Hostas in the home garden:
how does one become a hosta-holic?
Anu Nurmsalu, Kaevandi Farm
If only anyone could remember how hostas ended up in our gardens! Hostas arrived in Europe in 1712 only and were officially confirmed as garden plants at the International Botanical Congress in Vienna in 1905. Hostas have been a little marginalised with all the fancy peonies, chrysanthemums and irises there in the gardens already.
I have often heard those admiring hostas say that they have all the hostas already, that they have this plant and that one and that one as well. Much to their surprise, there are hundreds of thousands of hosta varieties.
I grow hostas in my garden for the very reason of the diversity of these plants. Right now, we have about 200 varieties and there is still room for newcomers. Below, I will introduce the varieties in my collection and my favourites, which differ in their dimensions, colour, blossoms and shape of the leaves.
Miniature hostas (up to 15 cm tall).
Blue Mouse Ears and varieties of the type. Each has its own peculiarities.
Small hostas (20–40 cm)
Silver Threads and Gold Needles
Medium hostas (40-60 cm)
Large hostas (up to 90 cm)
Rock and Roll
Giant hostas are all varieties that are over 90 cm tall:
Hostas with red leaf veins:
Avocado (a true sales hit over the past years)
The hosta Praying Hands has a narrow golden yellow leaf rim, whereas the hosta Hands Up has a wide creamy yellow leaf rim. These varieties grow side by side in my garden because of their similarities. The growing shape of the plant corresponds to its variety name, looking like hands put together for prayer.
Wheee is a really special and exciting variety. It is a small variety with narrow ruffled and creamy yellow rimmed leaves. Curly Fries have even narrower and more ruffled leaves.
White Feather is rather small in stature and the leaves are white when sprouting. Green stripes appear as the plant grows and gets more beautiful every day. By the autumn, the hosta turns green to prepare for the winter. In the first growth years, the White Feather can be quite capricious and may test the gardener’s patience.
How are hostas propagated?
It is easy to propagate hostas by splitting the clump. Depending on the variety, the plants grow at different speeds. A shrub that has grown for an average of 4–5 years is easier to split physically than older plants. This should be done early in the spring when the leaf buds have already emerged. First, the clump should be dug up and washed to see the shoots better and split the shoots into divisions with a sharp knife. Do not use a shovel every year to divide a clump; rather, do it only once. Seeds can also be used to divide the species, and sometimes a new sport is produced. A sport is a mutation of the leaf bud that can lead to a new variety.
Damages, pests and diseases
On the whole, a hosta is an intelligent plant sprouting when the night frosts are over, and growing fast. It is nice to see Empress Wu and Praying Hands starting their growth together in the spring. Figuratively speaking, Empress Wu is growing with a crackle of power.
The leaf tips turning white is a sign of frostbite. The plants should be covered up if necessary.
Sometimes, hosta leaves develop sunburn. The varieties that need more sun to grow are more sensitive, but the soil tends to dry out or the sun may be too bright in the morning after the night frost. If the leaves on a shrub are wrinkled, yellowing and dry, a more shaded site should be sought.
Slugs, snails, mice and water rats are some of the worst pests for hostas. Control methods are up to everyone to decide on their own.
The fungal and bacterial diseases on hostas are usually only discovered when the plant exhibits serious symptoms of illness. If powdery mildew or grey mould appears on the plant, the roots shrivel or the plant itself shrivels, the cause of the disease is a fungus.
If the plant forms inexplicable patches, there is proliferation atypical to the variety, or wet rot appears, bacteria are the cause. We cannot see what causes the diseases. Often, the culprits lie in the soil where there is a lack of nutrients.
In our gardens, hosta used to be free from diseases for a long time. At the beginning of the 2000s, many new varieties emerged and as a result, we “inherited” the hosta virus X (HVX). A peculiar pattern appears on the leaves, looking like ink splatters, plus dark and light spots, and the leaves bubble up. It may happen that the virus is spread unknowingly with plant juices while caring for the plants. The incubation period of the virus may be up to 7 years. If you have a hosta with symptoms like this in your garden, do not share it. The plant should be burned and all gardening tools disinfected.
Hosta has many varieties
According to various sources, there are about 60 types of hostas. The ones less well known to us are H. rupifraga, H. Clausa and H. opipara. The more well-known ones are H. Undulata, which is very widely spread, H. Montana (mountain hosta) and H. sieboldiana.
Hosta is a good plant for designing shaded areas and flowerbed borders, and for structure and contrast in a perennial bed. The number of varieties is virtually limitless. The hosta is used to a small extent in city landscaping and container planting.
It does not require too much maintenance if everything that is necessary is done when making the flower bed. A good site should be found with sufficient light and moisture; root weeds should be removed, good organic manure or minerals added – then, there is nothing else but autumn clean-up to do. If you are not happy with the way the hostas are forming their colour, check the movement of the sun: removing a few tree branches may help. If possible, add horse manure and mulch the bed. The result will make you happy: you have discovered the charming nuances of this plant and will start bringing in new varieties soon without even noticing it. This means, you will have become a hosta-holic.