A Little Background about the Hosta
One of the reasons gardeners love the Hosta is for its great variety! There are an estimated 45 species of Hosta; hybridization among the many species has produced upward of 3000 varieties of Hosta registered with the American Hosta Society.
The original homes to the Hosta were China and Japan and the plant was introduced to Europe in the mid 19th century. There have also been species of Hosta discovered more recently on the Korean peninsula.
Why we love the Hosta
In addition to the enormous variety of Hosta plants, their uniquely beautiful foliage is another reason we love them.
They thrive in partial-shade and are adaptable in places that other plants may not grow for example, under trees and in rock gardens; they also do well as indoor plants. A common mistake of new Hosta gardeners is to plant them in total shade. The general rule is that Hostas are tolerant to shade in varying degrees, but most importantly, avoid planting them in full-sun.
The Hosta is a particularly excellent ground cover plant and will fill empty spaces in the garden beautifully, however once you’ve fallen in love with them and discovered how easy they are to grow, you may be featuring your Hosta plants as the focal point of the garden or giving them a flower bed of their own. An interesting bit of trivia is that the Hosta plant is edible to humans; in Japan the plant is known as ‘urui’ and the tender shoots and young leaves are especially popular.
Where will the Hosta grow best?
The Hosta is easy to grow, has a long life in most gardens and may be enjoyed in zones 2 through 9 but they tend to thrive in zone 8. It’s important to the life of the Hosta that they lose their leaves and become dormant in temperatures cooler than 7C (43F) for at least 30 days, longer and cooler is even better.
Hostas are low maintenance plants, just water them and let them grow. When preparing the garden for your Hostas, plant in loose well-drained soil with compost added, to a depth of 12 – 18 inches. The crown of the plants should be level with the ground and space between the plants should be from 2 – 4 feet.
The plant will fully mature between 4 and 8 years and can grow to a diameter of up to 8 feet. Many varieties of Hosta plants have green, variegated dark leaves with a light edge or vice-versa and they may also be yellow, white, blue and blue-green.
The flowers, if they appear are bell shaped and may show up at any time during the growing season. Some look like lilies, some are purple, some white and some are white with lavender stripes. Once the Hosta is established it will require very little maintenance other than regular watering, a layer of mulch is beneficial for keeping moisture from evaporating between waterings and will help keep the ground temperature fairly even.
Dividing the Hosta
The best time to start dividing your Hosta plants is when they are about 3 – 4 years old. The larger and denser the clump of root becomes, the fewer divisions will be possible and the longer the plant will take to recover from the shock of being divided.
Most gardeners will divide the Hosta plants either in spring or later in August. Dividing is fairly easily done by hand, just lift the plants out of the bed, wash off the dirt to expose the roots so you can see where to separate or cut them. August works best after the plant has had time to become established and the warmer soil of late summer will promote root growth once replanted.
Don’t let the roots dry out while you’re dividing your Hosta plant; if you don’t have a chance to replant them immediately after dividing, cover the roots with peat moss and set them in the shade, then soak them in a bucket of water just before replanting. Don’t leave the roots immersed in water for more than a day, as they will begin to rot.
Plant your newly divided Hosta plants about ½ inch deep, a little deeper if you had to cut the roots to divide them, spread the roots out and cover the stems until you don’t see the crowns at the base of each stem, basically so that the white is covered. Water them well, ensuring there are no pockets of air but don’t compact the soil around the newly planted Hostas. Keep them well watered to reduce shock from the transplant process and to encourage new roots to develop.
There’s great information including videos on dividing Hosta plants on HostasDirect.com.
Deadly to the Hosta
- Deer, snails and slugs love eating them but iron phosphate is sometimes used as a repellant.
- Foliar nematodes, a tiny plant parasitic roundworm that leaves thin streaks of dry dead tissue between the leaf’s veins, are also destructive. The nematodes started to become problem in about the mid ‘90s with the decline in the use of pesticides, but may be controlled by destroying the affected plants.
- The potexvirus called Hosta Virus X is also deadly to the Hosta and if infected, the plant must be destroyed.
References: The Hosta Network, Hosta Library, Wikipedia.org and PerfectPerennials.tripod.com; Photo credits: Blue Hosta and Hosta Hampshire County – mailorderplants4me.com