Hosta La Vista

By Chandra Orr

July 2, 2012 5 min read

With their elegant foliage and dependable growing habits, hostas are a popular choice for filling out flowerbeds and adding lush greens to landscape gardens.

From damp, shady nooks to sunny hillsides, these hearty perennials thrive in a wide range of growing conditions and add an exotic touch to gardens large and small. They are equally at home in container gardens, landscape borders or waterside gardens -- and they make an excellent groundcover.

Hostas, also called plantain lilies, are hardy throughout zones 3 to 9. They are moisture-loving plants that thrive in shaded spots. They prefer rich, well-drained soil but are tolerant of most any condition, making them a foolproof choice for beginner gardeners. The leaves make a main course for slugs and snails, though, so pest control is a must.

With more than 4,000 varieties, these Asian imports are wildly diverse. Leaves range from bold chartreuse to deep dusty blue, with a full range of textures and variegations. Some plants are just a few inches high, while others grow more than 6 feet wide with leaves as big as dinner plates. Many varieties feature spikes of fragrant flowers in purple, white or yellow.

Hostas are known for their low maintenance, but they do require a bit of care. Follow these tips for tip-top plants:

*Seasonal Care

Hostas can be planted throughout the growing season, but springtime is ideal. Plant even with or slightly higher than the soil line. Remove flower stalks once the blooms fade, and remove foliage in the fall once the leaves have died back. For added protection against the winter elements, cover the plants with a layer of leaf mold before the first frost.

*Sun and Soil

They may be shade-loving plants, but most hostas will thrive in partial sun if given the proper amount of moisture and soil supplementation. To prevent scorching in full sun, boost your garden with plenty of organic additives like humus, compost and leaf mold.

Leaf mold is an inexpensive and easy to make additive. Just pile leaves into mounds 3 feet high, let time take its course -- about six months -- and you'll have a rich additive that will boost the soil's moisture retention.

A hosta's ability to tolerate sun also depends on the leaf color. Lighter varieties like those with yellow or golden leaves prefer a bit more sun, while darker green and blue varieties prefer more shade. With all hostas, avoid direct afternoon sun.

*Pest Prevention

Pest prevention is key to keeping your hostas in top form. Slugs and snails thrive in the same conditions that hostas prefer, but there are plenty of simple do-it-yourself fixes.

Slugs crave yeast, so it's easy to trap them using trays of old beer placed flush with ground level. They also crave dark, moist hiding spots during the day, so place a few flat boards on the ground. During the day, flip the boards over and spray the slugs with vinegar. Wet newspapers also make a suitable slug home. Place wet newspapers under the hostas; once the slugs congregate on the underside, simply roll up the newspapers and throw them away. Avoid using salt to combat snails, as too much will harm plants as well.

*Divide and Transplant

One of the great benefits to growing hostas -- in addition to their easy maintenance and exceptional foliage -- is their ability to self propagate. Each spring, hostas send out new blooms of foliage, adding to their size, which makes them ideal for dividing and planting elsewhere in the garden.

The key to successful division is in the cut. Use a sharp shovel or trowel when separating, and be sure you end up with a part of the foliage, stems or buds and a part of the base, or roots. Hostas can be divided at any point in the growing season, but spring and fall offer a better chance for success. Be sure to water newly transplanted divisions thoroughly to give them a jump-start. In just a few years, one plant can easily become several.

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