Question of the Week: Spider Senses

by Ken Greene

This thoughtful question came in from one of our Facebook friends.

Weeding my potato bed today I noticed that I was evicting some of the spiders that made their home there. I wasn't too happy about it, since I know spiders eat the things that eat my plants. Any thoughts on this? I want the spiders, but not the weeds they live in.  -Ben

Here's my answer. What do you think?


Your question is something many caring gardeners think about- disturbing the beneficial creatures in their gardens. Frogs, snakes, toads, spiders, and many types of insects are actually protecting your garden by eating pests like slugs, aphids, grasshoppers, potato beetles and their ilk. Sometimes, in our efforts to weed, cultivate, and enjoy our gardens we accidentally make life uncomfortable (or worse!) for our natural garden helpers. While it may be impossible to avoid unsettling the good critters, there are ways to minimize your impact.

1. Grow Organic. Using organic practices and avoiding chemical pesticides (which don't discriminate) and fertilizers is the healthiest way to garden for all creatures from microorganisms to butterflies, birds, fish, foxes, and people.
2. Permanent No-Till Beds. Establishing beds that only need to be surface cultivated helps keep the natural soil structure intact and therefore the good bugs that live in the soil. With regular weeding (more in early years, and a bit less as time goes by), your garden beds will remain free of weeds and well-loosened without the disruption caused by motorized tillers.
3. Keep Your Garden Clean and Clear. Piles of weeds or rocks quickly become homes for critters, both good and not so good. When you leave a pile for weeks, or even days, it quickly becomes home to many creatures. When you go to clean it up, you'll be disturbing nests and offsrping. Better to clean up right away.
4. Use Hand Tools. Gas tillers, mowers, tractors and other power tools can make a job go quickly, but that speed and power also means it’s more difficult to avoid running over small helpers. It also causes more pollution. When you are using your hands or hand tools, you are closer to the ground, moving more slowly. Critters have more time to get out of the way, or you can avoid them. Pick and choose which tasks truly need machines and which are better done by hand.
5. Offset. By planting areas for beneficial habitat (like our Good Bug Blooms) and leaving some of your yard wild and native, you can create healthy homes for the good bugs, homes you don't need to uproot. Think of it as sharing your space: a garden for you and a garden for the good bugs.

As for the spiders, it takes them from 30-60 minutes to weave a web. Many spiders actually build a new web every night. Don't be too concerned if you need to pull a weed attached to a tread. The spider will recover!

What do you do to care for your garden ecosystem? Let us know in the comments or on Ben's post.