Hostas are easy to grow, shade-tolerant, hardy herbaceous perennials. They are grown mainly for the ornamental effect of their foliage, which is diverse in size, shape, texture and coloration. Hostas have become the number one selling perennial according to both the Perennial Plant Association and the American Nurseryman magazine. A large number of different varieties, ease of cultivation - including low maintenance, many uses and values with other plants in the landscape, and wide availability in garden centers and nurseries contribute to their popularity. As a general rule, if other plants can grow in the soil, hostas are sturdy enough to grow there, too. The ideal soil is one that is enriched, moist but well drained, and slightly lower than neutral pH, that is, just on the acidic side. Hostas benefit from large additions of organic matter, such as garden compost, leaf mold, well rotted manure, composted pine bark and peat moss in the planting hole, especially if the soil is heavy clay or light and sandy.
Planting. To plant a hosta, dig a hole about 9-12” deep; the depth depends upon the size of the hosta. The width also depends on the size of the hosta being planted. Hosta roots generally spread out horizontally, so be generous with the width of the hole. Add soil with up to 50% organic matter (peat moss, leaf mold, compost, etc.) to the hole to plant the hosta properly, tamping it firmly to help prevent air pockets and settlement later. Plant the hosta so the area where the leaves and roots meet is level with the soil. Add and gently firm the soil, but do not pack the soil around the plant. Water well.
Watering. Although hostas have been known to tolerate severe drought conditions, they prefer an abundant amount of water throughout the growing season. About one inch of water per week is recommended, whether from rains, hand watering, or an irrigation system. It is best to water early in the morning so the leaves will dry out, thus discouraging disease and insects. Hostas have a very high transpiration rate due to their large amount of foliage. Too little water can cause mild burning of the leaf tips. The leaf tissue farthest from the roots becomes stressed from low water availability. This condition is increased if a large amount of fertilizer is present. Short-term water stress will cause some hosta to show drooping leaves, but because hosta leaves are so resilient, they may not show any long-term symptoms. If the drought is severe, the hosta may go "drought dormant" and stop growing. Following application of large volumes of water, the plant usually will start growing again. Winter damage can occur if new growth begins too late in the fall and does not get a chance to go properly dormant for winter. The best program is to make sure your hostas have plenty of water all season long.
Fertilizing. Hostas respond well to fertilizing. Regardless of the fertilizer type or method of application, most hosta growers apply a balanced ratio of nitrogen, phosphate, and potash such as 10-10-10 in the spring. Either chemical or organic fertilizers can be used depending on personal choice. In highly enriched soils, an annual application of leaf mold or garden compost in autumn is sufficient.
Mulch. Mulches have three major advantages for the hosta garden. They help by reducing evaporative water loss from the soil, they assist in weed control, and have decorative merit as an attractive background for the plants. Regardless of the type mulch chosen, do not mulch heavily. 1 to 1 1/2 inches is sufficient. Most important, do not pile the mulch up against the divisions (shoots) as this can invite insects such as slugs. It is best to keep the mulch two to three inches from the petioles (footstock of the leaf).
Containers. Most hostas will do well in containers. There should be no more than 2" to 3" of space between the outside wall of the pot and outer-most roots of the plant. Plastic pots are better at retaining moisture. Good advice is to place a small square of fiberglass screening over the drainage holes to keep pests from entering and soil from falling out. Use a high quality potting soil to promote good drainage, moisture retention and resist compaction. Hostas in containers require more frequent watering than those grown directly in the ground.
To learn more about growing hostas in your garden, please plan to attend our Wichita Hosta Society meetings on the third Tuesday night of the month, location for that month will be listed on our Calendar of Events tab. Thank you.