Hostas are extremely hardy and easy to grow

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Backyard garden, Patti Sharpe

A border of hostas (likely hosta 'Gold Standard') brings beauty to the late September garden. SUBMITTED PHOTO

Hostas may well be one of the best known and best loved perennials in our gardens.

And what's not to love? They have beautiful foliage, they are extremely hardy and easy to grow, they are easily divided to make more and they are never invasive. Once planted in a suitable location they can literally be left for years without any further care required.

Having said that, they do benefit from some attention. Hostas are really shade-tolerant as opposed to shade-loving. Nothing grows well in the deepest of shade. Hostas thrive in part shade or dappled shade and are quite happy in full morning sun with afternoon shade. Full sun is not ideal. They will survive, but might become scorched - leaves with brown tips and edges. Hostas with yellow foliage will stand up better in full sun. 

Newly planted hostas enjoy a bed of soil rich in organic matter – compost, rotted leaves, etc. - but do not require further fertilizing. If you have reason to think that the plant has not established a sturdy root system in its first season of growth there may be some benefit to protecting it with a bit of mulch to prevent the heaving that can occur with our cycles of freeze and thaw in the winter months.

In subsequent seasons no protection is required. In late fall, it is helpful to clean up the dead foliage surrounding the plant (it turns to mush once frosted anyway) to eliminate slugs and snails that might overwinter in the debris and looks so much tidier come spring.

Hostas can be divided and transplanted at any point during the growing season, but will suffer the least amount of shock and setback when the job is done in early spring when the plants are just beginning to emerge. Those moved later in the summer will require consistent watering and may wilt for a short period, but they won't die. I moved three in mid-September that look none the worse for their journey.

Opinions are divided on the appeal of the hostas' flowers. Typically, white or mauve, some blossoms are more appealing than others. I noticed this summer that I had a steady parade of hummingbirds to and from the blossoms on mine when they were newly opened. Later in the season I opted to cut the flower stalks off when they grew a bit ragged and faded.  

The only outright complaint one is likely to hear with regard to hostas is that they are a favourite food source for slugs, snails and deer. The only permanent method to keep deer away is a very high fence.  Some folks try various homemade, smelly repellents, but if successful these mixtures will have to be reapplied after every rain. 

I have never tried them so can offer little advice in that respect. Slugs and snails can be handpicked, or baited with saucers of beer if you prefer kinder, gentler ways of controlling them. Alternatively, any number of chemical repellents containing metaldehyde are available for purchase at your garden centre or chain store. I opt to live with a few slugs and snails in my garden because they really don't trouble me that much.

I want to share a little hosta trivia as well. Hostas are native to southeast Asia with most of the species we know coming out of Japan and a few from China and Korea. They are named for the Austrian botanist Nicholas Thomas Host (1771-1834). In the wild, the hosta is a predominately a green leaved plant.  Natural mutations have given rise to the white, cream and yellow variegations that are so prized by growers and collectors. The plants range in size from miniatures (as small as three to four inches in diameter and height) to the standard sized hosta which can be several feet in height or diameter.   Approximately three dozen species have resulted in 3,000-plus cultivars registered with the American Hosta Society, the organization dedicated to the study and improvement of hostas.

Patti Sharpe is a resident of Great Village. She is a member of the Great Village Garden Club and the Nova Scotia Association of Garden Clubs. sharpep@eastlink.ca

Organizations: American Hosta Society, Great Village Garden Club, Nova Scotia Association of Garden Clubs

Geographic location: Asia, Japan, China Korea Great Village

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