This tale was originally published by Loret T. Setters on July 3, 2015 at the defunct national blog beautifulwildlifegarden[dot]com.
Do you wipe webs off your plant leaves? Back in late 2014 I had noticed some webbing on my Meyer Lemon tree. “Meyer” lemon is a hybrid between a true lemon and mandarin orange and it is one of the non-native “cash crops” a.k.a. edibles that grace my beautiful wildlife garden. I took a photo or two to do some research on what was creating these interesting checkered pattern webs.
As with a lot of my research, it gets put on the back burner when something more or equally as interesting shows up in my garden that excites me enough to bump a current research project down the “to-do” list. I had revisited the lemon leaves but nothing ever seemed to be happening and eventually the webs disappeared on their own.
Lo’ and behold, early in 2015 I saw some white webbing on my Bald-Cypress Tree (Taxodium distichum). At first glance I thought maybe it was galls, but on closer inspection I realized that it was something different, so I snapped a few photos and headed to the computer to zoom in on my new find.
I discovered that these intricate patterns were actually spider nests of a spider in the Mesh Web Weavers (Dictynidae) family. A closer zoom revealed that under the dots of egg sacs was a tiny spider mom, guarding her babies to be.
I immediately thought back to my lemon find months earlier and thought about how a tiny spider was probably protecting my fruit from the likes of leaf-footed bugs, plant hoppers and such.
Before I became keenly aware of how mother nature has a purpose for each one of her children to help balance things out in a garden, I, like many would wipe things off that were “damaging” my plants…aphids, caterpillars and more.
Plants aren’t designed by nature to be perfect. Plants are there to feed life and you have to be forgiving in some respects since sometimes an interim prey may not be warm and fuzzy and something you would choose to have in your garden. But ultimately, they may feed something that you are trying to encourage, or they may just eat something you are trying to discourage.
Had I wiped away the spider webs I would have upset the balance by removing many workers who would be feasting on “pest” insects. And you can’t really consider the “pest” insects bad because, after all, they are fattening up the tiny spiders that may be feeding spider wasps or birds.
While understandably you don’t want critters chewing the leaves of edibles such as lettuce, spinach and the like, be more tolerant of plant “damage” on leaves of ornamentals.
Striving to get rid of those chewing bugs on your own via soapy spray or similar may ultimately be counterproductive to your attempt at natural biocontrol. Aesthetic perfection in plants doesn’t allow for the fact that some “pests” serve as larval hosts for pollinators and other beneficials. Eliminating them in the name of undamaged leaves upsets the balance and probably makes for a harder garden pest control experience.
Consider that since baby birds eat insects exclusively, you’ll discourage nesting birds if there aren’t enough plant bugs, spiders and grasshoppers to eat. Food for thought.