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Most hostas are shade-loving

Hostas are an extremely popular perennial and part of the lily family. They are grown primarily for their beautiful foliage rather than their flowers and are considered a low maintenance, shade-tolerant plant. Hosta leaves come in a wide variety of shapes, colors, sizes and textures. Colors will vary from solid to variegated, in shades of blue, green, chartreuse, yellow, white and gold. Hostas originally came from Japan, China and Korea, and were introduced to the European culture in the 1700s, and to the United States in the middle of the 1800s. Today there are more than 2,500 different cultivars from which to choose.

Hostas vary in size from miniatures ranging from only a few inches in height to huge plants like Blue Angel and Sun and Substance, which reach a height of 3 feet and spread to 8 feet wide.

Solid colored hostas that have dark green or blue colored leaves should be grown in nearly full shade. However, they will do well if they receive morning sun. Blue color hosta actually have a green leaf which is coated with a wax substance that makes it appear blue. The wax tends to "melt" from the leaf when it is exposed to sun and the heat of summer. However, hosta plants with yellow, gold or chartreuse leaves should be planted so they receive a lot of sun to fully bring out their colors.

Many hostas have variegated leaves. Foliage which is lighter colored (white, a lighter green or yellow) in the center of the leaf and darker on the edges is called "medio variegation." In contrast, when leaves are darker green in the center and lighter or white on the edges, they are called "marginally variegated."

Leaves can have a number of shapes. They can range from elongated (sword shaped) to a more rounded shape (heart shaped leaves). Most hosta leaves are flat, but some can be concaved. Leaf surfaces may be smooth or bubbled (the technical name for this bubbly appearance is called "seersuckered.")

Hostas are considered a low-maintenance plant because their dense foliage tends to crowd out would-be weed growth around them. While they will grow in almost any kind of soil, they prefer rich organic soil with good drainage. Water is important for optimal growth. The greatest growth occurs when water exceeds the minimum recommended amount of 1 inch per week. Water early in the morning and deeply to ensure good root development. Apply 10-10-10 fertilizer at least three times a year (in the spring just before they emerge, in July during heavy growth, and in September for fall root growth when they are hardening off for winter). Spread granule fertilizer around the base of the plant, never on the base of the plant as the fertilizer will burn the plant.

After the hostas have bloomed, cut off the stalk, so no energy is wasted in making seed pods, but rather goes back into root development. Hostas will also look nicer if the flower stalks are removed. Many people do not care for their flowers, and if you are one of them, cut off the stalk of flowers as soon as they appear. It will not hurt the plant if you remove them before they bloom.

After the foliage dies back in the fall, remove it, because if it is left to decay in the planting bed it is an open invitation for slugs. Slugs are the most common pest of hostas. They can some what be controlled by beer traps (dig down a container so it is at ground level and fill it with beer, slugs are attracted to it and crawl in and drown) or commercial chemical pellets or bait containing metaldehyde, or iron phosphate.

A hosta plant usually reaches full maturity in 4-8 years, depending on the condition in which its is growing. Hosta tend to grow in a circle or oval shape. When there are no new shoots growing in the center of a cluster and there is bare or dead area it is time to divide. Propagation of hostas is easily achieved by dividing existing plants. If you are not lifting the entire clump of hostas, you will need a sharp spade, knife or saw to cut through the root system. After you have dug the hostas out, wash them off so that you can see to untangle the roots. Dig a deep hole and build a mound in the center of it. Place the roots so they are dangling down from the top of the mound and the neck of the hosta is on the top of the mound. Cover with soil and keep watered for the first couple weeks if there are drought conditions. Hostas move best in the spring or in August, however they are one plant that can be moved any time during the summer, and if watered, will usually survive.

Good companion plants to grow with hostas include trillium, anemones, forget-me-nots, ferns, astelbe, ligularia, heuchera, Solomon's seal, impatiens, begonia, coleus, purple shamrock and pulmonaria.

Kyle Schulz is a Wadena County Master Gardener from Sebeka, and the regular gardening columnist for the Wadena Pioneer Journal.