Black widow spiders usually only bite if threatened

Garden Q&A

November 03, 2007|By Ellen Nibali and David Clement

Last year, I saw a black widow spider while cleaning up my yard. How do I avoid a bite?

Bites are extremely rare. These shy, nonaggressive spiders bite only when humans threaten or grab them. Black widows weave a loose web and like undisturbed spots, such as dumps, log piles or outbuildings. The female's body is as shiny as patent leather and round as a ball. Both males and females have red markings. To protect yourself, wear gloves, especially when reaching where you can't see. Remove yard clutter and brush piles near the home. While their bite can be dangerous to the very young, old or health-compromised, there is an antivenom.

I have a slew of broccoli plants, but they aren't forming heads. Can I eat the leaves? They were planted two months ago and are about three inches apart. I've been watering.

Don't give up on broccoli heads yet. Broccoli is a heavy feeder and needs about 20 inches between plants. Keep watering. Fertilize if the leaf color is not healthy, and thin your plants. Then, yes, you can enjoy eating the thinned-out leaves right now.

Checklist

Cut down invasive vines producing seeds and berries, i.e. oriental bittersweet, non-native wisteria, kudzu, climbing euonymus and mile-a-minute vine.

Chop fallen leaves with a mulching mower. They'll decompose to release nutrients and add organic matter to your soil.

Ellen Nibali, horticulture consultant, works at Maryland Cooperative Extension's Home and Garden Information Center, and David Clement is the regional specialist. The center offers Maryland residents free gardening information. Call the center's "hotline" at 800-342-2507 (8 a.m.-1 p.m. Monday-Friday) or e-mail plant and pest questions through the Send a Question feature at hgic.umd.edu.

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