What is Hosta Virus X? Can you cut them back? Can you divide them? How do I get rid of slugs? Are some fragrant? Where can I see great Hosta gardens? Read on, there is a lot to know about an interesting plant called Hosta.
Hosta came from China, Korea and especially Japan. Japanese call Hosta, GIBOSHI since the shape of the flower bud or leaf looks like GIBOSHI, an ornamental cap on the top of posts of temples or bridges. The Japanese eat the young spring leaves of Hosta as a vegetable. They are amazed that Americans love this plant and have so many societies. They have one, Japan Hosta Society. Their interest in Hosta has increased because of the many cultivars introduced by America. Before that, it was a very common, native shade plant.
What attracts people to this herbaceous plant is the long list of varieties and leaf colors, range of soils and conditions where they thrive. Hosta plants grow in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 to 7, which can be stretched depending upon growing conditions.
There are thousands of varieties of Hosta on the market ranging from teeny tiny (mature) plants the size of your thumb, to mammoths stretching over six to eight feet wide and high. Coloration combinations, shape of the leaves and flowers, along with double and fragrant blooms keep hybridizers busy making new varieties. Buy Hosta from reputable nursery or garden centers to ensure you are getting the variety you pay for and that it is free of Hosta Virus X (HVX).
This question about varieties comes up frequently at farmer’s markets…the variety name, like Hosta ‘Sum & Substance dictates what the plant will look like. If you want a very large plant (about 5-6 feet wide by 3 feet tall), with a very large flat, ribbed light green leaf, adaptable to brighter (partial sun) light with a lilac bloom in mid to late summer…this one is for you. If you want something smaller or with a variegated leaf, you must buy a different variety.
Hostas grow in most soils except maybe hard clay. Amend your soil with sand or organic matter (shredded leaves or pine bark fines work well) and make sure it drains well. Hostas are shade tolerant, but unless it is a deep green variety, they need some sunlight. Afternoon sun is too harsh unless you water in copious amounts. Generally the dark green and blue varieties will handle dense shade; lighter variegated varieties need more light, but not hot sun. The variegated types will still grow in shade, but they won’t have as much variegation.
Mulch isn’t necessary, except while the new plant is getting established (first year or two) or if the soil is very dry under a tree or on a hillside. Mulch increases the chance of slugs and diseases. Do not ever mulch over the crown of the plant or over 3 inches deep; the plant needs to breathe and obtain water.
Water if the plant is new, soil is dry or during very hot weather. Too much water makes the slugs and diseases happy. It is best to water by a dribble type system versus overhead and never at night.
Use a balanced 10-10-10 type fertilizer (check the package) applied in granular form or foliar (leaf spray). Too much Nitrogen (first number) will grow large leaves, but won’t encourage flowers or root growth. More fertilizer is NOT better. It can burn or even kill a plant.
When plants look mushy and ragged in late fall; shear off the leaves for winter. Just remember where you planted them. For that matter, the owners of Cedar Hedge Gardens in Glen Arbor, Michigan cut off the blooms during the growing season. They feel their thousand plus garden of Hosta look terrible when they all bloom (like a sea of purple). They prefer the foliage. This is healthy for the plant because it doesn’t spend energy producing flowers.
Lastly, Hosta leaves look fabulous accenting a cut flower bouquet or on their own in a modern vase.
These gross looking slimy creatures feed on Hosta leaves mostly at night and love moist environments, like mulch. sand or diatomaceous earth (ground seashells) around the base of the plant cut these guys, so they stay away. Sluggo® is also a product that works well. Typically thicker leaved varieties and healthy plants are less susceptible to slugs or disease. If you can live with a few holes in the leaves, let the slugs live.
This is easy, just take a spade and cut through the plant roots (either after you dig it up or while in the soil) and take out the portion to move. This is best done in the fall because the new plant won’t look like much during the summer. If you must move it in summer, keep it watered. Spring is tricky because some varieties come up quite late.
HOSTA VIRUS X
This virus has been around since the late 1990s, but many still aren’t aware of it. It can spread by mechanical means (tools, equipment, etc.) in your garden if you bring in an infected plant. Typically infected leaves have a blurred look to the veins like they are bleeding color or are pale, puckered or contorted. If you suspect you have the virus, isolate the plant immediately, confirm the virus through your county extension office and report the place where you purchased the plant to the Department of Natural Resources and then destroy the plant.
Great places to see a sea of Hosta are, Cedar Hedge Gardens in Interlochen, Michigan on Cedar Hedge Lake. The garden is open most days of the year. They have a lovely display of over 1,000 Hosta plants from very tiny to large, water gardens with Asian accents and plants for sale during the summer. Hidden Lake Gardens owned by Michigan State University is located in Tipton, Michigan and has a Hosta hill with a countless amount of Hosta in a woodland setting with winding paths (they also have a wonderful Bonsai and conifer collection). Finally, Toledo Botanical Garden has a large collection including a giant H. ‘Sum and Substance’ and a river created with blue Hosta (along with many other delightful gardens).
There is no excuse, you have everything you need to know to grow fabulous Hosta…so, go out and plant Hosta! Check the American Hosta Society website www.americanhostasociety.org
for their popularity poll to get you started on member’s favorite varieties. Good luck and Hosta la Vista, Baby!
Sandie is a freelance writer and photographer. Her mother started her passion for gardening by "letting" her help her plant and water annuals, paint stepping stones and mow and edge the grass. Some of the "dirt" must have been absorbed. She consider herself to be a plant collector. Her garden had a plan, but it has been overrun by cool and not so cool plants. If they grow and bloom or look nice, they stay. That includes what many people might call weeds! Sandie calls them wildflowers or native plants. Check out her website at www.SandieParrott.com for more info, or visit her profile on the Mulch. She currently writes garden articles and profiles of passionate gardeners for "the Michigan Gardener" and "the Herbarist" along with other non-gardening writing.