Many people have a knee jerk hostile reaction to finding a spider anywhere on their property, even gardeners. But the fact is that the benefits of garden spiders far outweigh the potential disadvantages, and the overwhelming majority of garden spiders are completely harmless to humans.
So what are the benefits of garden spiders? Spiders are beneficial in the garden because they provide pest control throughout the growing season, increase levels of biodiversity in the garden, increase cross-pollination, reduce the need for pesticides, and reduce the transmission of plant pathogens by feeding on insects that cause it.
Having spiders present in the garden to keep insect populations in check is a good idea, especially if you’re attempting any kind of organic gardening where pesticides aren’t being used. Keep reading to learn more about garden spiders and how you can attract them to your plot.
Are Spiders Okay in the Garden?
Spiders are more than okay in the garden—they are one of nature’s first-lines of defense against excessive populations of insects that would otherwise decimate food crops. These pests include bugs like cabbage moths, aphids, and beetles, as well as insects that can harm gardeners such as biting flies, mosquitoes, and territorial wasps. Spiders kill large numbers of these pest insects each growing season.
Most species of spiders across the world are harmless to people, so no matter how many spiders decide to take up residence in your garden, you don’t have to worry about being hurt by them. Not only are spiders generally beneficial in the garden’s ecosystem, but there are also no activities spiders perform that have negative impacts on plants.
Because they are a predatory animal, spiders won’t overpopulate the garden—their numbers are naturally limited by the amount of food available to them. There’s no risk of accidentally encouraging spiders in the garden and ending up with too many by accident.
So if you’re getting your garden situated in the spring and see a spider or two when you’re overturning old piles of dead leaves or mulch, try to resist the urge to squash them or drive them away. These little hunters are a gardener’s first line of defense against the many other insects in the garden that would otherwise sicken or damage their crops.
Benefits of Spiders in the Garden
There are many advantages of allowing spiders to populate your garden. Here are some of the benefits you can enjoy by encouraging spiders to visit:
- Insect control: The biggest advantage to allowing spiders in the garden is that they’re such good insect control. Any spider in the garden will consume at least an insect a day, which can really add up over the course of the growing season. Different kinds of spiders can target and go after different types of garden pests, making it a good idea to set up an ideal habitat for all spiders.
- Biodiversity: Predators are an important part in a habitat’s ecosystem, and spiders are one of the major insect predators present in the garden environment. Unfortunately, humans can negatively impact this biodiversity. Without enough predatory insects, smaller insects such as aphids can overpopulate and cause plant damage, throwing the entire habitat out of balance.
- Pollination: Certain spiders such as crab spiders and jumping spiders can actually aid cross-pollination between garden plants. Because they like to hide and ambush their prey from plant interiors such as buds and flowers, it is easy for them to become coated with pollen and carry it from plant to plant as they hunt.
- Reduced need for pesticides: When you encourage natural predators in the garden such as spiders, praying mantises, and ladybugs, the need for chemical pesticides is eliminated. This leads to healthier food plants and a cleaner, more sustainable natural environment.
- Reduced transmission of plant pathogens: Along with eliminating pest insects that feed on food plants, spiders also help to reduce the transmission of plant pathogens. Since many plant viruses and bacteria are transmitted from the soil to plants by foraging insects, using spiders to reduce insect numbers also helps protect plants from the spread of botanical disease.
- Can help reduce insects attracted by outdoor lighting: If you have garden paths or other garden features that are lit up by night lighting, this light can attract unwanted insects to your flowers and vegetables. Allowing spiders to move in on them helps keep the insects down without having to bring in pesticides or other insect control methods.
In contrast to the advantages of having spiders in the garden, there are only two major drawbacks to having spiders in the garden:
- The environments garden spiders enjoy can potentially attract venomous spiders as well.
- Spiders are not picky about what insects they capture and eat and are just as likely to capture beneficial pollinators such as small bees as they are to consume pest insects.
Despite these minor disadvantages, the benefits of having garden spiders far outweigh the inconveniences that come with them.
