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Hostas

FOR THE SHADE

HostaLooking for a colorful summer perennial for that shady spot in your garden? One of the showy Hostas may be just the right choice. Varying leaf size, textures, foliage colors and summer flowers combine to make them attractive shade garden plants.

The attractive leaves are what catch the eye. Many have big broad bold leaves, while other are narrow and long, others quite small and dwarf. In fact, there is a size and variety suitable for practically any spot in the shaded garden. Some have leaves that solid in color while others are combinations of shades of green, gray, cream and soft yellow. The bright gray and golden leaf varieties are especially effective for adding a bright spot to the shaded garden. There are well over a thousand different varieties to choose from. Cut leaves are often used in flower arrangements. They provide an excellent background (filler) for other cut flowers, or many are dramatic enough that they can be used alone. When cut the leaves will last for up to two weeks. In the garden the leaves develop later than most perennials, and will disappear completely after the first fall frost.

The flower spikes range in size from just a few inches tall, to most that are 1 to 3 feet in height. Most range in shades of pinkish lavender, lavender or white. Several have a pleasant light fragrance. The cut flowers will often last up to two weeks in the home.

COMPANION PLANTS

Hostas combine well with other shade loving plants. So they can be planted right along with primroses, pansies, violas, bleeding hearts, astilbe, rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas and other shade plants. They are especially effective when used as background foliage plants for the summer flowering impatiens, fuchsias and begonias.

VARIETIES

There are well over one thousand varieties, some of which grow just a few inches high, while others may grow up to 3 feet in height. So you may want to select varieties during their late spring and summer growing seasons. Fortunately, this is when the nurseries and garden outlets have their finest selection of container grown plants.

It's hard to recommend any specific variety because each has its own attributes. However, here are six possible starter varieties, in my opinion:

Pacific Blue Edger - Showy oval shaped blue-gray leaves. Grows 8 to 12 inches tall.

Fringe Benefit - Dark green leaves with a distinctive creamy yellow margin. Grows about 2 feet tall.

Mediovariegata - Very attractive leaves are creamy white in the center with dark green margins. Grows 12 to 15 inches tall.

Flavocircinalis - Bluish green leaves with a soft yellow margin. Leaves are oval. Grows 15 to 18 inches tall.

Moonlight - Leaves change color during the seasons. Starting medium green, to bright golden yellow, to creamy yellow, with narrow white margins. Grows about 1 foot tall.

Aureomarginata - deep green leaves with a distinctive yellow margin. Grows 18 to 24 inches tall.

Needless to say, you'll probably find varieties you even like better, but these are a few easy ones to consider.

I have about one dozen different varieties in my garden. I like to mix the variegated leaf varieties with the green and bluish leafed ones. I have mine plant under a couple of rhododendrons, and the bright golden and yellowish leafed varieties brighten-up the bed throughout the summer months, and their bold leaf textures make a pleasant contrast with those of the rhododendrons.

This is one of those easy to grow plants. Once established, the plants spread rapidly, always remaining in a neat, compact clump.

LOCATION

Hostas grow especially well in semi-shade to deep shade, in soil that is well drained. In the home garden you will often find them growing along a stream, or next to a pond. This is not the best place for them, unless you provide adequate drainage, otherwise you are apt to lose the plants during a severe or wet winter.

PLANTING

Plants will benefit from being planted in rich organic soil. So at planting time mix some peat moss, compost and/or processed manure into the planting soil. Set the clump right at ground level, the same depth as it was previously planted in its container. Then mulch lightly with peat moss or compost.

WINTER PROTECTION

Hostas are very hardy, so they will not require any type of winter protection, as long as they are planted in well-drained soil. However, the top growth will disappear completely during the winter, and this concerns many home gardeners. Don't fret, as the new growth will appear as the weather warms in early to mid-spring.

FEEDING

They are not heavy feeders. However, if the plants are not doing well, a light application of either a liquid or dry fertilizer applied in late winter or earliest spring will benefit the plants. Apply according to label instructions. A liquid foliar feed can be applied in summer if needed.

PROBLEMS

Slugs are the Hostas biggest enemy. They love the new tender growth of this plant. So be sure to take steps to keep the slugs under control in areas where Hostas are to be planted. The application of a fine line of diatomaceous earth applied in a circle around the base of the plants will help keep the slugs away.

DIVIDING

The best times to dig and divide or transplant Hostas is in the late fall or early spring. Simply cut the division with a knife or pruning shears. For appearance sake, after the first frost in fall, you may want to cut off the dying foliage.

Brighten-up the shady garden with the attractive, colorful leaves of the perennial Hostas.

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