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For The Shade, It "Hasta" Be Hosta
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
If you are looking for a plant for the shade, then you can hardly do better than hostas. The hosta is in the lily family and has the common name of Plantain Lily. Despite the fact that they are cold hardy way up north in zone 4, their beauty and leaf texture adds a tropical flair to the garden.
If there was a plant group that humbles a horticulturist, it is the hosta. The hosta comes from Japan, Korea and China and there are about 40 species. There are thousands and thousands of varieties and hybrids that gives the collector his dream plant.
A couple of years ago I was sitting in First Baptist Church of Mount Olive and noticed the most heavenly fragrance coming from the flower arrangement at the podium. The main ingredient in the arrangement were flowers from the hosta.
It was at this time that I took on a new appreciation for this awesome plant. Then I went on the recent Gardens of Madison County tour and saw gorgeous hostas at the home of Lynne and Ralph Stillion. I realized I do not have enough of them at my house.
A look at your garden center will show you they may not have thousands of varieties, but you will find a huge selection such as Patriot, Sun and Substance, Big Daddy and Bressingham Blue. One reason we see such great supplies of hostas is that Mississippi growers are producing their own. Sure you will see some foreigners out there, but a bunch are home grown.
The tropical look of hostas lets them combine nicely with shrubs like the Fatsia and other foliage plants like ferns and grasses. They also work well with bananas, elephant ears and cannas.
For flower power, try growing hostas with impatiens as these can really add some razzle-dazzle to the hosta bed. They have the same light, water and soil requirements, so make a good companion planting.
They come in shades of green, blue and striking variegation. Hostas make great border plants for woodland trails, and their leaves look handsome in contrast with pine straw mulch.
Now would be a good time to plant nursery-grown transplants. Beds should be rich in organic matter, so incorporate 3 to 4 inches of humus or compost to improve drainage and aeration.
While tilling, add 2 pounds per 100 square feet of a 12-6-6 slow-release fertilizer with minor nutrients. Plant at the same depth they are growing in the container, placing the crown of the plant slightly above the soil line. Add a good layer of mulch after planting.
Hostas need to be watered during dry periods and fed with light applications of fertilizer every 6 to 8 weeks. The one problem that gardeners notice first about hostas is that slugs like to munch on them. You can help the situation by not watering in the afternoon.
Hostas can grow for years before they need dividing. In fact, it is best not to divide for at least three years. The hosta is one of our best perennials for the shade garden. Shop now while selections are greatest.