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Why garden spiders are a good thing

They only look scary (and they eat lots of bugs)

This is the web of a golden orbweaver spider. They like to hang out during the day under the leaves of large rose bushes.

This is the web of a golden orbweaver spider. They like to hang out during the day under the leaves of large rose bushes.

Debbie Arrington

It’s only September, but my garden looks like it’s ready for Halloween.

Huge spider webs – each more than 6 feet across – block both ends of the path next to my raised beds. Similar silky masterpieces span rose bushes or go up into trees.

Between potted tomatoes, I walked into one web by accident, its fine silk quickly sticking to my clothes. I screamed when I saw its maker on my shoulder: A giant golden orbweaver.

(I managed to set it down gently on a different bush.)

Large black and white spider
This is a golden orbweaver spider.

This late summer, my garden has become a spider wonderland, and that’s a good thing. Spiders are natural pest control; they eat lots of bugs.

Many of them are golden orbweavers, capable of constructing webs as wide as double doors. I counted eight different orbweavers in my backyard in one morning. I don’t doubt they’re related.

Harmless to people, this particular variety is fond of large rose bushes, such as those growing all over my garden. I have more than a hundred in the ground.

“They like to hide out under leaves on the rose bush during the day,” explained Baldo Villegas, Sacramento’s Bug Man, when I asked him about these spiders a few years ago. “That’s where it’s nice and cool.”

The retired state entomologist has encountered many, many spiders. In Sacramento, we only need to worry about widows. They have a venomous bite.

“In the Sacramento area, the black widow spiders are the most dangerous as they are very common,” Villegas said. “Next would be the brown widows, but they are much less common.”

The widows tend to be found outdoors or in garages in dark, dry, seldom-disturbed places. Brown recluses and hobo spiders, two other species that can hurt people, are not found in California.

Villegas likes jumping spiders (his favorite), crab spiders, garden spiders and cellar spiders (a.k.a. daddy long legs). All of them have a productive job eliminating unwanted pests.

“All spiders are predaceous on other critters, especially insects, and they are considered beneficial critters of the garden,” Villegas explained. “Most all spiders in our area are harmless to humans or pets. The only problem is when the spiders are grabbed or trapped by human hands! Then is when they can bite.”

Master gardeners consider garden-variety spiders as beneficial insects.

Spiders are mostly beneficial because they feed on pest insects,” say the UC IPM research notes. “However, many people think that all spiders are dangerous and aggressive. In California, the main spider capable of causing serious injury is the black widow, which generally remains outdoors and out of sight. Spiders seen out in the open during the day are unlikely to bite people. Focus pest management efforts on removing webs and hiding places. Pesticides are not generally recommended.”

I used to jump whenever I saw spiders. Now I admire them – and I watch where I walk.

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For week of Sept. 24:

This week our weather will be just right for fall gardening. What are you waiting for?

* Now is the time to plant for fall. The warm soil will get these veggies off to a fast start.

* Keep harvesting tomatoes, peppers, squash, melons and eggplant. Tomatoes may ripen faster off the vine and sitting on the kitchen counter.

* Compost annuals and vegetable crops that have finished producing.

* Cultivate and add compost to the soil to replenish its nutrients for fall and winter vegetables and flowers.

* Fertilize deciduous fruit trees.

* Plant onions, lettuce, peas, radishes, turnips, beets, carrots, bok choy, spinach and potatoes directly into the vegetable beds.

* Transplant cabbage, broccoli, kale, Brussels sprouts and cauliflower as well as lettuce seedlings.

* Sow seeds of California poppies, clarkia and African daisies.

* Transplant cool-weather annuals such as pansies, violas, fairy primroses, calendulas, stocks and snapdragons.

* Divide and replant bulbs, rhizomes and perennials. That includes bearded iris; if they haven’t bloomed in three years, it’s time to dig them up and divide their rhizomes.

* Dig up and divide daylilies as they complete their bloom cycle.

* Divide and transplant peonies that have become overcrowded. Replant with “eyes” about an inch below the soil surface.

* Late September is ideal for sowing a new lawn or re-seeding bare spots.

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