Hooray for hostas

Another week, and yet more rain! It has been a difficult year for gardeners but at least we have been free from late frosts! Some years my early-emerging hostas get caught by late frosts, but not this year.

Hostas are among the most important herbaceous plants. I would consider them an essential component in my own garden and they benefit any garden. They are versatile and will grow in a wide range of garden conditions and they offer an enormous variety of ‘looks’. A mature clump can be more than a metre high and across or just 15cm high. Leaves vary in shade from waxy blue, green and all manner of variegated patterns. In addition, pretty, trumpet-shaped flowers arise from the clumps, in shades of white, mauve and purple and some are even fragrant. There is so much to love about hostas.

Most prefer a well-drained spot in part sun. Those with ‘blue’ leaves prefer a bit of shade to protect the grey, waxy coating and those with yellow in the leaves colour best with some sun. Most will struggle a bit in glaring hot sun but they are not fussy about soil as long as it is not bone dry in summer and they do well in clay.

Of course I need to mention the ‘elephant in the room’: slugs. Slugs and snails like to munch hostas but not really any more than other plants. The problem is that any damage done now, to the emerging leaves, will remain all summer. So it does pay to protect your plants now, with whatever means you prefer: slug pellets, eggshells, beer traps or sharp grit around the plants. It must be mentioned that many modern kinds have much thicker leaves than older kinds and are almost slug-resistant. I certainly find that most of the big-leaved hostas are much less affected than small hostas with thin leaves. Slugs and snails have been a big problem this year because of the mild winter and the non-stop rain.

‘Praying Hands’ has distinctive, upright, thick leaves that are attractive and less affected by slugs than many others

Hostas make a great edging to borders but also fit in well with so many other plants. They look superb with ferns in a shady spot and with hardy geraniums. They also grow well in pots. Use John Innes No 3 compost. They can be left in their pots for several years before they will require repotting and will provide colour and interest to a shady patio.

‘June’ is a ‘classic’ hosta with bright, bold leaves and reasonably resistant to slugs

Hostas are starting to unfurl their fresh leaves and look at their very best now. It is also a great time to buy and to plant them. Make sure the plants are moist before you plant them and then keep them well watered until they get established.

It is also a good time to divide existing clumps. Now that the new shoots are easy to see it is easy to get a knife between the shoots and to divide them into clumps with there or four shoots. Replant as quickly as you can, water them in and they will soon grow away.

With so much variation in leaf shape and colour you can get really creative with your colour schemes. One of the best with chartreuse foliage is the large ‘Sum and Substance’. It is a popular ‘big’ hosta and the colour varies according to the position; it is greener in shade and more yellow with better light. Hostas are very useful in the garden because of their large, weed-suppressing foliage and I like to plant daffodils around them. The hosta foliage covers up the daffodil leaves as they die down in May.

Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’ in a yellow border

The bold leaves of hostas are useful for their ability to contrast with flowering plants with less ‘character’. And the leaves remain beautiful all summer until they change colour and die away in late autumn.

‘Wide Brim’ is another popular hosta with deeply veined leaves, edged with butter yellow

Weekly reminders

Mow the grass when possible. Set the mower blades high so you do not ‘scalp’ the lawn.

Apply a lawn fertiliser and a moss killer if required

Sow vegetables in raised beds and the veg plot. Plant onion sets and plant potatoes.

Deadhead daffodils as soon as the flowers fade to prevent seeds pods forming. Allow foliage to die down naturally

Spray roses to prevent blackspot if it was a problem last year

Look out for bright red lily beetles on your lilies and either pick them off or spray to kill them immediately.

Continue to sow annual flowers for summer

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