
If someone has a well-manicured lawn that gets plenty of fertilizers, regular cutting, and herbicides for weeds and pesticides, then potted plants offer a haven away from danger for millipedes. Just another reason potted plants could attract these bugs.
Millipedes in your potted plants usually don’t mean the end of your container garden, unless it has become an all-out invasion.
If you notice the occasional slow-moving arthropod, you can simply relocate them. However, if they are working to muscle you out, then you might have to seek more drastic measures of eviction.
How To Deal With Millipedes In Your Garden (And Keep Them Away)
Millipedes in your garden usually bring along more benefits than damage. Along with worms, they are nature’s first line of leaf recycling.
They eat wet leaves, breaking them down into smaller pieces so they decay faster.
Millipedes help to aerate the soil—much like nightcrawlers and red wigglers. These “leggy worms” also leave behind little power-packed pellets of plant nutrition when they eliminate waste.
But they can appear quite creepy with all their segments and little wiggly legs when you’re not expecting them, and in large numbers, they can harm garden plants.
Make Sure It’s A Millipede, Not A Centipede
These two creatures often get confused because they can look a lot alike. They both have more than six legs and look like segmented worms, but one is mostly harmless, while the other can deliver a painful bite.
Millipedes are also called “Thousand-Legged Worms” because it looks like they have that many legs. So far, no millipede ever found has 1000 appendages. Most species have between 100 to 300 legs.
These critters have two pairs of legs per segment on their body, unlike centipedes, which often have longer, thicker legs, but only one pair per segment.
Millipedes move slowly, unlike their cousins the centipede, which scurry around quickly because they hunt live, insect prey. If it’s long, segmented, and moving slightly faster than a snail, it’s most likely a millipede.
Other differences between millipedes and centipedes are body shape and color. Millipedes’ bodies are more rounded and worm-shaped, whereas the centipede often has flatter and larger segments.
Centipedes are also usually brighter colored than the slow-moving millipede. Centipedes also come in reds, oranges, yellows, and some brownish-red colorations, while millipedes are mostly drab. They are often black, brown, or gray, but some can have brightly colored bands along their individual segments.
The last difference is that centipedes can deliver a venomous bite, whereas millipedes have no venom, and their defense mechanism is to roll into a tight coil and release a foul odor… gross!
If you have no aversion to handling millipedes and know you have no issues with their secretions (most millipedes aren’t harmful), it’s recommended to use gloves, such as these Vgo 6-Pairs Latex Rubber Coated Gardening and Work Gloves.
They’re breathable, thin, flexible gloves with a protective coating that’s great for gardening, and will keep millipede stink off your hands!
Reduce The Amount Of Water
In a perfect world, we would never have to water the garden, but Mother Nature can be quite fickle with her waterworks. Moist garden soil may attract millipedes, but you will have to water your garden at some point, so how do you water it without attracting these bugs?
Water your garden in the morning. Millipedes are nocturnal, so watering your garden in the early hours will give your plants the water they need while letting the soil dry out by the time millipedes become active.
To keep millipedes away, the University of Tennessee Extension suggests reducing moisture and managing any decaying vegetation. Keep your yard free of debris, dethatched, and edged while keeping grass clippings and leaves away from where you don’t want millipedes.
Also, you should do any watering in the morning to let the ground dry between waterings to reduce the chance of millipedes.
Use Strong Scents That Millipedes Hate
Millipedes can’t read, or if they can, they pretend they can’t. So repel them by turning their powerful sense of smell against them. Strong scents can work wonders at keeping millipedes at bay.
You can use essential oils like peppermint and tea tree oil or use spices like cayenne or crushed red pepper to let millipedes they are not invited. Handcraft Peppermint Essential Oil is a great, natural way to keep pests away, so is Handcraft Tea Tree Essential Oil.
Millipedes don’t like these strong-smelling essential oils. Add a few drops to a spray bottle of water and spray a perimeter around your garden to keep them away.
You’ll have to reapply after a rain, after watering your garden, or when a few days pass, but this will be clear sign millipedes aren’t allowed in this area.
Sprinkling a line of cayenne pepper is another way to keep them at bay. Most insects and animals don’t like the sharp, pungent smell of strong peppers, so a cayenne barrier will keep pests out.
