The Benefits of Spiders in the Garden

, written by Ann Marie Hendry gb flag

Spider with a fly trapped on its web

Anyone who’s ever seen the film Arachnophobia probably has a creeping mistrust, if not an outright terror, of spiders. I’ll admit to being uncomfortable with large spiders in, or near, the bedroom. I’m not sure what I think they’re going to do to me when I turn off the light, but I’m not taking any chances. Into a glass then out into the night they go!

Spiders in the garden are a different matter. There, it’s best to allow them to go about their business undisturbed, because their business is being eight-legged pest-control officers.

It’s true – there’s probably no other predator that deals with all manner of insect pests so relentlessly. If the mere mention of spiders hasn’t made you lunge for the Close button on your browser window, let’s look at just what makes spiders such an indispensible part of the home garden.

“Garden
Web-spinning spiders will capture a wide range of insects, including crop pests

Web-spinning Spiders

One legend surrounding Robert the Bruce tells of how he observed a spider struggling time and again to build its web. It eventually succeeded, proving that persistence pays for spiders (and subsequently for the Scots in their battle for independence from the English). More recently a barn spider called Charlotte A. Cavatica wove her web into messages that would save her friend Wilbur’s life. And of course the World Wide Web has ensnared us all!

If that wasn’t enough to inspire admiration, web-spinning spiders like orb weavers and funnel weavers use their silk to create naturally sticky traps that will capture all manner of bugs. When it feels the vibrations caused by a struggling bug the spider will dash out, tightly wrap the unfortunate insect in silk, and inject venom into it before retreating. The bite liquefies its victim, to be slurped up later.

A web-based spider doesn’t have the luxury of being picky, and will eat just about anything that is unlucky enough to become trapped in its web, from flies to butterflies to wasps.

“Crab
Crab spiders camoflage themselves in flower blossoms to await passing prey

Hunting Spiders

More discerning are the hunting spiders such as wolf spiders, crab spiders and jumping spiders. Wolf spiders live in shallow burrows and patrol the soil surface for their preferred prey, or more lazily lie in wait near their burrow entrance to pounce on passing bugs and slugs. They are attentive mothers, and are sometimes spotted carrying their egg sacs or spiderlings on their backs.

Canny crab spiders camouflage themselves by changing colour to match a flower. They lie in wait on a promising blossom to capture their prey, their elongated front two pairs of legs outstretched as if inviting a hug. (I’ll pass.)

Most spiders prefer to hunt by night, but jumping spiders hunt flies and other tiny airborne beasties during daylight hours. While they don’t spin webs, they use their silk as a tether in case they misjudge their leap. Safety first!

“Spider
Spiders provide free pest control!

How to Attract More Spiders

Arachnophobes – well done for making it this far! Persuading more spiders to take up residence may be at the bottom of your to-do list, but honestly, your garden will thank you. Most spiders aren’t dangerous, and a major benefit of having them around is that they’re usually active from early spring, right at the start of the pest season.

It’s not difficult to make our gardens accommodating for our natural pest controllers. These methods will make your garden amenable to other beneficial wildlife too.

Wolf spiders like mulch, so keeping soil covered with a layer of grass clippings or woodchips affords them cover from where they can launch an ambush. Adopting a no-dig approach will avoid disturbing their hunting grounds.

“Cucumber
Attracting spiders like this cucumber spider is easy, and great for your garden!

Grow as many trees, shrubs and perennial plants as you have space for to provide habitat for web-spinning and jumping spiders. Crab spiders need flowers where they can lurk in wait for prey. Don’t be too tidy – where practical, allow webs to remain on sheds, greenhouses and other structures. Leave plant stalks standing in winter and don’t clear away plant debris until spring.

And it goes without saying that avoiding the use of pesticides will help keep your garden healthier by allowing nature – including spiders – to take care of pest control for you.

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Comments

 
"I am fortunate to have lots of spiders around the cabin and in the garden. - Margy"
Margy on Saturday 13 July 2019
"Lucky you! I'm sure they will be doing a fine job keeping your garden pests in check."
Ann Marie Hendry on Tuesday 16 July 2019
"Thank you so much for your article Ann Marie. It's really time for people to lose their fear of these extraordinary animals. Luckily I have many of them that help me to keep my vegetable garden free from all kinds of vermin. Especially the orb-weaving spider (European garden spider, you can recognize them by their bright cross on their abdomen) has opened its home here. In spring and early summer you can see its hatchlings clustering into hundreds and forming a golden ball. If you disturb them, they spread out in all directions, but as soon as peace has returned, they form their round 'safehouse' again, which is supposed to indicate size to potential enemies. Sometimes I pick up this golden ball with the help of a stick and take it to a place where a few predators are useful, e.g. in case of aphid infestation of a plant. When I was little it was said that a bite of the orb-weaving spider was fatal. What nonsense! The poison of the cross spider, which consists of different proteins, is not dangerous for humans. The poison claws at the front of the head are short and can hardly penetrate the human skin. If this does work (e.g. in children), the skin itches and the bite resembles that of a mosquito bite. This is unpleasant, but not dangerous, as long as you are not allergic."
Ela on Saturday 20 July 2019
"OK first read, then post... Of course they don't manage to keep my patches completely free of vermin. But they are a very great assistance. - Ela"
Ela on Saturday 20 July 2019

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