With attractive foliage and trumpet-shaped flowers that hummingbirds love, these long-lived natives of Japan and China come in a mind-boggling array of sizes, shapes and colors.
HOSTAS ARE GREAT plants for a moist, shady location. These long-lived, amazingly hardy (-35 degrees) natives of Japan and China come in a mind-boggling array of sizes, shapes and colors.
There are tiny miniatures such as ‘Yakushima Mizu’, a 3-inch-tall munchkin sporting wee dark-green leaves and teeny lavender flowers, whereas ‘Empress Wu’ forms a massive mound of wavy, thick, corrugated blue-green leaves that can exceed 4 feet tall and 6 feet wide.
Hostas add color and texture to shady nooks and combine beautifully with fine foliage plants, but they also look great in containers. Smaller growing Hostas add bold texture and lively color in mixed designs, while the bigger-leaved ones make elegant centerpieces or look great as single specimens in large pots.
Although Hostas are usually grown for their attractive foliage, the trumpet-shaped flowers are attractive to hummingbirds as well.
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Hostas perform best in moist soil in bright shade. Avoid direct sunshine, which will burn the leaves, causing ugly brown spots. Mulching around the plants slows evaporation and reduces the need to water as often. Fertilize Hostas growing in pots once per month with a soluble houseplant fertilizer to keep them looking lustrous and colorful.
Hostas growing in the open shade garden generally need only one application of a granular organic flower food, but if you want one to grow big, feed it with high-nitrogen, organic lawn food every six weeks.
Anyone who has ever grown Hostas knows that slugs and snails consider the leaves a gastronomic delight. Regularly apply the safer brands of slug bait containing iron phosphate, such as Sluggo, Worry Free or Escar-Go, and make frequent nighttime forays to put the “el kabotski” on any gastropod marauders that find their way past your defenses. Note that Hostas with blue foliage are less attractive to slugs than those with yellow or green leaves.
Hostas rarely need dividing, but if you want to start a new clump, wait until spring, when the leaves are about 4 inches tall. Then simply use a digging spade to cut out a section and move it to a new location. Voilà! You’ve got a new colony of Hosta.
It would be impossible to mention all of my favorite varieties, but I can’t resist naming a few:
• ‘Great Expectations’ features heavily textured leaves that brighten the shade garden with a 2-foot mound of golden-centered leaves edged with sea green.
• ‘Abiqua Drinking Gourd’ also grows to 2 feet and sports heavily corrugated, cupped, unruly deep-blue foliage.
• ‘Sagae’ is perfect for containers, with upright-growing, 30-inch-tall, frosty blue/blue-green leaves with variations of creamy white on the margins.
• New for me this year is ‘Fire Island’, with brilliant gold rippled leaves on deep-red stems.
• ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ is a cutie, with 6-inch-tall, soft-blue, heart-shaped leaves that have a slight curl that makes them look just like little mouse ears.
• A longtime favorite is ‘June’. This beauty has gold leaves with striking blue-green margins that glow in lightly shaded beds and woodland gardens.
• Finally, Hosta plantaginea is unusual because it is grown for its flowers. The bright, glossy, nearly round yellow-green leaves are attractive in their own right, but the long, irresistibly fragrant white flowers that appear on 30-inch-tall upright stems in August make this a must-have Hosta in every garden. The divine scent is often described as a combination of clove, honeysuckle and heliotrope.
By the way: Hostas are quite edible. The Japanese have been eating them for centuries. Known as urui, the young leaves are boiled, fried in tempura or eaten raw in salads. The flavor often is described as a cross between lettuce and asparagus.
I’ll stick to my regular salad greens; thank you. I can’t imagine sacrificing any of my beautiful Hosta leaves just to eat them!