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Hostas: A Shade-Loving Perennial
by Don Janssen, UNL Extension Educator
Hosta, or plantain lily, is a mainstay of the shaded perennials garden. It thrives in shade, has few pest problems and is reliably hardy in cold climates.
Gardeners looking for perennial solutions to shady spots should be looking to plant hostas. It doesn’t hurt the plant's popularity that it offers a wide range of plant sizes and foliage colors, as well as delicate flowers.
Spring is the best time to plant hostas, though container-grown plants can be put into the garden about any time the ground isn't frozen. Spring is best because it gives plants plenty of time to get well established before either summer's heat or winter's cold.
Though hostas will tolerate full shade, the best site for them is partially or lightly shaded. Some will tolerate full sun if they're mulched heavily and watered regularly, but hostas grown in full sun usually will have bleached, dry foliage and look generally sickly. Hostas are ideal for flower beds on the north side of a building or fence or in other areas where they'll receive bright, indirect light or light shade but no direct sun. They don’t do well under trees and shrubs that have extensive, shallow root systems, however.
A deep, organic soil with good drainage is ideal for hostas. Because hostas need a constant supply of moisture, summer mulching is recommended to conserve water and reduce weed competition.
Hostas grow in clumps of oval to blade-shaped leaves on individual stems. Foliage colors range from dark glossy green to blue to variegations with white and cream. Flowers are produced on upright stems above the foliage. Flowers range from white through lavender to blue, and some are highly fragrant. Some varieties start blooming in early summer; others in mid- to late summer through frost.
Hundreds of varieties offer a range of plant sizes. Small ones can be planted close together for a low-growing ground cover; large ones can be used in foundation plantings, as specimen plants or in perennial beds to provide a contrast to vertical plants such as iris.
Hostas are easy-care perennials. Pest problems are few and may include slugs in wet years.Hostas are propagated by dividing plants in early spring. Either dig up older plants and cut them into sections with a sharp knife, or use a sharp spade to remove offsets while leaving the mother plant in place. Make sure each division has at least two or three buds and plenty of roots and plant it with the buds just below soil level.
University of Nebraska-Lincoln Extension in Lancaster County is your on-line yard and garden educational resource. The information on this Web site is valid for residents of southeastern Nebraska. It may or may not apply in your area. If you live outside southeastern Nebraska, visit your local Extension office
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