As an Amazon Associate, GrowJourney earns from qualifying purchases. Read more: terms of service.
Do you have spiders in your garden? Find out why garden spiders are a GOOD thing and what the world (and your garden) would be like without spiders.
We’re often asked the question, “what should I do about spiders in my garden” and our answer is pretty simple: nothing!
Spiders are an indicator that you’re already doing something right because they can’t exist without biodiversity—a fancy way to say, “lots of bugs spiders can eat.” The more biodiversity present in your garden, the more nature will take care of your problems and you can sit back and smell (or eat) the flowers.
Still not convinced? Read on to learn why it’s worth getting past any prejudices and allowing spiders to mosey through your plants unmolested.
There’s no such thing as too many bugs in your garden, thanks to spiders…
When we aren’t getting asked what to do about spiders in the garden, we’re getting asked what to do about all the other bugs in the garden. (Note that “bugs” can be used as slang for any small invertebrate but “insects” is a scientific classification that does not include arachnids like spiders).
The good news about spiders is that they balance and control all the other tiny critters that inevitably show up when you grow plants. If you build it, the insects will come, so why not have a herd of insect-controlling spiders handle things for you?
Bonus: you can cackle inwardly about being the overlord of a spider army. (You can cackle out loud if you prefer, we aren’t going to tell you how to behave around your neighbors.)
Having spiders in your garden means you should relax when you see pests — and even be glad about them since predators can’t exist without some prey to keep them going. Put the poison bottles away—if your garden is newly organic it might take a little while for your ecosystem to balance itself, but that can’t happen if either predator or prey is missing from the equation.
What percentage of North American spiders pose a danger to humans?
When did you stop liking spiders? Was it because five-year-old you watched your Great Aunt Trudie have hysterics over something small and leggy marching towards her quilted ottoman? Why do you want to be like Aunt Trudie?
Granted, fear of spiders holds more rationale than say, fear of cicadas (cicada adults don’t even have mouths) because the thought of venom flowing through fangs is scary. However, in most cases there’s nothing to worry about.
Although female spiders can get very large, they rightfully want to avoid animals that are even larger. Unlike the giant spiders you may have seen in B-grade horror movies, humans are definitely big enough to be a spider’s worst nightmare.
Few species will do more than hide from us, and when they do bite it is generally because they’re defending themselves. Even then the damage is so minimal that unless you are allergic, typical spider bite results range from zero symptoms to pain similar to a bee sting.
Among the 3,400+ spider species in North America, there are only four to watch out for:
- brown recluse,
- black widow,
- hobo (vagabond) spider, and
- yellow sac spider.
For the most part, you’ll never see these spiders unless you go looking. All of them are reclusive and excellent at not being found (one of them is even named for it!). The spiders you do see are almost always harmless to humans.
Out of 3,400 spider species in North America, 3,396 of them are nontoxic to large mammals. That means 99.88% of spiders are not a threat to you!
Spiders are crucial to human wellbeing
Did you know scientists have identified over 1,000 unique peptides (chemicals) in a single species of spider venom and that conservative estimates are that there are more than 20 million bioactive (medically useful) compounds amongst spider species worldwide?
In fact, one of the most cutting edge areas of research in the pharmaceutical industry is studying spider venom compounds to use in treatments for everything from pain relief to cancer. Research on spider silk is just as groundbreaking and we’ve only just scratched the surface. Maintaining habitat for spider species to coexist with us may make or break a discovery that cures a loved one of a difficult disease.
Giving spiders a habitat helps in more ways than one. Spiders aren’t pests, but they are a critical form of natural pest control. Most people are aware of the essential role that bees play in pollinating our food supply (one out of every 3 bites you take was made possible by bees). Most people don’t know that spiders are the primary reason insects don’t wipe out the food supply…
Without spiders, it isn’t an overreach to say there would be worldwide famine. Think of it this way: insects are collectively (and conservatively) estimated to outweigh the earth’s human population seventy times over. What happens if the biggest insect predator (spiders) is eliminated? Let’s not find out!
Spider webs are amazingly beneficial even if they don’t say, “SOME PIG”
Charlotte saved Wilbur the pig by using messages written in her web to convince humans that he was worth having around. Charlotte’s Web is a fictional representation of the various “stabilimentum” that orb weaver spider family members are known for.
Originally thought to stabilize their enormous webs, scientists now suspect stabilimentum are used for other purposes such as avoiding predation from larger animals, attracting prey, signaling potential mates, or most likely a combination of purposes that varies from species to species. One thing that is certain is that the sticky webs of spiders like orb weavers mean spiders are the primary control of aerial insects in most ecosystems.
