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hostas@whiteoaknursery.com

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Blue Hostas

The blue color in hostas is generated by light reflecting off a waxy substance covering a green leaf. As the season progresses and that waxy coating is degraded by exposure to sun and rain, hostas tend to lose their "blueness." Thus, blue hostas grown in sheltered environments (i.e., less sun exposure) will tend to retain their blue color longer than those exposed to harsher conditions.

Dividing Hosta Clumps

At the nursery we divide clumps every two or three years to increase our stock. We perform this function in the spring shortly after the "bullet" stage...when the divisions have just begun emerging from the ground.

Try to salvage as much of the root system as practical. After the clump is dug, we wash the roots so that we can see where to divide....otherwise you may cut too many roots.

Most hostas have a basal plate of hard tissue between the foliage and the roots. We use sharp kitchen knives to perform the actual division...using a size that fits the size of the hosta. Try to cut through only this basal plate area...and avoid cutting off roots.

For hostas without this hard tissue basal plate, we have found it best to NOT use a knife to divide. Instead of cutting, use a gentle twisting movement to separate the clump. For hostas without a solid basal plate, this method insures that fewer roots are disturbed.

We generally transplant immediately after division, although sometimes we'll allow the plant to "harden off" for a day or so. The hardening off process may reduce chances of rot....but we rarely have this problem even when transplanting immediately.

Fertilizing Hostas

In general, it is best to wait until a newly planted specimen has put out new roots before applying fertilzer. An exception is timed release fertilizer which may be applied to new plantings. For our established hostas we feed with a balanced granular fertilizer (13-13-13) in the spring before the leaves have fully emerged. After the leaves have emerged we recommend using a balanced water soluable fertilizer. If you use granular fertilzer after the leaves have emerged, try to ensure that none of the granules stick in the foliage....most fertilzers will burn the leaves. Generally, a good overhead watering will wash the fertilizer off the leaves. If you have access to well rotted animal waste compost you may add this to your beds....but keep the compost from hilling up on the plant's growing tips as this promotes rot.

Hosta Pests - Deer

We've tried most of the common deer deterrant methods. Most work temporarily.

We have found that the most effective deterrent is the use of Crystalized Coyote Urine. Here is how you do it. The product is sold under the name "Shake-away".. There are several formulations, so be sure to buy Coyote Urine, not Fox Urine.

Shake-Away All Natural Deer & Large Animal Repellent (Coyote Urine Granules) 28.5 oz size - $15.95 at Amazon.com.

Do not follow the directions on the label, as the product will wash away after a rainfall. Instead do the following:

Place two tablespoons of "Shake-Away" Granules in a small piece on knotted nylon stocking. Tie a piece of string around the nylon stocking piece to form a small ball - use a length of string of about 18" to have at least a 14" piece to use for tying to a support. Next, take a small disposable plastic glass (like a Dixie Cup) and punch a small hole in the center of the bottom of the cup. Thread the long end of the string through the hole so the nylon stocking is drawn up into the cup. The cup acts as a moisture barrier, so the odor of the Coyote Urine is not washed away by rainfall. Now tie the cups around the perimeter of the area you wish to protect, hanging the cups at about four feet above the ground. We space the cups about fifteen yards apart around the perimeter of our hosta beds. If hung in the spring, you will need to replace the Coyote Urine granules in mid-summer. We have had very little damage to our hostas using this method.

The only damage we have had is an occasional nip on fragrant hostas. Deer have a definite preference for fragrant hostas...we suspect they're "sweeter."

Large dogs can also be effective guardians of the hosta patch.

Hosta Pests - Rabbits

We are fortunate to have an active fox and coyote population in our rural location, so rabbits do not have the opportunity to expand their population. Rabbits can be captured or killed in traps. Generally, the only time we have trouble with rabbits is early in the spring when the leaves are just emerging. Once the plants mature we rarely see rabbit damage. Again, the common methods of deterrent (human hair, blood, soap, fox urine, etc.) have not been effective for us.

Hosta Pests - Slugs

We are fortunate in having a population of nearly fifty wild turkeys that frequent our nursery year round. Turkeys eat, among other things, slugs, so we do not have a problem. I know many of you do.

