By Hugh Earnhart
OSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer
If you want to cover an area in your woodland or yard quickly with a plant that has character and blooms, the hosta is your choice. They are hardy perennial plants grown primarily for foliage. The 8,000-plus varieties registered today trace their heritage to Japan, Korea and China.
In recent years, hostas are being increasingly used. There are several reasons for their popularity.
Foremost, hostas can be grown in all areas of the U.S., except tropical zones. Hybridizing efforts in recent years have produced exciting new cultivars that entice gardeners. With so many to select from in catalogs and local nurseries, it is important to look for those with good traits. Consider these when making your selection:
Size: How large will the mature plant be? Some grow to 2 feet, some to 5 feet. Large hostas need root space as well as surface space to grow properly. At the other end of the scale, small and mini-size hostas can be planted in over-sized coffee cups.
Growing traits: Will it grow well in your zone? Some struggle. Two seem to grow well no matter where they are planted — H. Sum and Substance and H. Guacamole. Hostas love good drainage, plenty of water and well-built soil (meaning you have added plenty of compost or other organic matter).
Color: Leaves come in blues, greens and golds; some are punctuated with splashes of cream or white. Hosta leaves replace the normal hot floral colors of the average garden.
Variegation: Solid-color hostas have a majestic look, but throw in a leaf with a white center surrounded by blue or green for an eye-catching experience.
Upgrades: Hybridizers have worked overtime developing hostas with leaves that are cupped, ruffled, twisted, colored, striped and more. These innovations add character to the plant and environment around it. Some new hostas have an almost up-right growth.
Vitality: What is the life expectancy? Some have a shelf-life, others develop more slowly but last much longer. Some look good for the first year or two, then develop imperfections and start to go south. Only by experimenting, study and some good luck can you avoid these difficulties.
Disease and pests: Deer love hostas, some more than others. Flowering and fragrant hostas are delicacies to deer. Voles, slugs and snails can destroy a perfect plant overnight. Then there are the viruses: Petiole rot, foliar nematodes and hosta virus X. If you recognize these conditions, rip out the plant and throw it in the trash can — not the compost heap.
When you have difficulty, don’t guess — call our office at 330-533-5538.
For more on hostas, visit go.osu.edu/hostas.