Gardeners are always looking for plants that will grow in semi-shade that can add colors and texture to the garden where most flowering plants do poorly. Hosta not only grow well in cool, shady locations, but need these conditions to grow and flower well.
Hosta are being used as foliage plants for shaded areas and even in eye-catching displays in containers or next to a pond. The range of colors, textures and shapes of their foliage is eye-catching. Modern hybrids may have leaves patterned in shades of green, white and gold, or edged in a different, contrasting color. Their texture may be rich and glossy or soft and velvety.
Hosta leaves may be narrow and ribbon like, heart-shaped or almost circular. Their leaf shape and size allow hosta to withstand different shade tolerances. For example, Hosta Montana ‘Aurea Marginata’ is an extra-large hosta for light to medium shade whereas Hosta lancifoliais is a small to medium leaves that tolerate full sun.
Grown primarily for their bold, sculptural foliage, many hosta species and varieties also produce attractive white, lilac and purple flowers. Easy to maintain and long lived, hosta make a valuable addition to any garden.
Although there are over 800 registered varieties, there is no formal classification system. Many nurseries classify hosta by their size at maturity: miniatures are under 10 inches tall and up to 12 inches wide; small are 10–15 inches by 15-18 inches; medium are 15-18 inches by 15-24 inches; large 18-24 by 24-30 inches; and extra-large are taller than 24 inches and wider than 30 inches.
Hosta make excellent companion plants for other shade loving perennials. They act as a foil for bright flowers such as astilbe, while their large leaves make a counterpoint to the finer foliage of other plants. For shady locations in the rock garden, choose a miniature hosta.
Consider planting a hosta to liven a shady entrance. Fragrant hosta are idea for planting near the entrance of a house. On a shaded patio, grow hosta in containers with more exciting annual flowers.
Hosta make a particularly striking ground cover when planted as a mass. Choose varieties carefully for continuous interest from both foliage and flower. A more subtle effect is achieved by restricting the design to a few hosta within a limited spectrum of leaf color.
Hosta tolerate a wide range of soils except for heavy clay or very sandy soils. They grow best in good, moist loam soils with a pH from 6.5 to 7.3. Prepare the soil well before planting by adding organic matter and nutrients if they are lacking.
Hosta take five years to reach maturity and can be left undisturbed for many years. Water only in prolonged periods of drought.
To produce lush foliage of a good color, feed hosta with well-rotted manure or compose since these increase the humus content. In spring apply an all-purpose inorganic fertilizer in poor soils. Apply spring mulch while the soil is wet. Use only well-rotted material in order to discourage slugs. If very coarse materials are used as mulch, remove it in the spring.
Slugs will be the worst pests, sometimes reducing leaves to tatters by the end of the season. Snails, earwigs and grasshoppers can also cause considerable damage when there are in high populations.
Once hosta are established they are easily increased by division. To divide simply cut a slice out of the crown with a sharp knife and plant in another location. Hosta should be divided when they are dormant, from late fall to early spring. Do not divide in extreme cold, wet or dry weather because these conditions may make it difficult for the divided plants to reestablish successfully.
Jim Coe lives in Lawton.