Archive for Thursday, April 10, 2008

Perennial allure

Hostas classic, varied garden shade plant

The plantain lily, more commonly known as a hosta, is a quintessential classic garden shade plant.

The plantain lily, more commonly known as a hosta, is a quintessential classic garden shade plant.

April 10, 2008


I think just about everyone has planted a plantain lily, more commonly known as a hosta.

They are a quintessential classic garden shade plant. No garden would be complete without a few hostas peppered here and there, which is probably why most people - gardeners or not - have planted one at some point in time or can at least point to that waxy, broad-leafed plant and exclaim, "I know that one! That is a hosta!"

Why are hostas such alluring plants to sow? Well, they are super-easy to grow, shade loving, cold-hardy perennials that require almost no special needs or attention. They come in a slew of colors, sizes, textures and shapes and they even sport heavenly scented, swordlike blooms in shades of lavender and white.

But as most of us know, the real reason to grow hostas is for the foliage. The blooms are just icing on the flora's cake.

Those thick robust leaves come in a wide range of colors, including grays, blues, golden yellows, creamy tones and greens ranging from shades of chartreuse to emerald. Along with the spectrum of colors, many hosta varieties have intricate variegated leaves. They might be multi-colored, speckled, stripped, or edged in two or more tones.

While the majority of hosta leaves are heart- or round-shaped, you will also find narrow leaves, cup-shaped leaves, wavy leaves and miniature leaves. This garden staple has that distinct honor not only for the "wow" factor that a gigantic variety like Sum and Substance can elicit but also for the popular petite series that are superb for borders like Pandora's Box or in containers like the minuscule Stiletto.

If you have a shady corner of the garden and you want to make it a focal point but your not sure how, plant Sum and Substance.

Mikell Adams, avid gardener, says: "My favorite hostas run from the very large and showy Sum and Substance variety to the very small and dainty Stiletto."

In the case of defining a space, bigger is definitely better, and this big boy is super-sized and can hold and keep the attention of any garden viewer. The deep veins line its enormous leaves. The leaves start out a light green color and morph to chartreuse as the weather warms. It blooms pale lavender flowers. Be warned however, that Sum and Substance is not an overnight success. Patience is necessary as this mammoth hosta could take up to five years to fully establish itself.

Patriot is a hosta variety with bright white margins on the leaves that will really brighten up a dark garden. Patriot is a good choice for Kansas gardens, where the summers can get brutally hot; this variety emerges a bit later in the spring and has mid summer lavender blooms.

Halcyon is a wonderful blue hosta with heart-shaped leaves that have deep prominent veins and white blooms that emerge in mid summer; it is a simple yet very sophisticated hosta choice. If you rub blue hostas between your fingers oftentimes the blue waxy coating comes off onto your hands. Heavy rainstorms or being burned in the sun can create the same outcome. No worries, however, as the blue will return with new growth, but a green smudge can remain.

Cutting Edge gets its name because of the "piecrust" edged leaves. With wavy, irregular foliage, Cutting Edge will even curl in time, revealing a blue undertone to the green-on-top leaves. The blooms emerge in late summer in lavender.

Pat Lechtenberg, Douglas County master gardener, has a few hosta favorites.

"I like Paul's Glory and June," she says. "They are both medium sized and not too large for smaller spaces. I have a miniature that I keep in a much protected place just because it's so small, Pandora's Box."

June is, as stated, a medium-sized hosta with chartreuse leaves that change to a creamy yellow by summer. June achieves its best color if it receives morning sun and afternoon shade. June multiplies rapidly and its thick leaves are relatively impervious to slugs. It will bloom white blossoms in mid summer.

Krossa Regal grows up rather than out, making this hosta very interesting for its architectural aspects. While it is a rather large hosta, it performs very well in a container because you can plant low-growing flora at its base. It will bloom mid to late summer in lavender.

Sun Power is a hosta that does not require as much shade. The ruffled yellow-green leaves appear in spring and change to a gold by summer. The lavender blooms pop against the yellow leaves in the spring.

Blue Mouse Ears is a petite, mini hosta that creates a perfect mound. Just like its larger cousins, Blue Mouse Ears has a thick, waxy leaf. It works well as a border or container plant and in mid summer the blossom buds balloon before opening in shades of lavender.

The Kansas State Extension Research Facility has placed the following varieties of hosta on their Prairie Stars & Blooms list: Gold Drop, Golden Tiara, Halcyon, Krossa Regal, Lemon Lime, Pacific Blue Edger, Parky's Prize, Samuel Blue, Striptease and Sum and Substance.

If your hostas are getting a bit crowded, the best time to divide them is now. By diving into this garden chore, you'll ensure that no damage to the leaves are done and that the roots have plenty of time to become established before winter visits our area again.

If you witness holes in those gorgeous broad leaves, the slugs have most likely found your hostas to be a smorgasbord of earthly delights. To keep the slugs away, try clearing any debris from the base of the hosta and using mulch that is not wood based. Hostas need at least 1 inch of water a week to thrive and a thick layer of mulch to aid in retaining that moisture. Other than that, lean back and enjoy the lively textures, colors and sizes of the handsome hosta.

Jennifer Oldridge, a Kansas University graduate, is an avid gardener who previously operated a landscaping business.


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