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Hostas - Care and Cultivating Hosta Plants


HostasIn my opinion, hostas are one of the most goof-proof floral plants in the garden. At first appearance, they seem complicated with those masses of leaves in shapes of lances, fat paddles or curled gourds. Then there are the leaf shades ranging from white to chartreuse to blue grey, not to mention all the edging striations with contrast shades the hybridists introduce on a seeming daily basis to entice us to buy. Add to that, the tall standards of bell shaped flowers in white or mauve, as well as heavenly fragrance.

Photograph Rt:  Hostas courtesy Thompson & Morgan

It’s hard to resist; I know, I’ve bought enough and somehow keep buying them much like a collector just has to have that particular ‘one’ for his collection. Well, one is understating it actually; it’s more like several at a time for me. Who can resist names like Blue Mouse Ears, Chinese Sunrise, Eskimo Pie, Fire and Ice or Paradise Glory? Not I, the writer says, meekly recalling the latest order.

Hosta Care

Once you own a hosta, they require so little care, really, just a reasonably fertile spot in the garden with good drainage below, some part shade during the day to not scald their leaves, and occasional watering during dry periods. And, like humans, they don’t like being stepped on. That’s about it.

Hosta Care - Slugs & Snails

But you can’t have hostas without slugs, is the common complaint. True, the older varieties seem more like Slug Buffets and Hotel Earwigs. My problem was more the latter, loads of earwigs which seemed to prefer hiding in the leaf folds more than anything. Slugs are less of a problem for me, probably because my hostas are spread throughout the garden rather than grouped in clusters.

I make the slimy little devils work for their meals. When things get out of hand, slug pellets spread around the plants seem to help, as do slug traps, but only if they’re checked daily. Otherwise, you’re hosting a slug hotel..

One hosta seller I know regularly uses a foliar spray of 1/4 cup ammonia to one litre of water. At first I was a bit surprised at the ammonia part, but he went on to explain that the ammonia will desiccate any slug it touches, then it turns into nitrogen and is harmless to the leaf and soil. Sounds good to me.

Slug Resistant Varieties of Hostas

Hybridists have been listening as well, and newer hosta introductions are much more slug proof. Contrary to popular speculation, there are no poisonous enzymes or bacteria introduced into the plants. The hybridists simply selected breeding stock that generated thicker leaves. That’s the secret. As I mentioned before, slugs don’t like to work for their suppers; they much prefer the thinner leaves of older varieties, so this might be a good excuse to your other half to justify buying the newer slug-resistant varieties.

Reproducing - Divide your Hostas

Last, but least, hostas are great reproducers. In about five years, the clump will definitely need dividing.

With a spade, about three to four inches (8-10 cm) away from the main stems, cut out a circle and leave enough soil at the root ball when you pull the plant out of the ground. Some people like to then use the spade/shovel to divide the clump - which often ends up slipping off centre and either shaving off half the top growth (it’ll recover by next year) or slicing off only a fifth of the root ball or both.

The absolute easiest way of dividing, is to get the largest, longest flat edged screwdriver you can find - 12" (30cm) is good -  and wedge it into the centre of the root ball and carefully push it in a few inches. Pull it out and make similar depressions to either side of the first, and so on. The roots should be loosened enough that some gentle rocking with the screwdriver will pull the root ball apart.

If the root was large and you want more divisions, keep dividing the halves, but not too small or they take ages recovering size. Water the newly planted divisions immediately and regularly until you’re sure they’ve settled in. A weak fertilizer or manure tea solution at this time will speed the recovery time, and soon you’ll have plants to give away.

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