DEAR JESSICA: This beautiful spider has been living in our garden for several months. Based upon our Google searches, we believe it is a "zipper spider." She appeared out of nowhere on her beautifully spun web, which is a bit unusual, as you can see -- it has a zipperlike formation down the middle. We've never seen her catch anything in the web. She usually just sits in the same spot. The spider has become the talk of our neighborhood! My children and their friends like to check on her to see what she's up to. As much as it is creepy to see her, we've become rather attached to her. Because she is unlike anything I've ever seen here on Long Island, we're concerned that the cold weather may harm her. -- Melissa Kern Fitzgerald, Holbrook
DEAR MELISSA: What a beautiful picture! I've never encountered one personally, but you are correct -- what you have there is indeed a zipper spider. And though it may bite if you try to pick it up, if undisturbed, it should leave you alone. Its venomous bite immobilizes small prey, but is not known to be harmful to humans unless one is allergic. These spiders die with the first hard frost, but if yours has laid eggs, you'll have a new brood to admire in the spring.
DEAR JESSICA: I bought a lemon tree last year, and for a while I have noticed webbing over some of the leaves. Could you tell me what it is and how to treat it? Also, I don't know if it will ever bear fruit. -- Cathy Olsen, via email
DEAR CATHY: Sounds like spider mites. Check underneath the leaves and you'll likely see little dots. Those are the mites, attached by their piercing-sucking mouthparts, draining chlorophyll out of the leaves. Leaves could turn yellow and may even drop off the plant. Chemical miticides can be effective, but it must come into direct contact with the mites (under the leaves). If the infestation is widespread, though, you might not be able to save the plant.
DEAR JESSICA: I'd like to save my caladiums for next year, but I'm not sure if I did the right thing. I removed the tubers from the ground, gently cleaned them of all dirt and dried them in an open bag with peat moss. Can you help me with my process, or did I blow it already? -- Tony G., via email
DEAR TONY: You were close. Here's the correct procedure: After the first light frost turns foliage brown, you cut plants down to six inches and dig up rhizomes, corms or tubers. Then you rinse and separate the "bulblets" and allow themto air-dry completely and place them in peat moss in a box in which you've cut out some holes for ventilation. If you have many, use a milk crate or other large ventilated box; otherwise, a vented shoebox will suffice. Place in a cool, dark place, such as a crawl space or cellar. Sixty-five degrees is a bit warm; 55 would be ideal.
Check monthly over the winter and spritz with water if they begin to shrivel. Discard rotted roots.
Around Memorial Day, you can plant them outdoors or, to give them a head start, pot them up in potting mix in April and set them by your sunniest window or under grow lights, keeping the soil lightly moist until transplanting them outdoors in May.