I love hostas, but they have a reputation for being difficult, not least because of their attractiveness to slugs and snails. They are commonly thought to do best in moist partial shade, but this shockingly dry year has been a surprise. As Chris Beardshaw points out, there are several that do well in dry shade, the sieboldiana types in particular. Although many of mine in direct sunshine for most of the day have scorched this year, there are also several that have done surprisingly well in quite dry and sunny conditions.
Hostas were originally named in honour of the Austrian botanist Nichloas Host, but in 1817 the name Funkia was used by a German botanist in honour of botanist Heinrich Funk. The name Funkia remained in use for some time and there are a number of horticultural texts written over this period which refer to Funkias. In 1905 Hosta was reinstated as the genus name by the International Botanical Congress.
I quite like the name Funkia. It makes me think of the plants secretly having a good time after I have gone to bed.
On Sunday I picked 22 slugs off my small hostas (just to reassure readers, I don’t do this regularly – I do have other things to do!). With the advent of damper weather they are really starting to show themselves. For those who love growing hostas, slugs and snails are probably the biggest pests and even the giants like Sum and Substance and Big Daddy are not always immune to their predations. Growing in a coarse medium, or using environmentally friendly slug pellets, doesn’t necessarily solve the problem because slugs are smarter than you think. If necessary they will abseil down a neighbouring plant to get at the leaves of your hosta, so anything at ground level will not always stop them.
Preparatory products have been, rightly, removed from the market as they have proved toxic. A garlic wash has long been recommended as an alternative and I have used this myself in the past.
When I recently bought some new hostas (those of you who know my garden might wonder why I need any more, but I justified the purchase on the basis that one was a replacement for Dancing Mouse and the other was a gift) the recipe for a garlic wash was included with the plants, which I thought I would share with you. Please see below.
At the end of August, my hostas are looking a bit ragged. They have had a tough year. Forced into early growth by a warm spring, a frost scorched the young leaves of many of the plants, particularly the green leaved varieties, which seem particularly susceptible to a late frost. Overcoming this early obstacle, the hostas forged on to produce lots of leaf and looked absolutely splendid in May. Strong winds then battered the leaves and here the larger leaved varieties suffered most. With foliage that was still comparatively young and tender they had not built up enough resistance to withstand the winds that barrelled down the side of my house. At one point they were all listing to one side like sailors who had been on ship for too long. Sum and Substance with leaves the size of elephant’s ears really struggled. A month of very hot temperatures has now left them looking very sad indeed. In a south facing walled garden they have basically been inside an oven and baked. Of course, hostas should not be grown in these conditions and in most years they have managed relatively well, but this year has done for them. Additionally, these stressed plants are also more susceptible to the depredations of slugs and snails. For the first time, they have been given a liquid seaweed feed. I’m hoping this will cheer them up a bit.
Ed: Here’s a clip of Vija’s garden at the recent Open Gardens event. Hostas definitely looking a bit cheered up!
At the last count, I had 32 hostas and most of these are in pots. Admittedly, some of these are miniatures, but nevertheless this means that in March a lot of checking and potting on needs to take place. My basic collection has increased over the years because people have given me hostas which they have bought and not had much luck with and then passed on to me. I am always grateful!
I check all pots to see whether root growth is coming through the bottom of the pot; where small enough I tip the plant out and check to see whether it is root-bound or the compost is looking a bit stale. However, Sum and Substance and Big Daddy are each about 4 feet tall and Big Daddy is in such a large pot it really needs two strong men to sort him out! Empress Wu is catching up with these guys in terms of size. I then use John Innes number 3 to pot up again. I try and leave a fair bit of space at the top of each pot to allow for the addition of a protective mulch. I make this with a mixture of farmyard manure and home made compost, which I keep as rough as possible with eggshells – this does a good job of discouraging slugs and snails while the plants are young and gives them a good head start. The coarser leaved hostas then tend to manage quite well thereafter. This year I have added a granular feed which should last 6 months. Many years ago I read somewhere that feeding hostas produces weaker growth, more susceptible to attack and I have never fed mine apart from the spring dose of compost, manure and sometimes bonemeal.
In my experience, the general gardening advice that the coarser the leaf the less likely a hosta is to be eaten by slugs and snails is true. Particularly resilient is Frances Williams and I can’t recommend this one enough. I also find Krossa Regal and Patriot very good. It’s also useful to think about where you are growing hostas. If they are crowded together in a border with lots of other plants, slugs and snails will still get to them no matter how many slug pellets you use. Snails can abseil down the leaf or stem of another plant to reach a hosta. As always in the garden, a consideration of the growing environment means there is less need to introduce artificial measures to control the pests.