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GardenSMART :: 5 Things Every Hosta Lover Should Know

5 Things Every Hosta Lover Should Know

By Kate Karam, Monrovia
Photographs courtesy of Monrovia

With more than 6,000 named varieties out there and thousands of plants sold each year, it's pretty safe to say that hostas are among the most popular garden perennials. We love the way they seem to pop up out of nowhere in the spring when we're not looking, how they add luxuriant foliage to shady spaces, and all the different colors, textures, flowers, and leaf shapes and forms. Get to know a bit more about this interesting plant (we think you'll love it even more).

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1. They Only Look Delicate

They look rather tropical in their leafiness, but hostas are hardy. Not just hardy, but tough cookies that have a bottom temperature threshold of -35 degrees F. (that's zone 3 for those who are counting!). In fact, they require at least 30 days at temperatures below 43 degrees F. in order to go into dormancy which rules out many varieties for zone 9.

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If you live in a warmer zone, do not count out hostas entirely. There are some that are just fine in warmer climes (see here) like Rainforest Sunrise Hosta, which in addition to being totally stunning was also the 2013 Hosta of the Year!

2. A Case FOR the Blues

Finding a truly blue-hued flower is the stuff of legend, but plenty of hostas fill that garden color yen with true-blue foliage. How? It's all in the genes.

Here's the science: The genetics of original species hostas allows them to make the special 'crystalline wax' layer that shows those desirable blue hues. That waxy layer is found in the cuticle, which is the topmost layer of the epidermis and appears as a shiny film or a glaucous outer covering, which gives it the gray-blue appearance. Pretty cool, right?

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Can that wax melt? You bet. Though some varieties are less impacted (such as Abiqua Drinking Gourd, here) wax can come off due to rainfall, wind and watering, but heat and sun are the most prominent cause of damage. So, plant blue hostas out of direct sun.

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3. "I Love Slugs," Said No One Ever

The recipe of warm days + ample moisture + tasty hosta leaves are like ringing the dinner bell. There are many homegrown deterrents from pine needles and slug traps to copper pennies and beer trays, but the best place to start is by eliminating places slugs can hide. Rake up fallen leaves and fill in gaps under rocks and pavers. And think about planting varieties with thicker, heavily textured leaves that are more slug resistant. Patriot Plantain Lily (above) is just one of many—ask for more at your local garden center.

And maybe chew on this. Slugs, while kind of gross, are an important part of a complex food chain. Having them in your garden encourages visits from valuable critters such as birds, beetles, toads and slow worms, all of which will eat large quantities of slugs or snails, and also stay to contribute to the overall health of your garden. Before you wage war, think about the bigger picture.

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4. Fragrant? Edible? Flowers?

Let's start with fragrance (who doesn't want more of that in the garden!). Some, but not all hostas have very fragrant flowers, especially in the evening when they emit a scent that's been said to be a cross between daffodil and lily. Fire and Ice Plantain Lily (above) is one to try.

Are hosta leaves edible? Well, yes and they're quite popular in places like Japan. But here's the thing—we're talking about those very tender new leaves that you see shooting up and unfurling early in the season rather than those mature ones you might pluck from the summer garden. (Always harvest leaves from plants that have NOT been treated with inorganic chemicals.) Flowers are also edible.

When it comes to the tall flower stalks there are two teams—the snippers and the keepers. To some the flowers are just plain not pretty, while others (like yours truly) love the airy blooms and the spiky stalks. Where do you land on this one?

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5. There's One for Every Size Garden

Hostas range from petite to enormous, so there's probably one for every shady spot in your garden. Smaller varieties look great in mixed containers, as a colorful leafy border for a bed, massed at the edge of the canopy of a shade tree or in an island bed. The larger ones (here's Sum and Substance, above, a bad boy that tops out at 6' wide!) are statement makers that need plenty of space around them to really appreciate the scale and their leafy goodness. Some like to mass one variety, others prefer a hosta collection. That's how versatile this little herbaceous perennial can be.

So, that's just a bit to know about this beloved, useful shade perennial. If you enjoyed this content please consider subscribing to our free monthly newsletter Fresh Cuts, and check out our blog, Grow Beautifully for new content weekly.


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