Hosta: How to Plant, Hybridize and Care for Hostas

hosta

Like potato chips, one Hosta is never enough! Infatuation with this hardy perfect perennial for shade gardens is a malady shared by all gardeners.

The history of Hosta is short compared with most of our perennials for it was discovered in Asia by botanists. The two most famous of these botantists are Phillip Franz von Siebold who is the namesake for the corded, glaucous blue leafed hosta like the famous hosta sieboldiana.

hosta sieboldiana
Heart-shaped ‘Sieboldiana is one of the most treasured hosta of all time. Photo courtesy of Walters Gardens.

Blue heavy corrugated leafed hostas are hybrids but still carry the genetics of the early discovered hostas as do the Fortunei hosta introduced by a Scottish botantist named, Robert Fortune. Fortunei hosta are the satiny leafed, variegated hostas similar to the hosta,’Fortunei Aureomarginata’ shown below.

hosta
Hosta ‘Fortunei Aureomarginata’

As hybrids our present-day hostas are all genetically related and many have acquired the best traits of both types of hosta. The hardy, very dependable hosta ‘Francis Williams’ is an example of the power of hybridizing. ‘Francis’ carries both siebold which gives it slug resistance and fortunie genes that rim the leaf in different colors and give it variegation. The classic ‘Francis Williams’ forms  massive clumps of dependable colorful  foliage that look perfect the entire season making it one of the most beloved by gardeners.

hybridizing hostas
‘Francis Williams’ Hosta

How to Hybridize Hostas

Hosta is relatively simple to hybridize because it has both male and female organs. Start early in the morning before the bees wake up and get to the flower first if a cross between two different hosta is your goal. Open the flower to expose the long female-protruding pistil. The male parent antlers will show fluffy pollen that is to be placed on the sticky end of the female pistil. A light covering of material placed over the plant will prevent contamination of pollinating bees. Wait for six-to-eight-weeks for the seed pod to open. Collect the seeds and plant them in peat pots. These seedlings are called pod babies and are slow to produce, often taking three years to be plantable outside. 99% of the seedlings will be green and rarely resemble the parent plants. Occasionally a blue, green or gold-foliaged hosta will show up.

hosta flower
Flower of Hosta showing the hybridizing flower organs.

Getting Rid of Snails and Slugs in Your Hosta Bed

Hosta are relatively pest-free with the exception of being loved by snails and slugs. Our high elevation gardens are blessed because these mollusks prefer warmer regions. The Internet has thousands of snail removal methods, but most are laughable. A few of them work–including composting around hosta with pine needles. Slugs and snails with their soft underbellies will dislike crossing the stickery pine needles. Some snail elimination methods don’t work in western gardens with their mineral rich alkaline soils and water, so one method to avoid is the use of egg shells compost. Egg shells will sterilize western soils. Personally, I prefer hand-picking snails at dawn and dusk early in the season. Always place the picked up snails in a zip-top type of plastic bag. Throwing them into the street or placing them in a garbage can will allow the pesky slime-balls to continue to breed. The bottom line for slug and snail control is to always plant the thick corded varieties of hosta which are slug resistant. Here are some additional tips and hints for killing snails and slugs.

preventing snails in hosta
An overnight snail banquet decimated this once beautiful Hosta.

Who would have ever thought that a perennial that doesn’t really flower and used mainly for its sumptuous foliage would become one of the most popular of all perennials.

hostas with troilus and maidenhair ferns
Hosta in a shady garden planted with trollius ‘Golden Queen’ and maidenhair ferns.

 

How to Divide Hostas

Chris Alexander from HostasDirect has provided a great tutorial for dividing hostas using a simple method. Because hosta shoots form their own root clumps, the process of digging, removing dirt, and then teasing the roots apart will help your divided hostas thrive.

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