Guest Article for the Tallahassee Democrat
June 19, 2015 Release for Tallahassee Democrat
By: Kathy Kinsey
Photo by Kathy Kinsey
Do you have a favorite plant? One that you would easily move heaven and earth to make room for and one that you could never have too many of..…well you are not alone if that makes you feel any better. I think as we become gardeners, we pick a plant that we fall in love with and nothing had better mess with it either!
Some love ferns, some African violets, and others love orchids and while all of these are great plants, there is one that is the love of my garden life. And I love all of them, small to extra large and all colors. But over the years of growing them, I have found that they do much better in pots. I planted four small ones together in a ceramic pot and I just love the look. And with them being planted in this manner, no armadillo can unearth it and cause so much grief the following day that it may actually cause you to give up on gardening all together.
Hosta, a genus of plants commonly known as Hostas or plantain lilies, is a hardy, clump forming herbaceous perennial that grows from rhizomes or stolons. Four types of leaf bases are found – heart-shaped, truncate, wedge-shaped and attenuate. Belonging to the family Asparagaceae, subfamily Agavoideae, it is native to northeast Asia, China, Japan and Russia. They are named after the Austrian botanist Nicholas Thomas Host (1761-1834) who just happened to be the physician to the Emperor Frances II. There are 40 species and well over 1,000 cultivars. Though originally cultivated for the shade, some have been bred to handle full sun. Highly prized for their clean and sculptured leaves in a spectacular range of color, it is one of the most popular of all the foliage plants.
Though they grow best in rich, friable loam with a pH of 6, they will also grow in alkaline soils. Soil should be well drained but moist. This can be achieved by mixing in an abundance of organic matter and then by adding more over the years. Sandy soils are poor soils – the plant will look thin and pretty miserable so you may want to purchase some potting soil, compost and just pot them – make sure you keep them watered.
Moving one out of a pot to the ground – you will need to tease out the roots before planting it. Don’t worry too much about losing soil from around the roots which were growing in it because it is actually prudent in removing some of it so the roots can make a new start in fresh soil. Trim away any dead or damaged roots with a sharp knife or disinfected pruning shears. Remember not to plant the crown any deeper than where it sits in the pot. Fill in with good potting soil and water it in, making sure all the air bubbles are gone. Keep it watered for the next few months if no rain has fallen…then just keep the ground moist.
They make a heavy demand on the available soil for nitrogen (N) so you may need to use a high nitrogen fertilizer whenever mulch is applied. First application of fertilizer should be in early spring followed by one in early summer after the foliage has fully opened. Make sure to water the roots – not the leaves – early in the morning so they have the entire day to make use of it. Never water them at night as this will invite the snails and slugs to the area where your plant is growing. Both of these can do considerable leaf and stem damage. Give them protection from the wind and don’t plant them too close to the base of large trees as there will be competition for nutrients and moisture. Tree roots may also invade the space where the plant’s roots should be growing. But you can always put a potted plant next to the tree if that is the look you are wanting. And the good thing about a pot….you can move it easier than a plant in the ground!
Pests? Yes, of course. Deer, rabbits, voles, slugs, snails and the occasional grasshopper will dine on them. You can use beer traps on the slugs and snails – any beer will work so if you have bought some that you just don’t care for and you have this problem – this would be a good way to rid yourself of it and them. Slugs and snails will actually drown in the beer! Good luck on the others. This is why I pot mine and keep them inside my garden. The leaves are toxic to dogs, cats and horses due to Saponins that are contained in them. Symptoms include vomiting and diarrhea. I am happy to say none of my cats have ever messed with my plants – they are just too busy chasing all those lizards out there!
With such a variety of this plant available, from blue-gray, green and variegated, small to large, it is difficult to see how one could design a garden without considering them. As for me, I find they add a certain old world charm to my garden. Their stately nature just tells me I am doing my job in taking care of them. My garden has come into its own these last couple of years, and as I grow as a gardener, I feel my garden grows, too. I would not change anything about it….I love all my walkways, the areas where I can sit, my greenhouse, the swing at the side of the greenhouse, my pond with all those goldfish, all the plants, well I could just go on and on….give this plant a try…I bet you will fall in love with it, too!
Kathy Kinsey is a Master Gardener volunteer with the UF/Leon County Cooperative Extension Office. You may also email us at Ask-A-Mastergardener@leoncountyfl.gov with any gardening questions you may have.