Hostas are very popular landscape plants that are grown mainly for their attractive, lush foliage. Hostas are also very forgiving plants that will grow in areas where other landscape plants fear to tread. Growing hostas is something that can be done successfully even by those new to gardening and by those who proclaim to lack a green thumb.
There are hundreds of varieties of hostas available, with more new introductions being offered each year. Hostas are also sometimes called plantain lilies, although they are not in the same family as lilies. Just about anyone can be growing hostas as these lovely perennials are hardy in Zones 3 through 8, with a few varieties that will tolerate the heat in Zone 9.
Hostas can be found for sale at most nurseries, and a few nurseries are growing hostas exclusively. It is at nurseries that specialize in growing hostas where you will find the more exotic varieties, but the more rare hostas and those that are recent introductions will fetch a higher price than the more common varieties. Expect to pay anywhere from $5 to $10 for the older, more common cultivars. Hosta collectors will pay $15 to $35 or more for rare varieties that they simply must have for their collections.
Hostas do produce flowers, but most gardeners are growing hostas so they can enjoy the wide variety of foliage colors and textures that hostas exhibit. You can find hostas with rounded leaves, heart-shaped leaves or lance-shaped leaves. Some hostas have light green leaves, others have blue leaves, while still others have green leaves streaked with white or yellow.
Some hostas produce smooth leaves, some have puckered leaves, and others have ridged leaves. There are even miniature hostas that are suitable for containers or small spaces. A mini hosta by definition must have leaves that are no longer than 4.5 inches, while some of the jumbo hostas have leaves much, much bigger than your head.
Once a hosta is planted, it requires very little care. Choosing a suitable planting location is crucial when growing hostas. A hosta that is growing in a suitable location will be much easier to care for than one that is poorly located.
Hostas are generally thought of as shade-loving plants. It is true that most hostas are shade tolerant, but it is possible to start growing hostas in a more sunny environment.
As a general rule, you’ll have the best luck growing hostas where they can receive morning sun and afternoon shade. Hostas can’t handle a lot of hot afternoon sun because their large leaves lose a lot of moisture in the heat. Variegated hostas that have more yellow or white in their leaves are more tolerant of morning sunshine, while the darker green or blue hostas prefer more shade. Hostas that produce fragrant flowers generally like to grow in sunnier spots as they need sunshine to bloom well.
If you are growing hostas in a sunny garden, they will perform better if they are given more water. The additional moisture helps them tolerate the higher levels of light.
In their native environment, hostas receive over 60 inches of rainfall each year. To keep growing hostas that are lush and beautiful, give them at least an inch of moisture each week during the growing season. Hostas will be even happier and perform better if they receive an inch and a half of moisture each week, but don’t give them this water all at once. Give them a good drink twice a week and they’ll reward you by growing vigorously.
Always water hostas deeply. Hosta roots can grow as much as 18 inches deep or more, so shallow watering won’t reach these deep roots and the plants will perform poorly. Water the plants deeply so all of the roots remain moist.
You can begin growing hostas at any time during the growing season. Most gardeners want to get their planting done in the spring, but if a particularly beautiful hosta calls out to you in July and begs to go home with you, go ahead and plant it in midsummer. Keep in mind that the later a hosta is planted in the growing season, the more important it is to keep it watered well while it establishes itself.
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When planting a hosta, give it a good home by mixing in some good rich compost and a bit of slow-release fertilizer in the planting hole. Plant the hosta at the same depth it was planted in the nursery pot, then add a couple inches of mulch around it to help maintain soil moisture.
Once you begin growing hostas in your garden, you’ll want to grow even more of them. Once your friends and neighbors see how beautiful your hostas are, they’ll want to grow them too. Hostas are easily divided so you can have plenty to share.
Hostas can be divided at any time you can dig in the soil. Dividing the plants in the midst of the growing season can risk shocking the plants however, so the preferred time for dividing a hosta is in the spring. There are some advantages to dividing a hosta in the spring, but the lack of foliage is the main reason why spring division is ideal. Once the plant has fully leafed out, it can be difficult to see where to dig around the plant.
To divide a hosta, begin by digging up the entire plant. Large hostas will have huge root systems, so carefully dig all around the plant, then begin digging under it until you can lever out the entire clump with your garden spade.
Next, use a garden hose to wash all the soil from above the plant’s basal plate. The basal plate is the woody layer of growth that is above the roots and beneath the foliage or growing points. Do not wash the soil off the roots as that soil will protect the roots from drying.
Once the soil is washed from the basal plate, work the clump a bit with your hands to see if any small divisions will naturally separate from the parent plant.
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If the clump needs further division, use a sharp knife to divide the plant into smaller clumps. Examine the clump closely to see the growing points or eyes, and locate areas where the clump can easily be divided between eyes, then use your knife to slice through the clump.
To avoid spreading disease, disinfect your knife between each cut. Dip the knife into a solution of 1 part bleach and 10 parts water to disinfect it. Some growers also paint this disinfectant solution onto the cuts in the plant as a further disease preventative.
Replant the new divisions immediately, and do not allow the roots to dry out while you are working. If the divisions cannot be replanted immediately, place them in a shaded area and cover them with damp newspaper or a wet sheet until they can be replanted later in the day.
You may think you are growing hostas for your own pleasure, but if there are any deer in your neighborhood, they will think those hostas were planted just for their benefit. Deer love to eat hostas. To learn how to protect your gorgeous hostas from gangs of marauding deer, go to http://freeplants.com/deer-resistant-plants.htm
Slugs are also known to be avid destroyers of hostas. Slugs will eat large holes in hosta leaves overnight while you’re not looking, then they slink away and hide during the day. To learn how to prevent hosta damage from slimy slugs, go to http://freeplants.com/slugs.htm
Gardeners new to growing hostas often ask what they should do with the flower stalks that hostas produce. Some folks enjoy hosta flowers, but others think the flowers distract from the beauty of the foliage. Whether or not to leave the flowers on the plant is a matter of taste. The hosta won’t be damaged if the flower stalks, known as scapes, are removed. Producing a flower takes a lot of energy from the plant, so if you are more interested in growing hostas as foliage plants, the scapes can be removed at any time. Hummingbirds are attracted to hosta flowers, so if you like to watch hummingbirds buzzing about in your garden, you may want to leave the scapes on the plant until the flowers have faded.
Hostas are perennials and they will die back after a hard freeze and grow back from the roots in the spring. What should you do with the wilted foliage after a hard freeze? Again, this is mostly a matter of taste. The leaves will decompose over winter so they can be left in place. The decomposing leaves do tend to provide a hiding place for slugs, so if slugs are a problem in your garden you may wish to remove the wilted leaves and add them to your compost pile. If you feel that your hostas have been infected by a disease however, the leaves should be thrown away. Do not risk spreading an infection by adding diseased leaves to a compost pile.
Try your hand at growing hostas in your own garden. You’ll be surprised by how much this foliage plant can brighten up a shady corner of your garden.