Re-using containers? A cautionary tale.

I attempted to clean up our little home greenhouse over the holiday break. There’s no good place to recycle pots around here, and I hate throwing them away…so I suffer from container build-up. Figured I’d sort through the haphazard pile in the corner of the greenhouse, wash and re-stack the useable ones, and finally ditch the busted ones.

As I started separating the first stack, I noted a tiny flash of red. It is well-known and oft-reported among my gardening and grower buddies that the Southern Black Widow (Latrodectus mactans) really enjoys a nice stack of grubby pots. But I hadn’t seen one in quite a while, and not at our current location.

Boy, did I hit the jackpot.


I’m not afraid of spiders. At all. Quite fond of them, actually – they are immensely useful and fascinating critters. And only a very few pose any kind of danger.
In the case of the Black Widow, a bite injects a neurotoxic venom (latrotoxin). The bites and ensuing symptoms are allegedly quite painful, though rarely fatal. In this instance, I chose not to sacrifice my comfort for our collective edification, i.e. “How Bad Can it Hurt?” (see Blister Beetle post).

So, I squished her. But felt pretty bad about it.
As I worked through the stacks, I found another.


Shook her to the floor and did some more tap-dancing. Perhaps it was time to stop taking pictures and put some gloves on.

By the time I got through the entire pile, I’d found and mushed thirteen of them, sized small through pretty darn large. The landscape fabric on the greenhouse floor was peppered with little beige, black, and red blobs (you don’t need to see that photo).

There were none in the stacks of shiny new nursery pots I’d ordered for our blueberry transplants. But if there was some growing media or plant debris still stuck inside, there was a high probability of finding a spider.

Moral of this story? Think twice about leaving a bunch of dirty plant containers piled up. A simple hosing out before I’d stacked them would have probably prevented such a large infestation.

There’s also a significant chance that I will forget all about the need for caution the next time I’m potting up stuff. Which may lead to an even more educational and entertaining blog post, where I describe “Adventures In Lactrodectism.” Because I’m sure I missed a couple, or they’re hiding in the gravel. As the old saying goes,

“Seeing a spider isn’t a problem. It’s a problem when it disappears.”

9 thoughts on “Re-using containers? A cautionary tale.”

  1. About four years ago I picked up a plastic tub with drain holes from my yard cleaning project a few days earlier, balanced it on my thigh while opening a gate and Whoa ! The most excruciating pain hit my leg and as I was dropping the tub a second extremely sharp searing pain hit and I’m looking down at a large brown long legged spider stretched to it’s limits as it bit another chunk of flesh out of my upper leg.
    I flicked it away instinctively and couldn’t find it later. The pain was not going away so I checked it out online to find it was a Brown Recluse spider which was a surprise because it was much larger than I thought they were. The pain continued for several weeks though not as strong then eventually receded entirely but the area (the size of my hand) is till numb to this day.
    About six months ago I was given a scan for medical diagnosis and was told something was showing on my upper leg in that same area. I said only a Brown Recluse spider bite several years ago, she said ‘Oh yes, that would account for it’; it being a reading on the scan that was not easily interpreted.
    Unlike you, I do not like spiders, ironically have had Arachnophobia since I was a child. Be wary, their bite is worse than a sting !

    1. After having flicked one from my sleeve this past summer, I now practice fearful diligence when handling stored containers. Yikes!

  2. Years ago the crawlspace vent beside our back door had a “hatch” of black widow babies. It seemed like thousands of the little critters were on the vent and the side of the foundation. Since I had small children at the time, I took no chances and zapped them with bug killer, something I rarely do. Like you said, they’re good critters, in their place. But their place is NOT on or in my house! They are one of the extremely few things I routinely kill, but will leave them alone if encountered in out-of-the-way places. Glad you weren’t bitten, Holly.

  3. All things need checking if left outside. My grandson had some plastic Tonka trucks left on the back patio. I always check things like that , anyway I found a Redback (that’s what we call them in Australia). Even the rims (no matter how small) of buckets they will make their homes. I look for the web, its a give away that someone is home.

  4. I usually leave them alone because their absence usually means a quick buildup of a lot of other things they were eating. But yes, I too feel some regret at killing them when I find them inside my home (rare), shed or garage. Outside they can hang unmolested by me to their heart’s content. But inside and sooner or later the one you spare may nail you reaching behind something. Especially if she is protecting egg sac(s).

  5. I agree with Diana that the web is a good giveaway. We had them constantly in our previous garden and learned to distinguish the very messy web from that of other spiders. While we did find them in pot stacks on occasion, our most consistent presence was under flats – it’s always dark and moist under those things. By the end of the season, I usually had a collection of 32s and 4.5″ flats lying around and I usually pick up flats by sliding my fingers under the edge on the end and carrying one in each hand. We learned quicky to check before moving so we didn’t slide our fingers into her shiny black face.

    SandyG’s response reminds me of a Car Talk caller several years ago who had her car stolen. When it showed up again, it had lots of spider babies on it that turned out to be black widows. Tom and Ray wondered if a disgruntled and newly insignificant other was to blame.

  6. Thanks for the warning! I am always moving old plastic pots around. I too have tons of them and I reuse lots of them in the spring to start seeds. I’ll be a lot more careful now.

  7. I’m an arachnophobic from way back, due to working one summer in a business that manufactured radio controlled airplanes. That stuck me in the “wing room”, where they stored molded styrofoam wings. My job was to take the rough wings, trim all the excess styrofoam from them, weigh them and balance them. The wings were stored in big cardboard boxes, and the wing room was basically just made of fiberglass sheets attached to the main building. Everytime I took out a wing, it was covered in black widow spiders. After a week of dealing with this, I was about as paranoid of spiders as a person could get, constantly looking over my shoulder, feeling I was being watched by millions of spider eyes. Unnerving to say the least.

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