Apologies are in order to Arnold Schwarzenegger, the cast and producers of Terminator 2, and any fan of the popular movie. I corrupted the famous line “Hasta la vista, baby!” from Arnold’s farewell to a bad guy right before he used his terminator license. If you plant Hosta in the sun, you will use my phrase all summer as I found out.
Hosta, Hosta Lily, Plantain Lily, and Giboshi are all common names for the east Asian Hosta and Hosta belong to the Lily family but are in the order – Asparagus. They are only distantly related to Daylilies, Asiatic Lilies, and Easter Lilies. Those true lilies have bulbs or underground rhizomes whereas Hosta have a long, extensive, and fibrous root system as you will discover then you move or separate Hosta.
Why grow Hosta? Not for the blooms, although they can be intriguing. Grow them for the symmetry and color of the leaves, Surprisingly, there are 6,000 varieties and cultivars of Hosta. They range from little 3 inch wide plants to giants over four foot in diameter. Leaf color ranges from almost white to lime green, dark green, yellow, and even blue.
Every combination of those colors is available in patterns that can’t even be imagined. I like to mix and match and I have about nine different variations of size and color scattered next to each other in my front yard garden space. One of my wife’s best friends, Jo Anne, had a beautiful collection of Hosta that had good separation between plants and with a dark mulch – they presented very well. I personally like to have closer Hosta neighbors with different colors and sizes complementing each other in a leaf touching leaf environment. However you plan your garden, you will love Hosta!
Now, let’s be frank. Don’t do what I did, and plant Hosta facing the Northwest. The late afternoon summer sun even for a few hours will fade the color, stress your plants, and cause them to wither prematurely. I thought that a limited sun would prevent stress but I was wrong. Always, plant them in mostly shade. A morning sun for a few hours should be fine but any direction which includes “south” or “west” in its name is a no-no. Don’t even consider it or “Hosta la Vista, Baby” will become your most recited movie line.
If you buy Hosta from a nursery you will get bare root plants which is ok. Try and order them in late winter so you can plant them early. Amend the clay soil and spread out the roots and be sure to let the Hosta crown be slightly exposed. Keep moist but with no standing water and mulch with a mini-pine bark mulch or whatever you prefer but avoid pine straw. Check the maximum size and plant far enough apart to allow ample growth. Big leaf Hosta will dominate any smaller varieties and your cute little leafers will simply disappear under the bigger foliage. Mulch also will keep the leaves out of the dirt and any bacteria or virus naturally present.
Hosta will bloom late in summer and will send up a spike several feet with a series of white to purple blooms over the top of the stem. Most are odorless but I am told some deep purple blooms that open in the evening have a captivating scent meant to draw night flying moths for pollination. You can leave the flower spikes or remove them and after blooming, they will die back and leave a straw like spike that will remain all winter if you permit it. When the plant goes into hibernation after several frosts, I collect the withered leaves and flower spikes and add to my winter collection to be burned if there was any sign of summer disease.
Did you know that Hosta leaves are poisonous to dogs and cats? It will cause upset stomachs which will deter further culinary explorations. Mice, rabbits, and deer, conversely, enjoy a Hosta leaf or two with their summer diet and protective measures may have to be taken. Not one of my Hosta was bothered by furry intruders the past two years. Perhaps our neighborhood Kye-Oats kept rodents at bay – I would like to think so.
So plant Hosta and enjoy them all Spring, Summer, and early Fall. They are a beautiful plant that requires little maintenance and will reward you every Spring. If they become too big or overcrowded, simply dig them up when they are dormant and space them farther apart or divide the root clump in two for an added bonus.
I think Schwarzenegger would have enjoyed growing Hosta. He would have planted them in full sun on the south side of the California Governor’s mansion and as the sun took its inevitable toll, you would hear Arnold yell with his German accent “Hosta la vista…. Baby!”