Your Year Around Flower and Garden Guide

Hostas: Plantain Lily

Are you looking for something a little different? Find it in a favorite garden flower, the plantain lily - also known as hostas.

hostasHostas own so many distinctive characteristics that it's difficult to pinpoint which of them has pushed it ahead of the day lily (Hemerocallis) as the most sought after herbaceous perennial for the home garden in the US.

A low maintenance plant, shade tolerant, and hardy in zones three through nine, there are currently over 2500 species of hostas available. Native to the Orient, hostas were first imported to Europe in the late 1700's and made their way across the Atlantic in mid 19th century.

As could be expected with a genus so rich in cultivars, hostas come in all kinds of sizes. The miniature "Baby Bunting" reaches only a few inches in diameter at maturity while some cultivars may span eight feet across.

Hostas grow best in a location that receives morning sun and afternoon shade. Soil should be slightly acidic but rich in nutrients and organic matter. Plant hostas at least a foot deep. Because the shallow root clump spreads horizontally and equals the diameter of the foliage, planting holes should be about 1 the size you expect from the mature clump.

Hostas like water. Symptoms of inadequate moisture are leaf tip burning and drooping. Keep new plantings well watered for the first two weeks. After that, your hostas will benefit from a deep (1-inch minimum) weekly watering, which aids in healthy root development.

Hostas bloom in summer with lily-like flowers on tall spikes that range in color from lavender to lily white. Those hybridized from Hosta plantaginea not only carry 6-inch long white flowers but add a delicate fragrance to your flower garden as well. However, hostas are most often grown for their distinctive foliage. Hostas leaves may be either solid in color or variegated and are enough to add a rainbow to any garden with colors that include white, ivory, gold, green and even blue. Moreover, a single cultivar may exhibit striking differences in its foliage, depending on the amount of sun it receives.

Although widely available at nurseries and garden centers, most often hostas are propagated by lifting and dividing mature plants in late summer. One interesting fact about hostas is that they don't reach full maturity until between their fourth and eighth year. Moreover, with each season hostas clumps become larger and wider, colors become more intense and leaf patterns acquire wider variegations, dimples, and other traits like seer suckering.

Because of the yearly changes in appearance, growing hostas gives your perennial garden a new look every season!