Friday, June 17, 2011

Hosta la Vista!

I really resisted these leafy staples of the garden.  Hosta was just a plant grown in my elderly aunt's garden.   Yet when I had the good fortune to marry a man with giant oaks in his yard, the need for perennials which thrived in the shade outweighed my resistance to plants I'd unfairly pegged as ordinary. Thank goodness for those towering trees.   And my aunties. 

oguacamole hosta
Here in Zone Five and a Half the reliable hosta thrives, yet their diverse varieties makes them far from ordinary.  The yard now contains hostas of all shapes, heights, patterns and sizes.  Guacamole hued leaves circle a tree out back.  Corrugated blue plants provide structure to a sunny garden out front. 

In between there's green with thin stripes, green with wide stripes, green with yellow centers, white with dark green accents and even miniature frilly hosta border the white garden. 

The simplicity and reliability of these plants make them even more attractive.  No deadheading required.  The white or purple stemlike flowers poke out either spring or fall, adding surprising color and structure to a shade garden. 

The key is to layer these plants with flowering shrubs, like lemon colored spirea or recent "ever blooming" hydrangea varietels.  As the plants emerge later in the spring, set the areas around them with early blooming daffodil bulbs.  Just about the time the daffs die back, the hosta leaves will begin to unfurl.  Act two begins.

Green rule of thumb-the lighter the hosta, the more sunlight needed.  Gold and bright green hosta require some sunlight (preferably cooler morning sun) to maximize color.  Blue hosta needs partial sun in order to bring out a brighter hue.    Hot afternoon sun will cause the edges of the leaves to scorch.

They make great salads for deer and bunnies.

A word about ugg--slugs.  Sometime in the middle of summer, holes begin to appear in the softer leafed hostas.  Slugs are the slimy culprit.  On sunny mornings the sidewalks reflect their shiny path of destuction.  By August they're the size of a cupcake. 

Everyone has their own cure.  Neighbor Joyce suggested circling the plants with copper wiring, but metal prices have driven that option out the window.  "Sharp" sand around the base of the plant constitutes her Plan B.  Apparently the slug's soft little bodies don't care for the feel of gritty sand.  Sorta like a wet bathing suit after a visit to the beach.

Another cure is beer in a recessed can or cup in the ground.  Feeling rather silly buying cheap beer for the slugs, the menu changed to grape juice--which worked so long as Ralph didn't lap it up.  Unfortunately the clean up was just too gruesome, sparing the details, but think slug soup.

Pet safe slug food didn't work too well.  Ralph got a belly ache. 

In the fall, clean up by cutting back is optional.  Some cut the plants back to the ground, but this is mainly aesthetic.  I opt to leave the plants alone and scoop away the remains in the spring.  Just be certain to clean up remaining foliage as the new shoots emerge to avoid disease or plant rot.

And they do emerge, seeming to unfurl overnight, gently drooping into a near perfect circle. 

In the fall, the leaves of hosta turn a burning gold just as the last leaves drop from the tree. 

Old, tried and true, hosta is a musta in the garden.  Sorry aunties. 

You knew best.