Versatility, durability of hostas make them perennial winners

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about foliage plants, and it seems hostas are the overwhelming favorite in this category.

Everyone, from my black-thumbed granddaughter who can grow nothing else, to the experts who hybridize new varieties, love hostas.

Shade is the best condition for most hostas, although some varieties will flourish in a partly sunny situation. In fact, an area nursery specializing in daylilies and hostas has beds of them out on the hillside growing beautifully in full sun.

They appear in early spring, stay attractive all through summer, produce flower spikes in July and quietly fade away in late fall to gather strength for another season. They are practically perfect!

The only attention a hosta needs, apart from a water supply, is division every few years, although many of mine have survived for years and continue large and healthy without being split.

At the recent Master Gardener plant sale we sold dozens of hostas, and the most frequent question at the education table was, “What variety is this?”

Sometimes, we could come up with the name of some of the most common varieties, but there are so many sizes, shapes and colors, it is difficult to identify many of them.

Hostas also are known as plantain lilies or funkia, and originated in eastern Asia. The name commemorates Nicholas T. Host, an Austrian physician who developed many new cultivars from a fairly ordinary green plant. Now, they may be dark or light green, bluish, partly white or yellow, curled, ribbed or puckered, wide or narrow, wide or small.

I had a nice clump of tiny miniature hostas in my outdoor fairy garden, but the past winter did them in. My friend, Rosanna, came to my rescue with a fresh supply. The miniatures grow just three or four inches tall and flower just like the other types.

The long spikes of white or purple flowers may have a nice scent, but I think they spoil the look of the plant, so I usually snap them off.

To grow a plant from scratch, seeds may be sown in light soil in June. The resulting seedlings should be nurtured in a cold frame or similar well-lit but sheltered place until the following spring.

An easier way to multiply your plants is to dig them in fall or early spring and simply divide the clump from leaf tip to roots with a sharp spade or a garden fork.

Although I throw around words such as “simple” and “eaier,” this job actually requires a lot of muscle power, which I don’t have any longer.

Resulting divisions can be put right back into the ground and will not suffer from the experience.

Hostas are excellent plants for the beginning gardener, easy to grow, undemanding, fill a lot of space and are happy to grow in those shady spots that sometimes present a challenge.

Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program.

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