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Q: Could you provide some basic information on hostas? I have some that are doing better than others. D.M. Zionsville.

A: Hostas are popular perennials for semi-shady to shady areas. These hardy plants are grown primarily for their foliage. There are hundreds of different Hosta cultivars and more are released each year. They are diverse in size and foliage. There are dwarfs that only reach a few inches tall and wide to giants reaching five feet in spread. Hostas are available in a wide variety of colors and textures, including leaves of blue, green, yellow or white variegation, and leaves with waffle, stripe, or pleated texture patterns. Some Hosta have white flowers; others are blue. A few are fragrant.

The following hosta information was provided at the Boone County Master Gardener’s Gardenfest event, by Cynthia Wilhoite, a speaker and vendor at the event from Soules Garden, Indianapolis.

Hosta Culture Tips

Hostas like a loose soil. In clay soils add organic matter such as peat, vermiculite. One of the biggest hosta mistakes is not watering in July, August, September and October. If they don’t get enough water at these times, hostas will actually be smaller the following season.

Hostas are shade tolerant plants that grow differently in shade or sun. Hosta leaves grown in shade are larger with fewer leaves. Hostas grown in more sun multiply faster with more leaves that are smaller. Leaves will scorch in too much sun. Some tolerate sun better than others.

Slugs chew holes in leaves of some hostas. Plant slug resistant varieties or spread crushed oyster shells (available at farm stores) surrounding and mixed into the newly emerging hosta shoots in early spring before slugs are active. Be sure the shells are  1/2 inch deep and 6 inches in circumference. Fertilize hostas with 12-12-12 in September, October and November. Wilhoite also applies a soluble, high nitrogen fertilizer on the leaves as they unfurl in the spring.

Hosta Species and Cultivars

• Hosta plantaginea — This group is from a rainy summer habitat in southeast China. Give this group plenty of water in August. One half day sun in Central Indiana is almost perfect placement. This species has largest and only fragrant flowers in the Hosta genus. The following current cultivars originated with this species: H. plantaginea (August Lily); Aphrodite, Fragrant Bouquet, Fried Bananas, Guacamole, Stained Glass, and others.

• Hosta montana — This species is most widely distributed in Japan. It grows along forest margins in Japan. They are very heat tolerant and forgiving of flooding or drought. Examples: H. m.Aureomarginata, H. Montana f. Macrophylla, Niagara Falls, High Noon and others.

• Hosta fluctuans — These are some of the largest hostas. Leaves are large and thick with a slight wave. The leaves are shiny on the topside. The large and strong plants aren’t bothered much by wind or slugs. Examples: Sagae, Krossa Regal, Sum of All, Sum and Substance, Regal Splendor, H. nigrescens and others.

• Hosta sieboldiana — This species is from the coast of Japan, where winters are long and snowy. Examples: Big Daddy, Northern Exposure, Paul’s Glory, Olive Bailey Langdon, Elegans, Blue Angel, Zounds, August Moon, Blue Mammoth, Great Expectations , September Sun, and others.

• Hosta tokudama group — This group of cultivars is considered an interspecies cross of H. sieboldiana. Their leaves are more rounded and cupped with marked crinkling. Very slow growth and strong, hardy plants with very thick slug resistant leaves characterize: Little Aurora, Love Pat, Spilt Milk, Little Sun Spot, Tokudama Flavocircinalis, Inniswood, Rascal and Blue Cadet.

• Hosta tardiana x Hosta sieboldiana Elegans — This is probably the most famous hosta cross ever made. Examples: Halcyon, June, Blue Jay, Touch of Class, Blue Ice and others.

Doug Akers is an Extension Educator for the Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service, Agriculture & Natural Resources department. He can be reached at (765) 482-0750.

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