JULY
2016

 

By
B. Rosie Lerner
 
Purdue Extension
Consumer
Horticulturist

 

 

 

 

 

07-21-16


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Humble hosta


If you're looking for a plant that is winter-hardy throughout the Midwest, excels under shady conditions and has fabulous foliage as well as attractive flowers, then hosta is the plant for you. Also known as plantain lily, hosta performs best in partial to full shade, although some have been able to survive full sun conditions if given a cool environment with plenty of moisture. The leaves will tend to burn or turn sickly yellow if given too much heat and sun.

blue angel hosta
Hosta "blue angel" in bloom

Photos by Rosie Lerner

Hosta is far from humdrum there are hundreds of species and thousands of cultivars. Some of the more common types will be relatively inexpensive for those who want to give them a trial run. For the serious hosta collector, there are new and/or rare cultivars that cost $50 to $100 or more for just one small plantlet!

Hosta is available in a wide variety of colors and textures, including leaves of blue, green, yellow or white variegation, and leaves with waffle, stripe or pleated texture patterns. Some hosta have white flowers; others are blue. Some are even fragrant. There are dwarfs that only reach a few inches tall and wide to giants reaching five to seven feet in spread.

variegated hosta
Variegated hosta

Hosta is relatively pest-free, though in wet seasons, slugs really can take a bite out of the foliage. Various slug baits and home remedies, such as trapping slugs in saucers of beer, have been used with some success. In more recent years, a disease known as hosta virus X has come to the forefront. This virus is spread through vegetative propagation of infected plants and can also enter through wounds via contaminated garden tools, so it is important to start with virus-free planting stock.

Hosta is usually sold as containerized plants and can be transplanted to the garden just about any time the ground is not frozen. If planting in mid-summer's heat spell, take extra care to water the plants as often as needed to prevent them from wilting. A 2-3-inch layer of mulch will help conserve soil moisture and cool the soil a bit.

The larger cultivars of hosta will form quite sizable clumps. While there is no need to divide hosta on a regular basis, it is a great way to propagate and expand your planting. You can dig up older plants in spring or early fall and cut into sections with a sharp knife. Or simply cut and lift an offset of an older plant with a sharp spade, leaving the mother plant in place. Replant the divisions as soon as possible to prevent the roots from excessive drying.

For more information on hosta, visit the American Hosta Society website http://www.americanhostasociety.org/. There are also several Indiana based hosta societies, with information at http://www.americanhostasociety.org/Community/Indiana.htm.

 

Writer: B. Rosie Lerner
Editor: Keith Robinson