You can also use powdered sulfur to keep bugs away, but be careful using too much. A little sulfur can be beneficial to plants, but too much can block the absorption of some nutrients. If you use sulfur, make sure it’s a decent distance away from your garden plants.
Millipedes and centipedes are often repelled by the same scents, so you can take a look at our guide on the scents that centipedes hate here and apply those same tactics!
Keep Your Garden Clean
As the garden grows, and plants get bigger, they will drop leaves, flower buds, or the occasional fruit. I’ve been guilty of leaving them on the ground to decompose and add a few more nutrients into the ground, but this could attract millipedes to the area.
They will feed on all the detritus that’s left to decay, so if you find you are having a problem with millipedes, keep all the dead vegetation out of the garden.
Trim off brown leaves and stems, and make sure there are no rotting fruits or vegetables in the area. Throw them into the compost pile and add them when the garden has finished producing.
Remove Millipede Attractants
If you have woodpiles, leaf piles, compost, or a mound of lawn clippings near your garden, move them far away from your garden. Millipedes love these types of mounds. These areas offer all the things millipedes are looking for.
These piles all offer an endless supply of food, moisture, and protection for them. Occasionally, millipedes will migrate from one area to another, but not if the distance is far away.
Attract Millipede Predators
There aren’t a huge amount of predators that will eat millipedes because of the pungent odor they can emit, but toads, frogs, chickens, and ravens don’t have a problem eating them.
Toads are quite beneficial to gardens because they will eat many garden pests that can severely damage your precious plants.
Offering shelter for toads and frogs is a great way to let these amphibians know they are welcome here. Try out this Wildlife World Ceramic Frog and Toad House as a way to invite insect-eating frogs and toads.
If you are looking to attract amphibians, don’t use chemicals and pesticides, because these little hoppers are very sensitive to chemicals.
Chickens and ravens will also feast on millipedes. If you have chickens, let them run around in your garden to gobble up the many-legged pests, and drop their beneficial poop in your garden.
You’ll just have to protect plants you don’t want chickens to snack on like lettuces and kale.
Set Out Millepede Traps
You can set traps to catch millipedes by using pieces of ripe fruit, a plastic bottle, and a light. Clean out a bottle, set the fruit inside—melon, bananas, or apples—then set the bottle on the side near a small light like a small solar walkway light.
The millipedes will be attracted to the fruit and the light, and enter the bottle. In the morning, pick up the bottle, millipedes and all, and either relocate them or dispose of them as you will.
You can also use glue traps, but these can also harm other beneficial animals like frogs and toads.
Turn Out Those Lights
If you have lights outside at night, these could attract millipedes. Though they are nocturnal and avoid the sunlight like vampires, millipedes are attracted to low glowing night lights for some reason.
Turn out the lights at night if you have any near your garden. Of course, if you are trying to trap them, then use a single, small light to attract them toward it. Or you could use the light to lure the millipedes away from your garden.
Get Rid Of The Millipedes Yourself
Another way to deal with millipedes is to remove them yourself. As we stated before, aside from an odor, millipedes are harmless to people. Using your gloves or tongs, pluck the millipedes out of your garden and move them far away.
As long as you send them packing far away from your garden, they shouldn’t return.
You’ll probably have to do this more than once because as the day warms up, and the sun comes out, millipedes will attempt to return to their dark hideouts. Keep it up and eventually, you’ll have them evicted.
That’s A Wrap!
A garden is a great way to live a healthier lifestyle, but it will attract many unwanted critters like millipedes.
Though these 1000-legged worms are mostly beneficial, they can cause damage to plants, especially new seedlings.
Fortunately, there are several ways to keep them away or remove them once they get into your garden. From using natural repellants and predators, to adjusting your watering times, or removing them yourself, we hope your garden grows well without too many pests!
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Braschler, Brigitte, et al. “Ground-dwelling invertebrate diversity in domestic gardens along a rural-urban gradient: Landscape characteristics are more important than garden characteristics.” PloS one 15.10 (2020): e0240061.
Shear, William A. “The chemical defenses of millipedes (Diplopoda): biochemistry, physiology and ecology.” Biochemical Systematics and Ecology 61 (2015): 78-117.
Jones, R. E. “The millipedes of Norfolk.” THE NORFOLK & NORWICH 27.5 (1987): 362.