- Greg Graves
textural and color contrast
When we moved to Old Goat Farm we brought with us about 60 different types of Hostas. Reliable and hardy with countless combinations of leaf color, shape, and texture, hostas appeal to gardeners because of their fabulous foliage. We use them throughout the garden as a great texture plant.
Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’
Hosta ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ on the fern table.
Hostas are herbaceous, mounding perennials, hardy to Zones 3 or 4, depending on the variety. They certainly have no problem in our zone 7 garden and seem to love our mild, damp conditions. Leaves come in colors from bright green to gold and even blue tones. Many have variegation at the edge or splashes of color. Leaf texture varies and can be smooth, veined, or even puckered. Leaf size ranges from small (few inches long) to gigantic (few feet long). The clumps can be just a few inches or up to several feet. We use several of the dwarf selections in our fern tables along with other miniature plants to create small gardens on table tops. The larger varieties we like to use to make a real statement in the borders.
The flowers are often dismissed as secondary to the foliage but many new cultivars have striking flowers and are worth noting. Some are even fragrant.
While hostas are often referred to as shade-loving plants, too dark a location will be detrimental to a healthy plant. Hostas really thrive in sites where filtered or dappled shade is available for much of the day. Yellow and gold hostas will actually benefit from 2-3 hours of sun, helping to develop richer leaf color. Blue hostas like a shadier site to avoid leaf burn and bleaching from intense sunlight. A few hostas such as ‘August Moon’ and ’Sum and Substance’ have been developed to tolerate more sun.
Hostas prefer rich, moist soil that is high in organic matter, yet well drained. That said, hostas are generally adaptable and survive in a wide range of soils, adding to their ease of growing. We have an ample supply of compost so we compost around the hosts each fall. This helps to protect the plant during the winter and also feeds it come spring. If you don’t compost a little fertilizing may be good in the spring.
There are hundreds of species and thousands of cultivars from which to choose. We choose colors that compliment the beds that they are going to be growing in. Hostas can be planted throughout the growing season but we tend to plant in fall when the plants are dying back. The winter rains help to develop a good root system for the coming growing season. Since this plant is native to Asia some summer water is required. The thicker the leaf the more drought tolerant the plant seems to be.
The biggest pest seems to be slugs. The thicker leaves seem to be less appealing to the slugs but we do slug bait twice a year with Sluggo. Sluggo is safe around our animals and seems to be effective. The trick is to bait at the right time. A rule of thumb is any month that starts in ‘A’, April and August. The end of March, early April and then the end of July, early August are both ends of the breeding cycle. By baiting then you can seriously reduce the slug population. Slugs can also smell so you don’t have to spread a lot. We just bait around a few of their favorite plants and they find the bait. We’ve also found that peacocks are excellent sluggers. They just love them and don’t do too much leaf damage. Chickens love slugs too but they also make a mess of the garden.
I hope I haven’t made this sound to difficult because they aren’t. Hostas are a stand out plant that is worth a little effort.
Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’
Hosta in flower
Hosta ‘Enola Blue’
Hostas in containers
Hosta ‘Great Expectation’
Mini-hosta on fern table
Hostas as specimen plants
Hostas as a ground cover
Hosta ‘Blue Mouse Ears’
Hostas in the nursery
Mini-Hostas in the nursery