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Hostas heavy-duty additions to perennial garden

4/26/2012 - West Side Leader
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By Dayle Davis

Consider smaller hostas for use as edging and groundcover in shady spots. Pictured is a second-story view showing Hosta ‘Golden Scepter,’ coupled with the burgundy-leaved perennial Heuchera ‘Stormy Seas.’
Cleanup in fall is easy when using hosta as groundcover. Simply rake off dried brown foliage to clear the space for fresh new hosta leaves sprouting in early spring, as shown above.
Photos: Dayle Davis
Hostas are the work horses of the garden. These herbaceous perennials come in all shapes and sizes, foliage colors and leaf texture. There are hostas for deep shade, dappled shade and even sunnier spots. They will accept tons of abuse (but never deserving it) and keep on growing.

Just this week I discovered six hosta root clumps sitting on top of the soil in my garden where I had left them last fall. These botanical marvels were completely unaware of my neglect. Healthy fresh foliage was sprouting from the root balls. That’s the kind of dependable plant all gardeners desire for their gardens.

Hostas range in size from 8 feet wide to just a few inches tall. Overall plant shape can be rounded or tall and vase-like.

Foliage colors range from solid blue, green, yellow, white and gold to variegated combinations of some or all of those colors. The blue is not a true blue; rather, there is a type of epidermal wax coating that causes the green leaf to appear blue. Sun and hot weather tend to erode this coating as the growing season advances. Chemical sprays can turn blue leaves green, as well.

Leaf shapes can be lance-shaped, heart-shaped, cupped up, cupped under, pointy, rounded and more. Leaf textures include ribbed, smooth, ruffled edges, puckered centers with ruffled edges and varying degrees of seersucker. The thicker the leaf, the more resistant it is to slug damage.

Blooms range from white to bluish lavender. Some are intensely fragrant.

All of these characteristics point to a versatile plant species that can add balance, visual flow and remarkable visual interest to gardens and shrub beds alike. With hundreds of species and thousands of cultivars to choose from, there is a hosta out there to suit any gardener’s preferences.

Is your garden overrun with small foliaged perennials and no place to rest the eye? Plant a big-leaf hosta.

Need something to anchor a border of large-leaf hydrangeas? Edge the bed with small-leaved hosta.

Have an odd spot where nothing seems to fit? Pop in a hosta.

Stumped by a bare patch that refuses to nurture a delicate frothy blooming something or other? Hosta.

The true beauty of a particular hosta sometimes takes years to emerge. Some folks divide their hostas as an economical way to get more plants in the garden. I’ve done this too. But depending upon the cultivar, hostas reach full maturity over a period of years, after growing in place from four to eight years and even 10 years or more.

There is really no need to ever divide hosta unless the center is dying out. Some can grow 20 or more years in place before this starts to happen.

When choosing hosta for your garden, keep in mind that the darker the leaf (green or blue), the less tolerant of sunlight; the lighter the leaf (white, yellow, gold), the more tolerant of sunlight.

Hostas will grow in just about any garden soil, but will grow their best in rich organic soil that is moist but well drained. To plant, carefully inspect the hosta’s root system after removing it from its container. If the root ball is a hard mass of tightly packed roots, make several vertical cuts in the root ball before planting. Situate the plant in the soil at the same level it grew in the container.

Apply a balanced fertilizer such as 10-10-10 after planting. Each year spread a layer of well-rotted compost on the soil around, but not touching, the plant.

Water is the most important component for a healthy hosta. Watch for drooping leaves and also routinely check the tips of your hosta foliage to guard against browning, which is a sign of inadequate moisture. Deep watering is better for root development than sprinkling.

There is concern in the hosta world about a virus identified in 1996 that affects only hosta called Hosta Virus X or HVX, which has had a significant impact on the hosta industry.

The virus is easily spread through plant division and on garden tools. There is no cure, and the plant and all roots must be dug out and destroyed, not composted. Do not plant a new hosta in the same space unless all residual root tissue is completely degraded. The virus needs to live in tissue to survive; it will not survive on a dead host. Disinfect tools between each use by dipping them into a solution of bleach and water mixed at a ratio of 1:10.

Ink bleed is an early sign (usually a clearly different color from the surrounding tissue, and centered by a vein), as is collapsing tissue (which indicates an infection that is further along). Mottled tissue is another of the symptoms for HVX.

Care must be taken to purchase HVX-free plants. The hostas most commonly seen with the virus are ‘Gold Standard,’ ‘Striptease’ and ‘Sum and Substance,’ but there are many other common varieties being reported. Consult the Fact Sheet listed below for complete information.

For more information, call The Ohio State University Summit County Extension Hotline Tuesdays from 9 a.m. to noon at 330-928-4769, ext. 3, and request Fact Sheet HYG-1239-02, “Growing Hostas,” and HYG-3069-08, “Hosta Virus X.”

Dayle Davis is a freelance writer and avid perennial gardener, with a B.A. in communications and course work in botany, geology and wildflowers. Davis is certified as a Master Gardener under The Ohio State University’s Horticultural Extension.

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