Ever had a chance gardening experience that changed your opinion of a common plant you previously ignored? My plant epiphany involves the simple Hosta. In early 1991, just a few months into our marriage, my new husband stumbled upon a large clump of plants in our Tucker yard. They were about 3 feet wide and somehow surviving above ground. Leaves were trying to break through their dry clay and gravel prison. Husband, who had never grown anything but vegetables, asked his bride to identify the plants. With no enthusiasm, she explained they were shade-loving Hostas.
He decided they should be divided and planted around a large pine tree. Later I found he had sliced up the Hostas into very small pieces and planted them around two pine trees. Bride informed him she doubted they would survive his brutal chopping propagation. He laughed, reminding me of their previous growing conditions. To my amazement, they not only survived but grew into lovely mounding plants with green and gold variegated foliage. Any plant that tough and attractive deserved my attention and respect.
If you want an easy to grow, long-lived showy shade-loving perennial, Hostas are a good choice. To ensure success, select shade or a partially shaded area with excellent drainage. Incorporate organic material into the hole when you plant them. An inch or more of water a week is advisable as these plants are not drought tolerant. More water is needed if your Hostas get four or more hours of daily direct sun light, weather is unusually hot, or if they are planted near shrub and tree roots competing for water. Mulching conserves water and cools soil temperature but keep mulch away from the plant’s central crown to avoid rot or disease. Regarding fertilizing Hostas, conducting a soil test, through Cherokee County UGA Extension, will direct you on fertilizing needs.
Cold weather is not a concern with Hostas as they are hardy to Zone 3. Originally these plants came from northeast Asia, primarily Japan. They came to us through Europe with 200 years of hybridization. Thousands of varieties abound today. Hostas are currently members of the asparagus family. Previously they were grouped with the lilies. This accounts for another Hosta name, plantain lily.
Now the fun begins in deciding on varieties for your landscape. Sizes range from 4 feet high with 20-inch leaves to miniature plants a few inches in size. Foliage color ranges from dark green, blue green, golden yellow to variegated. Leaf texture may be smooth, wavy, or crinkled. Leaf shape varies from rounded to sword, to oval. Let us not forget the pretty flowers they produce summer into fall. Colors include lavender, pink, purple and white. Blossoms are trumpet shaped and some are sweetly scented. Their blooms attract hummingbirds. Bees come to help pollination. Hostas are great container plants. Small Hostas work well as edging along paths and flower borders. Consider planting Hosta friends like ferns, foam flowers, astilbe, lungwort, or coral bells for a stunning garden. Use your imagination to mix colors and textures.
Two common threats to Hostas are slugs and deer. Garden centers sell effective slug baits. Remember these are poisonous to pets. Caution is advised. A nontoxic alternative is to make beer traps. Place 2 to 3-inch-deep cups or saucers of beer near your plants and fill with beer. The sugar/yeast content of beer attracts the slugs. They will crawl into the brew and drown. If the saucer is too shallow, they may crawl out before meeting their demise. This happened with my first trap.
Deer are not so easy. They are attracted to Hostas as if to the tastiest salad. Cherokee County gardeners are aware of these beautiful hungry garden grazers. Check with Cherokee County UGA Extension for deer control suggestions if deer are feeding on your Hostas.
This time of year, you may find brown Hosta leaves and tip of leaves. This may indicate sun scorch — a clue more water is needed or even that they need to be moved to a shadier spot. In this summer season I am trying to give all my Hostas extra water and set out the beer traps. Also, as their flowers fade, I am cutting the stem at the base, so seeds do not form. Seed production decreases energy to roots and leaves.
Recently a storm took down a tree that was shading Hostas I planted this season. Though planting, dividing, and moving is better accomplished in the spring they will tolerate moving at other times in the growing the season. I have not made time to move these Hostas, but I am guessing these tough survivors will make it despite my neglect. Give these strong attractive foliage plants a try. If you are a seasoned Hosta grower, plan now for more!