Of course this benefits our gardens but it also protects us from disease-carrying mosquitoes. SOME SPIDER!
A neat additional benefit to having spiders and their webs around is more birds in your garden. Birds eat spiders, but they also use their spent webs as a construction material for their nests.
Hummingbirds are particularly skilled at using spider silk the way we use spandex in fabric—the silk binds together twigs, lichen, bark, and other materials in an elastic cup that allows the nest to expand as the baby birds grow.
Not all spiders use webs to hunt
While some spider species are amazing at aerial predation, many species of spiders don’t use sticky webs to wait on dinner. Instead, they go on a quest to hunt it down.
These species are all grouped together as “hunting spiders,” and their varied tastes literally cover a lot of ground. A similar group of spiders are referred to as “ambush spiders.” Ambush spiders only travel to likely places to find their prey, then lay in wait to pounce when it shows up.
Most of these spiders are generalists and often consume desirable/beneficial insects alongside with pest insects, but they still fulfill their role in making sure insect populations stay in check. Some of these spider species are able to hunt in places that other predators (and even some pesticides) have difficulty reaching.
Other species of spiders specialize in critters that don’t have many other natural predators. As an example, the woodlouse spider achieves both of these distinctions by hunting underneath the leaf litter where its favorite prey—woodlice (or roly polys, pillbugs, or sowbugs)—is found.
This is extremely helpful during seasons that roly poly populations spiral out of control since they have a habit of eating tender young plant material if they can’t find enough decaying plant matter. Unless you happen to have a flock of ducks (ahem…), there aren’t many other controls for roly polys invading a garden.
Spiders aren’t just predators, they’re prey
Spiders are predators, but they’re also prey for lizards, frogs, toads, birds, and a myriad of other animals. Even unlikely herbivores like squirrels enjoy a high-protein spider treat from time to time!
Eliminating spiders in the garden also eliminates the members higher on the food chain who need spiders to feed themselves and their young. This is why respecting every strand on the web of life is so important (pun intended).
How to attract spiders to your garden
Now you know that the vast majority of North American spiders pose no risk to you AND that spiders are essential to healthy ecosystems (including your garden). So, how do you attract spiders to your garden?
1. Don’t use pesticides.
The good news is that you aren’t likely to make much headway in getting rid of spiders even if you try. However, we hope it goes without saying that you should avoid using pesticides since they will kill spiders and other beneficial insects, including honey bees and butterflies — not just pest insects.
Some people hear “pesticides” and think only of insecticides. However, pesticides includes herbicides, fungicides, and other biocides, which also harm non-target species like spiders.
2. Grow flowering plants throughout the warm months.
If you have a spouse who is resistant to adding non-edible plants to your garden, you’ll also be thrilled to learn the best way to protect edible plants is by planting a diverse variety of flowers with different bloom times to cover as much of the growing season as possible.
Some spiders actually drink nectar in addition to their buggy diet, and some plants specifically use their extrafloral nectaries to attract spiders to protect them from pests. However, you mostly want the flower blooms around to keep the insect prey and thus the predators in the area.
Maintaining an ongoing supply of predators is like hiring guards who need food and provisions to keep vigilant. A garden without predators is a garden with a pest problem.
3. Utilize plant biodiversity.
It also helps to have a variety of plant shapes and sizes for different spider species to find their favorite place to spin their webs.
Some spiders like the lowest layer of plants which includes everything from bedding annuals to shrubs. Other species look for higher perches like trees or even buildings.
4. Use mulches.
Laying down mulch (which will also conserve moisture and help control weeds) is another great way to add habitat for spiders. Natural mulches like straw or even garden debris mimics a forest floor and encourages species that prefer that environment.
Spiderlings (yes, that’s the correct name for cuddly and adorable baby spiders!) of some spider species also need mulch to overwinter so they don’t freeze to death.
Bottom line: having a variety of pesticide-free biomes is the best way to encourage a healthy, thriving ecosystem that supports the spiders your plants need.
We hope this article helps you realize that spiders might not be as scary as you thought! Hopefully, you’ll better appreciate and coexist with the innumerable spiders in your garden — and maybe even work diligently to attract them!
Related articles you’ll love:
- How to have your butterfly garden and eat it too by Dr. April Gordon
- Edible landscaping by Eliza Holcombe
- Top 18 garden herbs that also attract pollinators by Aaron von Frank
- How to work with insects to grow an amazing garden by Aaron von Frank