Harmless Types of Spiders Found in the Garden
There are many harmless varieties of spiders that are commonly found in vegetable and flower gardens. Here are some of the basic general types that might be seen:
- Web weavers: These spiders such as garden orb weavers and grass spiders catch their prey by creating intricate, sticky webs that are used primarily to trap flying insects. These arachnids hunt primarily at night when flying insects are less easily able to see and avoid their traps. The webs of web weaving spiders can often be seen strung between taller plants, such as stalks of corn.
- Hunting spiders: Hunting spiders are spiders that actively travel along the ground and among plants in search of insects to ambush and kill. Two common varieties of hunting spiders include the wolf spider and lynx spider. While these spiders sometimes have a fearsome appearance and can inflict bites if caught or provoked, hunting spiders are shy and generally avoid people.
- Crab spiders: Crab spiders and jumping spiders are known for their ambush hunting tactics and are commonly found inside of flowers and hidden among plants as they lie in wait for passing prey. These elusive spiders have an amazing ability to leap from plant to plant and are often so small they go unnoticed by gardeners most of the time.
As soon as the weather begins to warm up enough to see plant growth and insect life in the spring, spiders come out of hibernation and begin their control of the insect population. This means that if you have a healthy population of spiders in your garden, you’ll be able to keep insects under control even before you’ll even be able to plant anything.
Dangerous Types of Spiders Found in the Garden
Along with the harmless spiders found in the garden, there are a handful of spiders that can be found that are dangerous to humans and pets. It should be noted that these spiders are just as beneficial as harmless spiders in reducing unwanted insect populations. However, these spiders are venomous, and their bites can create a medical emergency.
Brown Recluse Spiders
Brown recluse spiders favor confined urban spaces and are more likely to be found in a pile of cushions in a garage or a garden shed than they are to be found in the garden proper. However, if you are in the habit of leaving unused pots or bags of topsoil lying around, you might end up with brown recluses. These spiders are shy but will bite if frightened or attacked.
Brown recluse spiders can be identified most easily by the marking on their back, which is shaped like a brown fiddle or violin. Grass spiders are often misidentified as brown recluses because of their similar marking, but they have a brown stripe across their back rather than a violin shaped mark.
Brown recluses have a necrotic toxin that causes painful ulceration of the skin and can even cause serious infections like sepsis as a result. To prevent brown recluses from moving into the garden, make sure that all pots are kept clean and in sterile conditions, and that shed interiors have maximum exposure to direct sunlight and are swept out regularly. Brown recluses favor dark, untidy places.
Black Widow Spiders
Black widow spiders (also commonly known as redback spiders) are a black spider with a bright red marking on its back in the shape of an hourglass. These spiders are commonly found in most temperate parts of the world and produce a venom called latrotoxin. This potent neurotoxin is known to cause several painful symptoms including tachycardia and muscle spasms that can persist for weeks after the initial bite.
Despite their fierce reputation, black widows are actually a shy spider and non-combative—when cornered, they will typically attempt to escape or play dead rather than bite. Bites from black widows typically occur when they are accidentally injured by a human that doesn’t know they’re there and they bite in self-defense.
Removing Venomous Spiders in the Garden Versus Killing Them
Most people who find venomous spiders in their garden elect to kill them. This is because these spiders can be somewhat difficult to catch, attempting to catch them can provoke them into biting, and while not usually deadly, their bites are dangerous enough that the majority of gardeners simply aren’t willing to take a chance.
Luckily no species of brown recluse or black widow spider is particularly endangered, so for those who are worried about leaving these spiders in the garden, smashing them with a booted foot or garden tool is the safest course of action. Do not attempt to kill these spiders barehanded since they are capable of delivering a nasty bite in self-defense.
For those softhearted gardeners who prefer to not kill even a venomous spider, these spiders can be safely caught by putting on gardening gloves and collecting a wide-mouthed glass jar and a piece of card stock or stiff paper to place over the opening. The piece of card can be used to sweep or herd the spider gently into the jar before being placed over the opening to seal the spider inside.
After capturing the spider (being careful not to squash or injure it in the process) remove it from the garden and relocate it to an area that is farther from human habitation.
