Published: 08 August 2015
Hosta Delights
The interest in Hosta species has grown over the past few years, some take a very keen interest indeed.
My name is Chris and I am a Hostaholic. Now that’s off my chest I would like to explain why I have no inclination to give up my vice that has given me many years of pleasure.
My addiction started almost twenty years ago when working as a landscape gardener. I was viewing a new job and listening to the customer’s requirements. The customer believed in a ‘scorched earth’ style of gardening, anything that had the temerity to grow above knee height was to be dealt a severe sanction with the secateurs.

Hosta 'August Moon'

In the firing line was a magnificent specimen of Hosta sieboldiana ‘Frances Williams’ taking pride of place in a gravel garden and displaying the type of exuberance that was going to get it in trouble. I managed to get the plant a stay of execution until winter during which I carefully lifted the magnificent beast and took it home. I divided the plant several times, each division capable of filling a half barrel. I still have several specimens, as do my friends and family because I need to continue dividing it every other year. At the moment my specimens are in full flower, masses of white flowers pushing their way through resplendent foliage. The thick leathery leaves are generally untroubled by slugs. It would be untrue to say they are slug proof but they are certainly not martyrs to molluscs.

I always grow my Hostas in pots, partly to make it harder for slugs to attack them but also because I think they are ideal subjects for growing in containers. The larger leaved, more vigorous varieties make a bold statement, I prefer Hostas with attitude. I do not care for the smaller leaved varieties, I know they have their fans but like the white flowered version of the blue poppy, I find them a pointless variant. The new tetrapoid (four rather than two sets of chromosomes) varieties are very vigorous and tend to have thicker foliage unappreciated by slugs. Two tetrapoid varieties worthy of mention are ‘Fragrant Queen’ with stunning green and white variegated foliage and fragrant flowers and ‘Cathedral Windows’ with handsome yellow and green leaves.  There are several excellent Hosta specialists offering an impressive selection of varieties. A quick internet search will locate them.

Hosta 'Gold Standard'

I seldom find problems growing Hostas in an open position provided that they are kept well watered. Light shade from strong sunlight is appreciated. I pot my Hostas in a mixture of three parts quality soil less compost to one part sterilised loam by volume. I find that loam adds stability to the container as well as improving moisture and nutrient retention. I give my Hostas a liquid feed every 10 to 14 days. This really helps the plants to produce luxuriant foliage and is well worth the effort and expense. Hostas dislike dry soil or compost but provided you have a decent sized pot and moisture retentive compost, a weekly soaking (and I mean soaking) is usually enough even in the height of summer.
Most gardeners know that slugs like Hostas almost as much as we do but they prefer thinner leaved varieties. Copper tape has some effect in deterring slugs but I find it is not entirely effective. A good mulch of sharp grit around the crowns in spring just as the plants come into growth can provide additional protection. I avoid using slug pellets as I am concerned about the environmental damage that they do.

Hosta 'Patriot'

Pot grown Hostas can suffer from vine weevil, I have known attacks to occur but mercifully never with my plants. However, regular division of plants will enable you to spot the troublesome pests eating the roots of your prized plants.  It is worth teasing off as much soil compost as possible from the roots to get every last larva. Put any larvae that you find on your bird table as a treat for the robins.
Divide your container grown plants when they have become too congested in the pot. Failure to do this will affect the quality of the foliage and deny you the opportunity to get some new, free Hosta plants. Finding homes for Hosta divisions is never a problem; I have a waiting list of friends only too happy to take them off my hands. For plants in smaller pots, I slice the root ball into two or three pieces with a pensioned off kitchen knife at the start of new growth in spring. Pot the divisions up quickly in decent compost and the plants will soon forgive your brutality. I divide my large plants with a sharp border spade. The secret is to make good, clean cuts.
Magnificent foliage, attractive and possibly fragrant flowers, Hostas are truly versatile. There are even some people who recommend using the young uncurling leaves of Hosta as a vegetable. I would prefer to keep my Hostas intact and sacrifice a lettuce but after all, I am a hostaholic !
Reported by Chris Whitelock  

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