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15 January 2013

Hosta Hints

Hostas are rightly gaining popularity among gardeners and I have a number of plants in my garden and also in containers. They are relatively easy to grow and come in a range of sizes.

There are over 40 different Hosta species and more than seven thousand named cultivars. Hostas grow very well in British gardens, enjoying the temperate climate and high rainfall. Although plants grown in semi-shade and moist conditions will have the most luxuriant foliage, most require morning sunlight to reach their ideal size.

Hostas do best in a neutral to acid loam treated with humus, and appreciate a good mulching every autumn. However they will grow in virtually any soil. They should be planted with their roots teased apart and spread over a mound of earth and the hole filled in ideally with a mixture of soil and compost or leaf mould. Newly planted Hostas should be well watered for at least two weeks and all Hostas need moisture in the ground, especially in early autumn when new roots form. This is also the best time for planting, although gardeners who divide their plants just prior to the leaves appearing generally prefer to plant in early spring. Hostas are best left undisturbed for 5 years in order that the splendour of their mature leaves can be fully appreciated.

Hostas are not prone to many diseases but are very popular with snails and slugs, which favour the same shady areas and moist soil. The slug that does most damage early in the season is the keeled slug, Milax spp., which lives underground and out of sight but which becomes active around St. Valentine's Day. In late winter/early spring the keeled slug migrates towards the surface of the soil where they can cause major damage to emerging shoots and leaves - damage which may make the hostas unsightly for the rest of the year. If you can't attract a hedgehog to keep your garden clear, you will find that the RHS website has plenty of tips on dealing with the slimy pests.

Hostas can be grown in containers using any good general-purpose potting compost, including soil-based (John Innes No 2 or No 3) or peat-free. However care must be taken to ensure that container grown plants don't dry out. They will also appreciate regular monthly feeding with a general-purpose liquid fertiliser. When the container has become filled with roots and the crown has become congested, you can either repot into a larger container or divide your plant and repot the smaller plants or plant them in the garden.

Hostas are very easily increased by division between autumn and mid-spring - just follow this process:-

1) Lift the clump with a fork, or tip out of containers taking care not to damage the growing points
2) Place the clump on a board or plastic sheet on the border or lawn
3) Those plants with tough, fibrous roots can be divided with a sharp spade or an old kitchen knife cutting between the shoots and slicing the clump in two
4) If possible divide large clumps into a number of sections, each containing five or six shoots
5) Plants with loose, fleshy roots can be teased apart by hand or by levering with two forks placed back-to-back
6) Ensure the divisions are replanted at their original depth in the ground, with the shoots just poking through the soil surface
7) Water the plants and apply a granular fertiliser at the rate recommended by the manufacturer. Leaving a slight depression around the plant will ease watering

I have personally carried out the above process on a number of occasions with a high rate of success, and I'm sure you will be equally successful.

If you are already a Hosta grower you will know what useful plants they are, and if you're not....what are you waiting for?
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