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Hostas turn shade gardens into mini tropical paradise
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
After two recent trips, I remain convinced that the most striking plant for shade gardens is the hosta.
Though summer is officially just beginning, you have to admit the heat is stifling and making you head to the shade pretty quickly. If you are going to stay outdoors in Mississippi, hostas make it seem cooler and tranquil.
I recently toured gardens in Aberdeen, and one home had the prettiest hosta collection I have ever seen in Mississippi. The Sum and Substance hostas were massive, leaving everyone in awe. Then a few days later I had the opportunity to see a hosta farm in Monroe, La., where there were more varieties than I knew existed.
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 add a tropical flair to the garden.
If there was a plant group that humbles a horticulturist, it is the hosta. Hostas come from Japan, Korea and China, and there are about 40 species. There are thousands and thousands of varieties and hybrids, making it the collector's dream plant.
A look at your garden center probably will reveal far fewer than thousands to choose from; nevertheless, you will find a wide variety, including Patriot, Sum 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 many are home grown.
The tropical look of hostas combines 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. The same light, water and soil requirements make them good companion plants.
They come in shades of green, blue and striking variegations. Hostas make great border plants for woodland trails, and their leaves look handsome in contrast with pine straw mulch.
You can feel confident planting nursery-grown hostas, and you might even find a good buy or two. 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 six to eight weeks. The one problem gardeners have with hostas is that slugs like to munch on them. You can help the situation by not watering in the afternoon.
There also are varieties known to be more slug-resistant, such as Big Daddy, Hadspen Blue, Inniswood and Fragrant Blue. A couple of my personal favorites for the garden are Guacamole, Paul's Glory and Frosted Jade.
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, and once you start, I promise you will get hooked.