Let Spiders Help in Your Vegetable Garden

A few years ago during the early spring, my brother, mother, and I noticed several quarter-sized, brownish-colored egg cases in our high tunnel. Our research taught us they were gifts from black and yellow garden spiders, Argiope aurantia. These spiders are also called yellow garden orb-weavers, writing spiders, or zipper spiders. This made sense, as the tomato vines are trellised to 8 feet high and provide the perfect environment for these magnificent arachnids to spin large circular webs, high off the ground, which contain a highly visible, zig-zag pattern in the center that is called a stabilimentum.  

garden spider egg cases
Four black and yellow garden spider egg masses in the back of the high tunnel frame were laid in the fall of 2019. The spider webbing provides protection from predators. Each egg case contains hundreds of baby spiders. Photo: Ashley Bodkins

We assumed that the eggs had hatched the previous fall and opted to not bother them and go about cleaning up and preparing for the new growing season. Little did we know, each egg case contained hundreds of baby spiders just waiting to make their escape, which happened later that spring and left our high tunnel completely overrun with spiders! 

Fortunately, these black and yellow garden spiders are beneficial in a vegetable garden. Spiders prey on all kinds of insects including flies, cucumber beetles, brown marmorated stink bugs, and sometimes even butterflies. Black and yellow garden spiders are not aggressive towards people — although, that does not mean they are not a bit intimidating, especially when you run your face smack dab into the beautiful web while picking tomatoes! 

Orb-weaver spiders spend their days sitting in their perfectly shaped webs, or nearby on the ground, waiting to catch an unassuming insect, which is immobilized, killed, and wrapped in silk to be consumed later. They are most active in the cover of the night and are great additions to your garden!

garden spider web
A black and yellow garden spider makes an orb web about a meter wide. The zigzag silk in the center is called the stabilimentum. Photo: David Cappaert, Bugwood.org

Webs will begin showing up in mid-summer and remain until the first frost. In our high tunnel, they are protected from most of the wind and rain that could normally damage a web. In your yard and garden, look for egg masses in secluded areas that you don’t visit very often, usually located several inches off the ground, maybe camouflaged with tall grass, at the edge of a woods line, or perhaps under bucket rims or plant containers.

spider egg cases in dried grass
Black and yellow garden spider egg mass from the fall of 2019 camouflaged in tall grass. Photo: Ashley Bodkins

As you begin cleaning up your yard or garden this spring, be on the lookout for egg masses of all types and in particular these amazing black and yellow garden spider egg cases. Be forewarned, there are probably hundreds of spiders just waiting to make their exit. From my experience, wherever the spiderlings exit they will live for the next 1-2 years. If you don’t want them in the area where they are located, gently pick up the egg case and move it to an area where they can thrive. 

garden spider is a predatory insect

Embrace the beautiful cycle of life and be ready to capture pictures of some beautiful spiders in your garden this year. All types of spiders are predators and considered beneficial in the garden! Check out more information on spiders on the Home & Garden Information Center website.

This year the University of Maryland Extension Master Gardener Grow It Eat It program is celebrating the little creatures that help us grow what we like to eat! Whether they are pollinating our plants or devouring pests, we couldn’t grow much to eat without the help of beneficial insects and arthropods.

By Ashley Bodkins, Senior Agent Associate and Master Gardener Coordinator, Garrett County, Maryland, University of Maryland Extension

3 thoughts on “Let Spiders Help in Your Vegetable Garden

  1. George Lambert February 26, 2020 / 9:21 pm

    Good article, but we should remember that spiders are not insects.

  2. Maryland Grows February 27, 2020 / 10:37 am

    That’s correct. Spiders are arachnids (as noted in the first paragraph). They are a type of arthropod.

    The Year of Beneficial Bugs message is simplified. The intent is to raise awareness of a variety of beneficial insects and arthropods in gardens — not just bugs.

  3. Rosemary February 27, 2020 / 6:07 pm

    When I worked in Virginia Beach these spiders were always outside my window. I loved to watch them weave their unique web. They were so special. When maintenance came to my building I always stopped them from destroying the webs or killing the spiders. I was the spider lady. If spiders were in the building folks came to me to take them outside. Now that I’ve retired I don’t know what their plight is. I love ❤️ spiders.

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