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One of the most commonly grown shade garden plants, hostas have captured the hearts of gardeners everywhere. Also called plantain lilies, these plants have a diverse offering of foliage shapes, colors, and sizes. There is truly a hosta for everyone, whether it be a miniature hosta for a trough garden or a mammoth monster of a plant to fill up a big space under a shade tree.
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Part Sun, Shade, Sun
Under 6 inches to 3 feet
Up to 8 feet
What was once just a simple green leafy plant has now become a rich palette of colors that acts as the backdrop to many shade gardens. Within the course of its fairly recent life in horticulture, hosta plants have been hybridized, divided, shared, and mutated many times to create what we see today.
As a whole, hostas are genetically unstable plants. This causes them to mutate fairly regularly, or "sport." A "sport" is when a hosta that may be typically all green sends up a new leaf that is variegated. This variegated portion is called a "sport" and if it is fairly stable (meaning it doesn't go back to green after a while), it can be divided and treated as a new plant.
You may occasionally see some blooms Above the foliage of hostas. While some blooms are small and not the showiest in the garden, others are worth keeping. Some hostas boast exceptionally long, tubular white blooms that have an intoxicating fragrance similar to of jasmine or gardenia. On a warm night, these plants can richly perfume any garden space. The decision is up to you—cut the sometimes visibly unappealing blooms or let them remain to grace your garden.
Hosta Care Must-Knows
You are sure to find a hosta to love with well over 3,000 registered cultivars to choose from. Luckily, hostas are some of the toughest plants around and, with a few general rules of thumb, you can easily grow these in your own garden.
While drought-tolerant, hostas do not like being left too dry. These plants prefer to be in rich, well-drained soil with a constant supply of moisture. They can stand up to drought but not for too long.
Consider light when choosing a place to plant your hostas. While almost all hostas can handle full shade, some thrive in full sun. Varieties with variegated leaves will show best color in at least part sun—in too much shade, these varieties may turn back to an all-green color. Blue-leaf varieties prefer some shade and do better in cooler climates. Ideal sunny-spot hostas include deep green varieties—just be careful about placing in full sun if the leaves have any white patches.
Because these plants are such quick growers, they can easily be divided and shared with friends. The best time to do this is in the spring when the foliage emerges so that you have a better idea of where to cut. However, because hostas are such tough plants, you can divide them any season without too much risk. Just make sure to give them plenty of water if you divide in the heat of summer.
The downside to these versatile perennials is that they are commonly preyed on by pests. Deer, rabbits, and even slugs love to make a meal out of tender hosta plants. If you have a particularly special hosta plant, cage it early in the spring so its new growth doesn't become a healthy salad for would-be predators.
Along with visible pests, hostas are also prone to a few less noticeable fiends. Foliar nematodes have become a recent problem for hostas. Most common in the summer, these microscopic worms eat through leaf veins of the hosta, which causes the leaves to yellow and eventually brown. Unfortunately, there is no known fix for foliar nematodes, and infected plants should be tossed to prevent spreading.
Another newer pest problem that hostas tend to endure is Hosta Virus X. This tricky virus causes mottling of the foliage that almost looks ornamental in some cases. In fact, before this virus was properly identified, some varieties were introduced into the plant trade as having novel foliage, which was actually due to the virus. If you see mottled leaves, send samples to your local extension office for testing. If positive, discard the infected plants to prevent them from spreading to others.