How to Attract Spiders to Your Garden
If you want to attract a host of garden spiders to your plot to help keep down insect populations in an organic garden, there are several different design choices you can make that will make your garden more tempting to them. Here are some of the ways you can attract spiders to your garden:
- Leave out debris and mulch: Hunting spiders like wolf spiders prefer to crawl around in piles of leaves and loose mulch where they can hide at a moment’s notice, so make sure that your garden’s topsoil is mulched over with straw, pine needles, or shredded leaves to give them attractive hunting grounds.
- Don’t remove spiderwebs in the garden: If you see a garden spider’s web, it goes without saying if you want the spider to stick around, you need to leave its handiwork up so that it has a trap to hunt from. Since many people will knock down a spiderweb without thinking about it, it can help to let others know that you’re adopting a live-and-let-live attitude towards spiders in the garden so that no one else takes out their webs either.
- Use outdoor lighting to attract insects: Garden spiders like to catch flying insects such as moths in their webs, and these insects are very attracted to and disoriented by outdoor lighting. This means spiders will often post up near night lights in the garden.
- Companion planting: Planting flowers alongside your vegetables can help encourage small crab and jumping spiders to settle into the garden, because this gives them a place to hunt from. Not only does adding a variety of companion plants increase the biodiversity of the garden, it offers plenty of territory so that there is less competition between garden predators.
- Don’t pull up all the weeds: While most gardeners are strict about making sure that weeds stay out of the garden, if you want to keep a healthy population of grass spiders, you should leave a few clumps of weeds here and there to provide them with a tempting habitat.
- Don’t use pesticides: Pesticides will destroy most of a spider’s natural food sources and many pesticides will also kill spiders on contact as well as insects. To have a healthy population of spiders in the garden, never use pesticides or insecticides. Instead, research organic pest control methods such as neem oil and insect-deterring companion plants.
Once you have your garden designed in a way that makes it welcoming to beneficial wildlife like spiders, amphibians, and others, you’ll have a lot less trouble trying to keep pest insect populations under control. For the most part, though, being welcoming to spiders in the garden is as simple as not killing them on sight.
How to Deter Spiders from Your Garden
Even though spiders provide many benefits to the garden, there are still legitimate reasons to not want spiders in the garden setting. For example, there are some areas of North America where venomous spiders exist in particularly dense populations. That can mean creating a spider-friendly environment for beneficial spiders, in turn, creates a garden setting that invites a large number of venomous spiders.
There are also many people who have a strong and irrational fear of spiders—this phobia is known as arachnophobia. Even though people who suffer from arachnophobia may be able to understand rationally that the majority of spiders are harmless, their irrational fear of spiders means that coming across one while gardening causes them great distress or panic.
In either of those scenarios, it might be better to design a garden that naturally deters spiders from settling in. Here are some ways you can discourage spiders from marking out a territory in your garden:
- Keep garden tidy and free of debris: Many kinds of spiders prefer to have a bunch of loose debris to hide in rather than running around exposed in the open, so preventing spiders means keeping your garden free of weeds and your garden sheds free of empty pots.
- Take down webs whenever you find them: If you destroy a spider’s web, it is more likely to move on and try again in another location than it is to create a web in the same space. That means if you don’t want spiders in the garden, you should knock down their webs when they pop up. This will encourage spiders to find territory elsewhere.
- Remove outdoor lighting: Garden spiders like orb weavers are especially attracted to areas near outdoor lighting since this lighting attracts plenty of prey for them to eat. Removing the lights around your garden and keeping it dark at night will reduce the number of insects attracted to the area.
- Don’t plant flowers: Many crabs and jumping spiders are attracted to flower blossoms as a place to hide, so if you stick to vegetables in your garden you will be less likely to attract many species. The best way to keep down spiders in the garden is to keep plants other than the main crop down to a bare minimum.
- Use aromatic essential oils: Oils such as peppermint, cinnamon, and cedar are repellent to spiders and insects, so sprinkling these oils around areas that spiders like to congregate (such as garden sheds) can reduce their numbers over time and make you less likely to be bitten by one. Since these oils deter insects as well as the spiders themselves, they also remove a potential food source.
