Hostas are the number one selling plant in North America.
Just exactly what is it about these perennials that attract so many gardeners? Certainly the lists of benefits include: beauty, hardiness (Zone 2 – 10), longevity, and durability.
Hosta leaves come in four main colors: blue, green, yellow, and white. Color combinations are also important. The leaves can have
different shapes as well as margin colors different from the center color. The
leaves can have wide irregular margins or very distinct but thin margins. The
spring color also may not be stable all season long. The leaf surface can be flat, curled, cupped, wavy, contorted, piecrust, or furrowed. Flat surfaces have even and smooth features. A rugose leaf
has uneven features such as dimpled, puckered, embossed, ruffled, pleated, wrinkled, and crinkled leaf surfaces. Cupped leaf surfaces are cupped around the margins. Wavy leaves
are relatively smooth but wave or undulate along the margins. Contorted leaves
are warped, or distorted. Piecrust leaves have closely spaced, distinct, regular,
undulations along the margins. Furrowed leaves show the veins sunken or impressed,
creating a ribbed effect.
The Hosta flower seems to be a second aspect of the Hosta. Hostas can bloom anytime from
June to October and the flowers can be funnel or bell shaped. Many look like
lilies and some don’t open at all. Some are fragrant and most are purple,
white, or white with fine lavender stripes.
The care of your new Hosta plant is fairly simple. If you have a
choice of where you plant your Hosta, select a soil that is loose and well drained.
The soil in your garden should be amended with compost to a depth of 12-18 inches.
Prepare the soil according to the Soil Preparation Guide that comes with your order.
Place the Hosta in the hole so that the plant crown is level with the ground. Place some good soil around the roots
and water thoroughly. Space the plants 2 to 4 feet apart, allowing room for them
to grow. Hostas do best when left undisturbed for several years. After they are
planted, your hostas will require very little care.
Hostas are best grown in some shade.
Because tree roots will compete for moisture, make sure that your plants get enough water during the growing season. A layer of mulch will help reduce water loss, keep the roots at an even temperature,
and prevent competition from weeds. Although it is not necessary, an annual feeding
of slow release fertilizer will keep your hostas happy.
There has been a great deal of debate over where particular hostas will do best. Pick out a shady spot that is protected from hot afternoon sun. The most common mistake made by newbies (new Hosta lovers) is thinking that all Hosta do best in full shade. This is not the case. Hostas are shade tolerant which means that they will do well
in varying degrees of shade, yet still like some sun. If possible, try to avoid
full afternoon sun. Some hostas, such as H. plantaginea, will tolerate sunnier
conditions. Frequent watering will help a Hosta survive more direct sunlight
than it normally would tolerate. (See Sun Tolerant Hostas)
If you feel it is necessary to apply fertilizer, most professional Hosta growers
prefer an annual application of 10-10-10. For those who tend toward organic gardening,
there are several products that have worked well for Hosta gardeners. Some use
Milorganite, others choose animal manure. Another organic fertilizer with 8%
nitrogen is soybean meal. Our favorite fertilizer is water, water, and more water.
What about using mulch? Some people simply weed the areas until the hostas come up
in the spring and the Hosta itself prevents the further development of weeds. Other people use pine straw, spruce needles, or
cocoa mulch, as they tend to diminish slug problems and do not break down as quickly as other mulches. Still others find that
double shredded hardwood mulch works best because of its water retention capabilities. Shredded leaves increase the slug problems,
so it is best to avoid this mulch. Regardless of the type of mulch you choose to use, do not mulch deeper than 2-3 inches. In many cases over-mulching has led to vole problems by providing a nice warm medium
that is easy to tunnel through.
Hostas love plenty of water. In their
native habitat hostas receive over 60 inches of rainfall annually. In most of
the United States this is well above normal rainfall levels. Therefore, it is
essential to supplement nature to ensure that the plant receives a minimum of 1 inch per week during the growing season. People who have achieved maximum growth conditions provide 1½ inches per week, or
½ inch every 3 days. Due to their leaf size, hostas have a very high transpiration
rate so soil conditions should allow for optimum water retention.
Tree Root Competition
Hostas have trouble competing with shallow rooted trees and shrubs. Where there are limited planting areas and you want to keep the trees, plant the Hosta in a container or
nursery pot large enough to accommodate root growth. This container planting
also has been recommended in cases where voles are an extreme Hosta "predator". If
you use a container you need to keep the holes in the bottom open to ensure good drainage. (See Tree Root Invasion)
Hostas tend to be pest free. However, slugs do tend to enjoy eating holes
in the leaves of hostas and the slug is considered by many to be the number one pest of hostas. (See Dealing with Slugs)
The next most significant problem that is occurring on occasion is crown rot.
In the South this rot will become a problem in the summer when the extreme heat, humidity, and moisture cause the crown
to rot and the leaves to pull off the plant. In the North, this problem is visible
in the early spring because water has sat on the Hosta crown during the winter and the plant fails to start growing.
Foliar nematodes are a problem that is becoming more widespread every year.
In cases of nematode attack, the microscopic worm feeds on the leaf tissues between the veins of mature leaves, eventually
causing the entire leaf to die. Sanitation is the best control.
Hosta Virus X is a new pest
that causes the leaves to become mottled and twisted. This deformity has no cure. If your plants contact this
virus, also called HVX, the plant must be destroyed. Fortunately, it does not easily spread to other hostas in your
The last pest of significance
are voles. These are like mice that have short tails and burrow in the soil like moles. While moles are not a
problem because they eat grubs, voles prefer to eat fleshy roots such as those found on Hostas. Voles can kill an entire
hosta garden over winter. Control is usually with baits and traps used to catch mice. Predators include cats,
dogs, and birds.
Hostas can be planted at any time during the growing season, although most people
try to plant hostas in the spring. The later in the season, the more important
it is to keep the plant adequately watered.
Uses For Hostas
- Border/Edger planting – Hostas for the border
are generally 12 inches or less in height but have increased horizontal growth. By
overhanging a lawn edge they are able to control weeds as they leave no room or light for them.
- Background planting – Large green hostas will
show off more colorful varieties of plants. Hostas that emerge with tremendous
color but fade to all green and are great background plants.
- Specimen planting – unusual hostas that are
your favorite plants are allowed to grow into very large clumps.
- Ground cover planting – Hostas that are fast
growers and form a thick mat of roots and plants will cover the ground and prevent weed growth.
- They can be a natural brightener for shady or dark
gardens if you use yellow and mostly white hostas.
are very beautiful plants. Your appreciation of the Hosta will be cultivated to a higher level by taking a closer look at
various aspects of the Hosta.
For more information or questions, contact: