Hostas love Oceana County and Oceana County loves hostas. Everywhere I travel in Oceana County I see yards full of hostas. Some are petite little bunches of green and others are so huge they might need their own zip code. Let’s explore why hostas, also called Plantain Lily, are such a local favorite.
Like many shade loving plants, hostas prefer humus rich, moist, well drained soil with a slightly acidic pH. They are however tolerant of most any kind of soil. They prefer shade to part shade, but will tolerate a sunny spot, especially if it’s morning sun. They are drought resistant if well mulched to keep their roots cool. A slow grower that may take four to eight years to reach its full maturity, hostas rarely need to be divided. If you choose to divide them, do so in spring or fall by digging up the root ball and slicing it into sections with a sharp knife or spade. The new sections will need frequent watering until they take root. Dividing them will give you more plants, but will prolong maturity. When planting, space hostas according to their potential size. Although not invasive, some can grow very large and will take over a large section of your garden. They appreciate an early spring dose of fertilizer.
Hostas are not typically grown for their flowers of white, mauve or lavender. The flowers form on tall slender stalks called scapes and depending on the variety bloom from mid to late summer. Once the flowers have faded the scapes may be cut back to the base of the plant. Only a few varieties are scented, for example ‘Fragrant Bouquet’ with its huge white trumpet shaped flowers and ‘Halcyon’ with its pale lavender flowers. I have read that some gardeners cut back the flower scapes before the flowers bloom, not caring for their appearance. Although not harmful to the plant, the gardener will miss the opportunity of watching bees, butterflies and hummingbirds feasting on the flowers.
If you want an explosion of green and interesting shapes in your shade garden hostas are the plant for you and there are hundreds of hybrids available. Colorful examples of hostas are the blue green of, ‘Halcyon’, the yellow green of, ‘Sum and Substance’, and the dark green of, ‘Royal Standard’. Some have patterned leaves with edges of white, ’Patriot’, yellow, ‘Fragrant Bouquet’ or gold and some with centers of white ‘Dancing in the Rain’ or yellow ‘Guacamole and Stained Glass’ and one of my favorites ‘Summer Breeze’. Leaves come in shapes such as narrow ‘Curly Fries’, broad ‘Empress Wu’ and heart shaped ‘Heart and Soul’.
In any gardening group, when hostas are discussed, the first statement made is about deer, “I love hostas, but can’t have them in my yard because the deer love them. They’re deer candy!” The other challenge for growing hostas are slugs that will make a beautiful plant look like green lace in one night of feasting. Here are some suggestions from my research and experience for dealing with these two challenges to growing stunning hostas. First the deer, you might want to review the article written by Kathy O’Connor in the April 22 edition of the Oceana’s Herald-Journal. You can use commercial sprays, rotating them week to week, especially after it rains. You can make your own deer deterrent from many of the recipes available online. Deer rely on their sense of smell to find good things to eat. Predator urine and other natural deterrents like garlic, chives, mint and lavender may make them avoid your hostas. You can also try objects that move to scare them away, including motion detection lights or physical barriers like fences. Deer have been known to avoid all these deterrents, but something might work for you. I am fortunate to have purchased a home with a fenced in yard and a history of large dogs patrolling the area. I don’t know if that is why I have been lucky with hostas or not, but I think it’s made a difference. Now slugs are a different story for me. If anything gets to my hostas, it’s those yucky slimy slugs. First I must tell you don’t ignore slugs. Once they get started it’s very difficult to get them under control. The battle starts early in the spring, even before the hostas have sprouted. Once the snow melts and you are doing your spring clean up, surround the area where hostas grow with egg shells, pine mulch, sharp sand or diatomaceous earth. Slugs do not like to crawl over sharp surfaces to get to your hostas. All these top dressings are harmless to birds, bees and other animals, but you do need to reapply them throughout the summer. Slugs love beer, and the more stale it is the better. Place some beer filled tuna cans or other small containers in the ground with the rim at the soil surface, the slugs will crawl into the beer and die a happy death. You can also go hunting for slugs. According to Luke Miller in an article written for Family Handyman, go out two hours after sunset with a flashlight, look in the shady, damp areas of your yard. When you see a slug, shake salt on it or pick it up and place it in a jar of soapy water. Larry Hodgson in ‘Making the Most of Shade’, suggests purchasing hostas that are slug resistant. Examples are ‘Fragrant Bouquet’, ‘Halcyon’, ‘Patriot’ and ‘Sum and Substance.’ These are just a few of the ideas I have used with some success.
To keep up on all the news in the world of hosta, you can join the American Hosta Society or follow the American Hosta Growers Association. Each year a new variety is given the ‘Hosta of the Year’ award. The 2021 winner is ‘Rainbow’s End’ and is described as having very thick, dark green leaves with a flared center pattern of bright yellow that becomes white by summer. Its pale purple flowers are on red scapes and bloom in late summer. Look for it at your favorite garden center.