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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.

For more on spiders: https://ipm.ucanr.edu/QT/spiderscard.html.

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Dig In: Garden Checklist for week of April 7

The warm wave coming this week will shift weeds into overdrive. Get to work!

* Weed, weed, weed! Whack them before they flower.

* Mulch around plants to conserve moisture and control weeds.

* Smell orange blossoms? Feed citrus trees with a low dose of balanced fertilizer (such as 10-10-10) during bloom to help set fruit. Keep an eye out for ants.

* Apply slow-release fertilizer to the lawn.

* Thoroughly clean debris from the bottom of outdoor ponds or fountains.

* Spring brings a flush of rapid growth, and that means your garden is really hungry. Feed shrubs and trees with a slow-release fertilizer. Or mulch with a 1-inch layer of compost.

* Azaleas and camellias looking a little yellow? If leaves are turning yellow between the veins, give them a boost with chelated iron.

* Trim dead flowers but not leaves from spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips. Those leaves gather energy to create next year's flowers. Also, give the bulbs a fertilizer boost after bloom.

* Pinch chrysanthemums back to 12 inches for fall flowers. Cut old stems to the ground.

* From seed, plant beans, beets, cantaloupes, carrots, corn, cucumbers, melons, radishes and squash. Plant onion sets.

* In the flower garden, plant seeds for asters, cosmos, celosia, marigolds, salvia, sunflowers and zinnias. Transplant petunias, zinnias, geraniums and other summer bloomers.

* Plant perennials and dahlia tubers for summer bloom. April is about the last chance to plant summer bulbs, such as gladiolus and tuberous begonias.

* Transplant lettuce and cabbage seedlings.

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