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Hostas - unmatched stars of shade gardens
Missouri Ag Connection - 04/01/2024

For those seeking to brighten shaded areas of their garden, look no further than the hosta. Praised by University of Missouri Extension horticulturist David Trinklein as the "Perennial of the Year 2024" by the National Garden Bureau, hostas offer a spectrum of visual interest with minimal maintenance.

Hostas boast a remarkable variety in size, shape, and color. From petite options like "Baby Bunting" to giants like "Emperor Wu," there's a hosta to suit any space. Their foliage comes in a kaleidoscope of greens, blues, and yellows, with some varieties boasting captivating variegations.

The impressive diversity of hostas extends to their leaf characteristics as well. Hosta leaves can be strap-shaped, lance-shaped, or even heart-shaped, with surfaces ranging from smooth to ruffled. While some varieties maintain a consistent color throughout the season, others like viridescent hostas showcase a mesmerizing transformation from light to dark green.

While most consider hostas shade-loving plants, Trinklein advises against placing them in deep shade. Ideally, they prefer a balance of morning sun and afternoon shade, or dappled sunlight. This is especially true for blue-toned hostas, which require more shade than their green and yellow counterparts.

Planting hostas is a breeze. Amending the soil with organic matter like compost or manure ensures proper drainage and provides essential nutrients. Established container plants or divisions of dormant hostas are ideal for planting. Water the plants thoroughly after placing them in the designated holes, ensuring the soil level sits where it did in the container.

There's some debate among gardening experts regarding hosta fertilization. While some believe most soils provide sufficient nutrients, others recommend a balanced fertilizer application in early spring, followed by two more through summer. Regardless of the approach, avoid fertilizing past mid-July as this can hinder winter preparation.

Keeping your hostas hydrated is crucial, particularly during hot summers. Aim for roughly 1.5 inches of water per week. Drooping or burned leaf tips indicate underwatering. Water in the morning to allow leaves to dry quickly and prevent moisture-related diseases.

Propagation is achievable by dividing established hosta clumps in early spring. However, be aware that some varieties require several years of undisturbed growth to mature.

The biggest threats to hostas are slugs, snails, and deer. Fortunately, there are various control methods available, including baits, beer traps, repellents, and fencing. Thankfully, hostas are relatively disease-resistant, with Hosta Virus X (HVX) being the most concerning exception. This virus manifests as unusual markings or puckering on the leaves. Infected plants should be removed to prevent spreading HVX.

With over 4,000 cultivars to choose from, selecting the perfect hosta can be overwhelming. Trinklein suggests opting for award-winning varieties recognized by the American Hosta Society or the American Hosta Growers Association. Once relegated to mere background plants, hostas have rightfully earned their place as the shining stars of shady landscapes. Learn more about hostas on the American Hosta Society website at https://americanhostasociety.org/


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