Good morning! Well, it is high summer and the flowers, insects and wildlife are, as the saying goes, making hay while the sun shines. I hope you are all following their lead and enjoying what this time of year has to offer.
I try each morning, weather-permitting, to sit on the deck and begin my day listening to the wondrous symphony put on by the songbirds. We have been blessed this year with a pair of cardinals and several indigo buntings. Their songs and calls add to the concert each morning, and their wonderful colors are much appreciated.
The variety of feathered visitors at the feeders is always so much more diverse this time of year, but I still enjoy those little chickadees. They sit and look at you as if you belong and they don’t hurry away nearly as quickly as those new to the area.
Speaking of brave, or in this case brazen, that little red squirrel in our installment of Critters on the Cliff that has been feasting on sunflower seeds has decided he pays the mortgage and has every right to do as he pleases. He scampers across the deck on his way to breakfast even when I am sitting but 3 feet away. And our teenage raccoon is growing into a beautiful, glossy-furred and curious young adult who also believes he owns the place. But, in all truth, they both make me smile.
Well, back to the flowers.
I have had several requests to write about hostas. Quite frankly, I have been putting it off because there just isn’t that much to say. Pretty much plop them in the ground and watch them grow. Well, OK, not quite but pretty close.
Hostas originated in the swampy and mountainous regions of Asia and because they winter well, they grow in shade and sun, are basically pest-free and worry-free. They can be found from north to south and from coast to coast. They are a staple of the shade garden, work well under deciduous trees, form lovely borders, line pathways and create seasonlong interest in a garden.
You can find them from 6 to 24 inches high (not counting their blooms into that height) and in all shades of green with variegated, ruffled and leathery looking leaves. Their blossoms are not why you plant them, but they can be nice as well.
Most hostas blossom in shades of lavender and in white. They clump nicely, grow for years, do not need to be divided unless they outgrow their spot or are bothered by slugs and snails. Many clumps, if left undisturbed, will grow to several feet across; some form entirely new plants.
An easy plant to share
If your plant has outgrown its space or you want to move it, do it in early spring when the leaves have just begun to poke through the soil. Dig up the clump and either divide by hand into clumps of at least six to eight leaves. If it is huge, you can cut it apart with a spade or edger. You can also cut a clump as you would a pie if you just want to get one piece out for someone. Replant them quickly and keep them moist for two to three weeks, and you should be good to go.
I have hostas on both the north and south sides of my house. On the north, they get about only two hours of direct sun late in the afternoon from June 1 to about Sept. 1. After that, they get bright indirect light but that is all. They are flourishing.
On the south side, they get about six hours of sun per day; but from about 2 o’clock onward, they are shaded by a mighty oak. They are happy and have been for more than 15 years. That particular clump has never been dug up or divided, and it just keeps cruising.
Hostas will take some drought but not days of it. They will remain a bit happier if you put 1 to 2 inches of mulch around them for summer, if they are in the sun. The best time to mulch is when they pop out of the ground in the spring, when the leaves are only 1 or 2 inches high and have not yet begun to unfurl. When hostas appear, it is generally in a circular pattern, and the mulch needs to go on the outside of that circle, not over the sprouts. If you know the approximate size when it is fully grown for the summer, take the mulch (I use compost) just a little beyond where the leaves will extend.
The mulch will help to retain the moisture in the soil for when the dog days of summer begin. This is also the time that I put Sluggo onto the mulch. Slugs love newly sprouted hostas and can do a great deal of damage in just a few days. The Sluggo needs to be replaced every two or three weeks until the end of July. Unless you have a really, really terrible slug problem, an application made in late April or early May should have wiped out a large portion of their population in the immediate area. If, however, your hostas are in an area that stays damp, like under trees or in shady corners, keep that Sluggo handy.
I am fond of lime greens in shady corners because visually it tends to light them up. I have a lime green, large-leaved hosta in a shade garden next to a ladies mantle whose blooms match it perfectly. An old-fashioned bleeding heart with pink blossoms looks wonderful next to the hosta. If you are not fond of lime green, there are many options and more coming every year. Several varieties of hostas are dark green with white edges, some with white striping and some with lime green and even yellow variegations.
So, if you want a plant “for all seasons and reasons,” hostas might work well in your garden. If you don’t like to tend plants with lots of needs, hostas might work well for you. And if you like plants that just keep on going, try a hosta. When you buy it, remember the only other thing you need for it to flourish – Sluggo.
Until next time, keep up the weeding and fertilizing, keep track of what is overgrowing its space and what is not happy so you can make needed changes and, most importantly, enjoy the sunshine and wonders of nature around you. Speaking of which, don’t forget to go outside some warm night and watch those magical fireflies.
Jody Goodwin has been gardening for more than 20 years. She lives in Turner with her husband, Ike, her two dogs and two cats. She can be reached by writing to her in care of the Sun Journal, 104 Park St., Lewiston, Maine, 04243-4400 or by e-mail at [email protected]