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Growing Guide Hosta (Plantain Lily)

The hybridizers have gone wild with Hostas, which are now available in sizes from a few inches to several feet tall with foliage in many bold or subdued patterns and colors. The larger varieties can be truly architectural and stand out as specimen plants, while other forms are ideal for edging, lighting up a woodland, or stabilizing a slope.

Light/Watering: Drought-tolerant once established, these plants are at their best in evenly moist soil in partial shade, although a very few will tolerate full sun with sufficient water. Once established, Hostas can take a good bit of drought, and will compete successfully with tree roots in the North, but need regular watering in the South.

Fertilizer/Soil and pH: Hostas thrive in average, even damp, soils that are slightly acid and will benefit from a light application of fertilizer in early spring. These low-maintenance plants can be ignored and they will still perform; to get the most out of them, however, provide deep, rich soil and consistent watering along with occasional side-dressing of compost or aged manure. An organic mulch is appreciated but keep it away from the crowns.

Pests/Diseases: Slugs are the bane of Hostas; use slug bait, dishes of beer, and diatomaceous earth to discourage them. Voles have been known to decimate plantings by eating the roots; trap or use another method to repel these varmints.

Companions: Hostas are lovely with other shade-lovers such as Ferns, Tiarella, taller Campanulas, Phlox divaricata, Daylilies and, especially, true Lilies. They are ideal when planted amid patches of spring-flowering bulbs, as their foliage will obscure the bulb foliage as it dies back.

Reflowering: Very few varieties will reflower; cut flower spikes off at their base when blooming is over.

Dividing/Transplanting: These forgiving plants are best divided in spring when the new leaves are still furled up, but both division and transplanting are successful throughout the season if attention is paid to thorough follow-up watering.

End-of-Season Care: Foliage should be cut back in the fall to eliminate cover for overwintering slugs but this can also done in the spring.

Calendar of Care

Early Spring: Apply a light application of balanced or slow-release fertilizer or side-dress with compost and organic amendments when new growth appears. Divide or transplant now before leaves unfurl. Water newly planted plants well if it is unseasonably dry, as Hostas prefer evenly moist soil.

Mid-Spring: Mulch plants after soil has warmed, keeping mulch away from the crowns to discourage rot.

Late Spring: Watch for slug damage and use preventative measures if slugs are active.

Summer: Groom plants by removing yellow or dead leaves and cut flower spikes back as they finish blooming, unless you want to collect seed.

Fall: Cut foliage back to soil level. For new plants, provide a winter mulch of evergreen boughs or salt marsh hay after the ground freezes to help prevent heaving.

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