Even if you take all these measures against spiders in your garden, chances are you still might end up running across one here or there. Most of these spiders can be eradicated without worrying about overall environmental impact, as spiders commonly found in backyard gardens are not spiders from endangered species.
It is better to kill spiders on an individual basis if you must rather than try to spray a general insecticide to kill them, however, as these pesticides also have the nasty side effect of killing many beneficial species of insects such as bees and butterflies.
Do Garden Spiders Bite?
All types of spiders commonly found in the garden are capable of biting a person if provoked, but even the largest and most fearsome-looking garden spiders are essentially harmless to people. Most garden spiders won’t bite unless they are accidentally injured, chased, or provoked. Even then, most would rather flee or play dead than face their attacker.
The bites of most garden spiders are only mildly painful, and the pain can be compared to that of other stinging insects found in the garden, such as a wasp, hornet, or bee. In most people, these bites will result in an itchy red bump that will persist for a day or so before fading. Having an allergic reaction to a spider bite is not common.
Even though many people have a natural fear of spiders, the truth is that most garden spiders can be safely caught without any danger. Spiders are usually much more afraid of humans than humans are of them, and aggressive spider species such as the Sydney funnel spider are very rare.
These precautions can help prevent an accidental spider bite in the garden:
- Check pots before handling them: Many reclusive spider species such as brown recluses and black widows like to create webs on the inside of unused terra cotta garden pots. Since they retain moisture well, create a dark crevice, and often have small cracks and holes that allow spiders access, unused pots are popular with spiders. Preventing a spider bite can be as simple as looking into an unused pot before sticking your hand in it.
- Don’t try to handle a garden spider: Even the most gentle of spiders will bite if frightened or provoked, so if you aren’t confident enough to catch and relocate a spider quickly without giving it a chance to panic and bite you, just leave it alone and allow it to relocate itself.
- Don’t leave your gloves or boots out: Many people have been bitten by a spider by cramming their foot into a boot with a spider in it (or their bare hand in a gardening glove). Keep boots stored indoors and be sure to knock them out on the ground before putting them on. Keep gardening gloves stored in plastic storage bags or sealed containers in the shed.
- Use long sleeves and gloves when moving woodpiles: Spiders are notorious for building their homes in stacks of firewood, so if you’re planning on moving some firewood around, make sure your hands and arms are protected.
- Stamp your feet: Making noise, moving slowly, and stomping can frighten off garden wildlife before you have a chance to come across it yourself. Most garden predators such as snakes and spiders don’t want anything to do with human beings and will happily vacate the premises if you give them enough of a heads-up.
Even though you’re bound to run into a spider eventually, getting bitten by one is usually avoidable as long as you make some adjustments to avoid accidentally being surprised by one.
Common Questions About Garden Spiders
Spiders are commonly found in the garden, but despite their overwhelming fear of them, most people don’t actually know that much about garden spiders. Here are a few questions commonly asked about these fascinating arachnids:
- Where do garden spiders go in the winter? Like most insects, spiders go into a period of hibernation during the coldest parts of the year. Once plants begin to stir in the spring and the other insects come out of hibernation, spiders come out of hibernation too.
- How long do garden spiders live? Most garden spiders live from one to three years, depending on the species. Many male spiders die after reaching maturity and mating.
- Do garden spiders have natural predators? Of course! Garden spiders are as susceptible to being attacked by lizards, birds, and other larger vertebrates in the garden as other insects of a similar size. The majority of garden spiders do not possess venom in large enough amounts to deter them from being eaten by songbirds and other garden insectivores.
Despite the fact that many people fear them, in reality, spiders are interesting and mostly harmless creatures that provide a point of beauty, interest, and practicality in the garden.
Spiders Are Very Beneficial to Backyard Gardens
When you’re as large as a human being in comparison to an arachnid or an insect, it’s easy to forget that these invertebrates live a life almost completely outside of human perception. Whether you’re afraid of them or not, spiders in the garden are fascinating and deserving of respect for their significance to biodiversity and environmental health.
For those who can overcome their squeamishness towards these eight-legged animals, spiders can provide many poison-free advantages for gardeners in their fight against insect pests.