Garden Q&A: How do I prune hydrangea? And deal with hungry wolf spiders?

For the Baltimore Sun

We love watching our panicle hydrangea change colors in the fall. It is enormous this year. Any ideas as to how to prune it back this fall?

Hydrangea paniculata are bold in late summer-fall with huge white flower heads that segue to pink shades. If you can’t let it grow to its natural graceful vase shape 8-15 feet tall, it can tolerate a lot of pruning. Prune in early spring, before it starts to actively grow. To limit size, you can cut back to a permanent framework as low as 10 inches in an open location or 2 feet high in a border. In subsequent years, prune back to just above the framework, to a pair of healthy leaf buds. Such severe pruning will produce bigger blooms but not as many. Keep any necessary fall pruning to a minimum.

A few minutes after I feed my cats, wolf spiders climb in the cat food dish and seem to eat the food. Do wolf spiders eat canned cat food?

This is a new one for us. We suspect they are attracted to the easy source of protein and moisture. Wolf spiders often sneak into homes when weather cools. These ground-dwelling predators commonly inhabit lawns or leaf litter in urban or natural areas. They ambush or run down insects, such as ants, grasshoppers, crickets or roaches, crush them with their jaws and inject venom, then enzymes, before consuming them. They have no web, using their spinneret silk to line a ground burrow or create an egg sac. It’s quite a sight to see mothers carry scores of tiny spiderlings on their backs after they hatch. You could use a tall cup to catch the little wolves and put them outside. Be sure weather stripping on your doors is in good shape to deter them from coming indoors, unless you enjoy the visits.

University of Maryland Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center offers free gardening and pest information at Click “Ask Maryland’s Gardening Experts” to send questions and photos.

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