Home & Garden

They’re creepy and crawly but get over it — spiders are good for the garden

Dig In video series: Spiders are friends not foes in Idaho

Hate spiders in your garden or house? They're actually beneficial and most can't hurt you. Debbie Courson Smith, an advanced master gardener with University of Idaho Extension, talks about the most common spiders people bring in to be identified.
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Hate spiders in your garden or house? They're actually beneficial and most can't hurt you. Debbie Courson Smith, an advanced master gardener with University of Idaho Extension, talks about the most common spiders people bring in to be identified.

One of my favorite stories from 2016 — and there have been many — was about a motorist in Oregon who had a close encounter with a spider in an unexpected place.

A woman was driving in Portland on Sept. 21 when “along came a spider,” The Oregonian reported.

“The woman apparently became frightened when the arachnid dropped down from her rearview mirror,” Oregonian Reporter Kale Williams wrote. She lost control of the car, and it rolled off the road.

Fortunately, the driver suffered only a minor hand injury. The car was on its top in the Washington County Sheriff’s photo posted on Twitter — and the fate of the spider was unknown.

I think a lot of people can understand the fear that this woman felt when she saw that spider. The only spider I’ve ever had any affinity for was Charlotte — the one from E.B. White’s charming tale of how she helped save her barnyard buddy, a terrific pig named Wilbur.

But this week we’re here to tell you that you have nothing to fear from the vast majority of spiders in Idaho, and they’re actually a blessing in the garden and yard.

Researchers have finally set the record straight on the hobo spider — its venom isn’t toxic, and the Centers from Disease Control and Prevention removed it from the list of harmful spiders last year — so the black widow is the only spider bite that’s likely to require medical treatment, according to Debbie Courson Smith, a University of Idaho advanced master gardener and spider aficionado.

“Spiders don’t crave human flesh but they can bite if there is a surprise encounter,” Debbie said. She feels sorry for the “hated and misunderstood” spider.

Spiders eat bugs that can wreck havoc on your plants, such as aphids, caterpillars, earwigs and grasshoppers. That’s why they’re a benefit in the garden.

So it’s a win-win if you can find a way to humanely relocate back outside the multi-legged interlopers who find their way into the house. (In this week’s video, Debbie demonstrates a slick, simple method for doing that.)

Treasure Valley residents bring in spiders to be identified by the master gardeners at the University of Idaho Extension Office in Garden City all the time (some are stored in small specimen bottles). Those they see often include yellow sac spiders, wolf spiders and hobo spiders.

“Yes, a lot of these spiders could, in fact, bite you,” Debbie said. “But it wouldn’t be any worse than maybe getting a mosquito bite, or maybe if you got a bite from a ladybug.”

Want to learn all about spiders in Idaho? The University of Idaho Extension has a 28-page guide online. The guide is from 2010, so the hobo spider information isn’t up to date. But there’s also a 2016 report on hobo spiders online. For information about getting printed copies of these reports, visit the University of Idaho Extension Office-Ada County, 5880 N. Glenwood St., Garden City, or call 377-2107.

Katy Moeller: 208-377-6413, @KatyMoeller

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