According to Warren Pollock, a well known hosta writer, a product called "Slug Gone Wool Pellets" is effective in controlling slugs.

"Slug Gone" are pellets, about 1/8-3/16 inch diameter and about ¼-1 inch long. A bag will usually have crushed and broken pieces. When placed around a plant and watered in, the pellets swell and “self-felt” to form a continuous wool mat on the soil. Allegedly, minute fibers in the wool are an irritant to the mollusks’ “feet,” hindering their slithering locomotion. Consequently slugs and snails avoid the mat.

This product is available from Amazon.com for about $20 for a 3.5 liter bag.

Hosta Pests - Voles

Voles (and perhaps field mice) are the biggest pest problem. They burrow under the roots and eat not only the fibrous roots but the basal plate as well. Generally, this damage is performed in the winter when the plants are dormant. Most of the plants damaged in this way will live but will be much reduced in size. If you suspect voles, dig the plant and examine the roots. The lack of roots will be obvious and the rodent's teeth marks on the basal plate are frequently visible. Luckily, voles are fairly easily controlled by putting poison seed (which can be obtained in most garden centers) in their holes/burrows. Snakes are also fond of small rodents.

For another effective method that we employ, refer to the following:

Organic Vole & Mouse Control - Castor Oil Treatment

Richard Merritt's New Hampshire Hosta method works, effectively eliminating vole damage.

Potted Hostas

We use a number of potted hostas in our home gardens. Each spring we fill the pots with compost and then plant the selected speciman....usually a clump. If compost is not available you'll want to make sure the planting medium has some form of time release fertilizer included or added, since watering frequently (which is usually required for potted plants) leaches nutrients. Clay pots require more frequent watering than plastic pots.

We have some potted hostas that have been in the same pot for five years. In the fall, after the foliage has died back, we store the pots in an unheated hoop house (an unheated shed or garage works just as well). Pots can be stacked if space is limited. We place same sized large pots at the floor level, then place 2 x 2 pieces of lumber over the first layer of pots. Smaller pots can go on top of those. Hostas require some moisture on the winter, especially if you live in a location where the temperatures fluctuate from freezing to above freezing. We have found that placing a snowball in each pot supplies the right amount of water. As temperatures rise, the snowball melts. As the snowballs melt, add a fresh snowball to continue providing moisture.

Some of our Southern customers have told me they refrigerate potted hostas in December to fool the plant into dormancy and then take the plant out in February at which time the plant will emerge from its dormant state. Now that is dedication to your hostas!

Refrigerating Hostas

This tip applies to early spring delivered hostas.

If your hosta order arrives at a time that makes it difficult or inconvenient for you to plant them quickly we recommend you refrigerate them. First, unwrap the plants to determine if the roots are still moist. If they are, rewrap them and refrigerate as is. If the roots are dry soak them for a few hours in tepid water, then re-wrap them....being careful to make sure they are just damp and not soggy. Be very careful to ensure there is no moisture on the leaves. The length of time you may successfully refrigerate hostas is directly related to how far the leaves have emerged. If the hosta are in the "bullet" stage...just starting to emerge from the ground...they may be stored for several weeks. If the foliage is more mature you'll have to plant them after a few days.

Shade/Light For Hostas

Most hostas grow better with some shade. The ideal shade condition is high, dappled shade. Conversely, hostas will NOT do well in continuous dark shade....such as that provided by low growing evergreens. Green and gold hostas will generally take more sun than blues. The same hosta will look different when grown in sunny versus shady conditions. In general, the more sun a plant is exposed to, the lighter the colors will be.

Some hostas can tolerate much more sun. Please refer to the Sun Tolerant Hostas Tip for more information.

Soil For Hostas

Hostas will tolerate a fairly wide range of soils. However, they prefer good tilth conditions and a neutral to slightly acid pH. We amend our yellow clay with course construction sand and LOTS of compost. We use composted horse manure.as well as compost from our household compost bins. Since compost tends to disappear we add more every couple of years or so.

