‘One Man’s Treasure’, ‘Afternoon Delight’, ‘Elvis Lives’, ‘Guacamole’, ‘Squash Casserole’!! Hosta!!! Just like potato chips – you can’t just have one. I, thus, have dozens – often choosing them purely by the whimsy in their names. For those who have not added hosta to the landscape, it is time to do just that. The garden shops are chock-full of these marvelous hardy herbaceous perennials grown for their wonderful and colorful foliage. The leaves come in a variety of shapes, colors, sizes, and textures -- and can be solid or variegated in combinations of blue, green, yellow and my favorite, chartreuse. Just last week I bought one called ‘Orange Marmalade’ which has an orange tint to the leaves. As for texture, I love the ones with the thick, highly corrugated leaves – often making them impervious to slugs (more about that later). Hosta are low maintenance and widely available. They are featured in catalogs, such as the one from Plant Delights Nursery which lists dozens of interesting cultivars. There are tiny ones like ‘Stiletto’ which grow only a few inches across or huge ones like ‘Sum and Substance’ which get several feet across. Some can get just inches high and others can reach two feet.
Although hosta are primarily grown for their foliage, they do produce flowers from early summer to fall. Flowers grow on long spikes and range from white to lavender or purple and may be fragrant. Some folks do not like the flowers and promptly remove them. Butterflies and hummingbirds like the flowers, so I have begun to enjoy them more.
Hosta are shade-tolerant plants but they, like many other shade lovers, do not like deep shade. They prefer dappled morning sun and afternoon shade. Some will tolerate a little afternoon sun, but their leaves may get sunburned. The blue-leafed hosta require more shade and the gold, yellow and white-leafed hosta can tolerate more sun. Hosta with fragrant flowers do like some half a day of sun. ‘Fragrant Bouquet’, ‘Guacamole’, ‘Fried Green Tomatoes’ and ‘Sum and Substance’ all will tolerate some sun. (Don’t you just love the names!) Please remember that the more sun a hosta gets, the more water it will need to thrive. For those of you looking for long- lived plants for your garden, hosta are just the plant for you. A little slow release fertilizer is appreciated in early spring. Unless attacked by voles or wandering deer, they will remain in your garden for years. Deers love hosta and the pricier the plant the better the plant tastes. (This is not scientific fact just personal observation.) I use a product made of putrefied eggs to spray all my hosta with after the deer consumed most of mine one year. Voles, small mouse-like creatures that tunnel under the mulch and devour the entire root system, can also do lots of damage; I have lost many beloved hosta to these small creatures. (Since voles like to crawl under mulch, pulling back your mulch from the base of your plants might prove helpful; removing it entirely from a bed may help convince the voles not to remain in your garden. The only drawback here is that the mulch is really good for the garden; I compromise and keep it away from the base of the plant.) To do battle with the voles I went to two methods, planting the hosta in containers and planting those in the ground with moats of Permatill surrounding the root ball. Permatill, actually a soil amendment is a product (a soil aggregate) made of small rocks and is advertised as a volebloc, as supposedly the voles don’t like to crawl through the rocks to get to the root. The Permatill did help deter much of the damage once I started using it. Years ago I put out mouse traps laden with peanut butter and oatmeal; the only thing I caught were my own fingers. Years ago we had a terrible problem with rats getting under our house, so we had to hire a service which dispatched them; when we dispatched the rats our vole problems disappeared. Enough said on that topic.
Another garden enemy to hosta are slugs who will munch and munch and munch. Some gardeners may put out small containers of beer (a drink irresistible to slugs and snails) which the slugs drown in; there are also slug baits but caution is needed as those products can poison pets. I have used diatomaceous earth and a product called Sluggo which is supposed to be safe to use in the garden for pets and the environment. A friend puts out boards which the slugs crawl under and then she cleans off daily. I have heard of others pouring salt around their hosta but I would not recommend that method as it is bad for your soil and anything else there.
Hosta, like all other things in our gardens, prefer well-drained soil with lots of organic matter. They need ample moisture during their growing season – at least an inch per week. You can plant, transplant, and divide hosta in the early fall or in the spring before the leaves unfold. It is much harder on the plant if you do those chores during summer’s heat. Just a few weeks ago I spent days bumping my hosta to bigger pots. By the way hosta do great in containers. Not only are they not bothered by voles, but you can also move them out of range of the local deer herd; the extra chill in the air from being in a container is actually enjoyed by the hosta root system.
With more than 2,000 registered cultivars of hosta in existence, there is one for every personality and every garden. Choose some of each color, size, and leaf shape and prepare to quickly become a collector. Sit back and enjoy the spring show as their marvelous leaves unfold. You and your garden will be the better for it! (Now, where did I put my Plant Delights catalog?)
By the way the MGs will sell ‘Sun Power’ hosta at our first plant sale of the season, April 21, from 8 until 11 at Cane Creek Community Gardens at McClellan. ‘Sun Power’ is more sun tolerant than many other hosta culitvars.