Spacing Hostas

Of course, the smaller varieties need to be planted closer together than the larger varieties. In general, we find that planting the Large types about 30-36 inches apart will result in a "filled-in" look in a couple of years. Planting Medium varieties about 18-24 inches, Smalls about 12-18 inches and Dwarfs 6-8 inches apart will achieve the same result in most cases. Please keep in mind that some varieties reproduce faster than others and some spread faster than others too. These suggested spacings will achieve a "ground cover" look....but if you're trying to create a "specimen" garden you'll probably want to increase these spacings so that the individual plants can be appreciated without the distraction of being cheek to jowl with their neighbors.

We list plant sizes at maturity (five years or more) in our catalog. The listed plant sizes will give you a good idea of proper spacing in the average location. Remember that the amount of sun and water, as well as your geographic location effects the mature size of your hosta clump. Hostas grown in northern states will grow larger than hostas grown in the south.

Streaked Hostas

Streaked hostas are generally unstable. This means that the plant will eventually change into a different form if left undisturbed. Usually such plants will change into a light color edged variety, a light center type or will develop solid color leaves. Examples of such hostas are: 'Dorothy Benedict,' 'Sweet Standard,' 'Fascination,' 'Galaxy,' and 'William Lachman.' In some cases the new form has been registered as a separate variety. For example, the cream edged form of 'Dorothy Benedict' is 'Nifty Fifty' and the all blue form is 'Janet's Joy.' Streaked hostas may generally be preserved in this form by periodically digging the plant and removing any divisions that do not conform to the desired streaked look. However, such plants will never achieve the huge size of varieties that are left undisturbed for many years.

Sun Tolerant Hostas

Hostas Demonstrating Full Sun Tolerance Potential
(Suggestions taken from the American Hosta Society and Home Gardeners’ Recommendations)

Yellow/Gold Hosta: August Moon, Feather Boa, Gold Regal, Golden Sculpture, Prairieland Memories, Rising Sun, Squash Casserole, Sum and Substance, Sun Power

Yellow Variegated Hosta: Gold Standard, Inniswood, Pineapple Upsidedown Cake, Regal Splendor, Sundance

White Variegated Hosta: Allan P. Mc Connell,  H. undulata Albomarginata, Francee, Minuteman, Patriot

Green Hosta: Golden Anniversary, Invincible, Lancifolia, Pearl Lake

Green Variegated Hosta: Whirlwind

Fragrant Hosta: H. plantaginea, Aphrodite, Fragrant Bouquet, Fried Bananas, Fried Green Tomatoes, Guacamole, Holy Mole, Honeybells, Invincible, Mojito, Royal Standard, Summer Fragrance, So Sweet, Sugar & Cream,

Transplanting Hostas

We have many clumps in our home gardens that have been undisturbed since 1989. However, if a hosta is not doing well in one location it sometimes helps to move it. In any event, hostas are best transplanted in the spring. We prefer to move them in the "bullet" stage....i.e., when the divisions are about an inch or two above ground and the leaves are still tightly wrapped. They should be replanted at the same depth they were growing in the old location. Obviously, you should try to preserve as much of the root system as you can. If you don't plan on dividing the clump, try to keep the root ball intact as you move it.

When transplanting, be sure to amend the soil. We prefer to add course construction sand and composted horse manure as we transplant. Adding compost when you transplant will give the plant a boost in its new location, and help in water retention.

Watering Hostas

When exposed to high heat and direct sunlight mature hostas will need at least an inch of water per week. However, in more normal conditions established clumps can generally go for several weeks without water. Obviously, dwarf and small hostas with their shallower roots will need more frequent water than larger varieties. In addition, newly planted hostas, regardless of size, need fairly frequent watering until their root systems become established. Hostas will tolerate some standing water but if that condition lasts for more than a couple of days rot may develop.

Winter Care For Hostas

Hostas need a period of dormancy, brought on by colder weather (and perhaps decreased light). Click here for a plant hardiness zone weather map. We prefer to remove the foliage in the fall, after it has died back. Leaving the foliage intact over the winter can provide a home for rodents and insect pests. In climates involving a frequent freeze/thaw cycle (like Illinois) hostas may heave. For the medium and larger varieties this usually is not a big problem. But dwarf and small hosta may die when their root systems become exposed. Thus, we recommend covering the smallest hosta with a couple of inches of compost (or peat moss) so that if they heave they'll find themselves in a friendlier environment. Then in mid or late March before the leaves start to emerge, we gently rake off the compost.






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