Hosta trials and tribulations
I was doing some surfing around the other day -more like a few years ago now- and spent a fair bit of time on the Hosta Library site, again. There I read an enlightening article on the subject of dividing hostas that is just loaded with valuable information. If you wish to read the article in it's entirety please click on the link above and navigate to the page called "DIVIDING" from the main menu. The quote below is from that article.
"Hostas adapt to their environment. We've all seen the way they make different leaves in sun vs. heavy shade. More important to how well they grow is how the roots adapt. The roots are produced in the form that is best adapted to the soil it finds itself in. Light potting soil results in big networks of thin roots while heavy clay soils result in a few thick ropy roots. The wrong roots in the wrong soil will mean poor growth, because a hosta will react to not getting enough water by getting smaller in an effort to survive. If a hosta has the wrong roots - like pot roots in the ground - it will not be able to get enough water no matter how much you water it. The same applies to a divided plant which has lost roots through injury."
This roots issue was actually quite an eye-opener for me. It goes a long way in explaining why some of our Hostas were a lot slower to get established than others. The experience with 'Fragrant Blue' is but one example, but I suspect that on top of that this is also a fairly slow grower. Others too seemed to take more than a year to really get established, whereas some hardly skipped a beat.
Our experience with the sad bare roots we have sometimes ended up with has taught us though that if you have some roots still attached to a piece of the crown, it's worth the spare pot to root it up and just be patient for it to grow. It may take 2 or 3 years before you get more than 2 or 3 leaves, but what's the hurry. Now you have another plant from something you likely would have thrown in the compost. Last year, 2005, we had a minor accident when dividing a sizeable 'Hyacinthina' root: one of the new shoots broke off, including a small piece of the crown. It was in early spring, we just stuck into a planter and it stayed moist enough for it to develop a root and is now growing quite nicely, thank you.
There is an interesting monochrome Hosta I nurtured for the past four years that was started from the sorriest looking piece of root I ever saw, but, it grew a leaf the first year it was planted and has gone on from there. In 2005 it was transplanted into a #3 pot and it really came into it's own that year, witness the picture to the left. However, I don't think we have seen the mature form of this plant as yet and it may well be 2007 before we do and can finally begin to try and figure out what we're dealing with. Here you see it in mid-September, showing early signs of going into senescence. The very base of the petioles is red-speckled, like you see on 'Sum and Substance', as is the colouration, but the leaf shape and vein count is off for that variety at this stage and of course that's just what you'd expect from an immature specimen, so, wait and see is all we can do. In 2006 I got a better feel for what we have here and I'm pretty well convinced that this is 'Sum and Substance'..
Hostas are somewhat like lilies to us: they're addictive and once you have started it's hard to know when to stop. Soon, if we're not careful, we'll be at the point where we'll have run out of suitable space and have to get more inventive about where we put them. Pieter got quite excited a few years ago when he discovered there are fragrant flowering Hostas! What a concept!?! Seeing as we're striving for a good mix of perennials to give us not just different colours, textures and heights in the garden, but where possible also fragrance, it was only a matter of time before he found some to add to the assortment -'So Sweet', 'Fragrant Blue', in 2005 'Guacamole' and in 2007 planteginea 'Venus'- and there are plenty more on the 'wish list'. That wish list at this point has 85 varieties on it (not all fragrant): that's less than 2% of the total named varieties!!! And the list keeps growing, and growing. Hopefully the spring plant sales will be such that a goodly portion of the proceeds can be spent on checking some off that list.
No doubt our Hosta collection will continue to expand on an annual basis for a good many years to come. 2006 marked the first year we sprouted some Hosta seed: all open pollinated, some from our own garden, some from seed pods in nurseries and some from a most gracious couple in Indiana who mailed us some seed from 'Xanadu Opie', 'Xanadu Empress Wu' and some unspecified 'streakers'. The 2 Xanadu varieties are bigguns according to the Lemke database on Hosta Library and if we do get some good looking seedlings we'll have to make sure we keep enough space available for them, which will be challenging on our small lot, but worth trying at least.
In order to not get overrun with seedlings -actually that would be yearlings- in 2007 a fair bit of culling took place of the 2006 seedlings where we now have I believe it's 12: 4 Ginko Craig, 2 of which have red stippled petioles, plus 4 each of 'Xanadu Opie' and 'Xanadu Empress Wu'. Here's hoping they will have survived the winter and I'll be in a position to do further culling by mid summer. There will be plenty of seedlings from our 2006 seeds, most of which were deliberate crosses. I can't wait to see those get going....
2006 was also be the first year we tried some of the inexpensive 'tricks of the trade' that are supposed to work wonders for hostas in terms of growth and promotion of sports in offsets. There are a number of articles I have run across that talk in terms of some great results with Alfalfa, be that in meal form or pellet form, either dug-in or as a tea used for watering. We always have Alfalfa pellets on hand, we use it in small quantities in our dog's meat mixture, and we're certainly going to use the tea method in spring as soon as we start to see buds. Hostas will not be the only plants subjected to the 'tea', we'll use it on whatever cuttings/transplants we have: a good soaking of the pot by placing it in the bucket of tea. Beneficial results are reported to be as follows:
- Early breaking of dormancy
- Doubling of weight of plants in one year
- Up to three years of growth in one growing season
- Root system greatly increases
- Possible stimulation of mycorrhize and reported inhibition of pathogenic organism
- Doubling of number and size of flower buds, flowers and seeds
- Much improved quality of growth with increased number, thickness and color of leaves.
All in all worthwhile enough results to warrant a one year trial at least, wouldn't you agree? And I'm happy to report the results have been worthwhile, we'll carry on with the practice and for good measure we have also started collecting rainwater for our plants.
Over the 06/07 winter I discovered the potential joys of swapping via a couple of gardening forums. It will obviously be done only with fellow Canadian gardeners -since I don't want to go through the hassles with the Agriculture Canada paperwork chain and cost for a few freebies from the US- and I welcome any site visiting Canuck that feels they would like to swap some hostas, or other perennials for that matter, to and let me know what you might have and what of mine you are interested in.
Well, never mind the potential joys, they're now reality. In the summer of 2007 I ended up being involved in 2 trades, one a swap, the other a 'secret trade'. The swap was with a lady in Ottawa whom I approached with the idea and by the time a week had passed it was all arranged and the plants we each were after had found their way cross-country. The other trade was a so-called 'secret trade' arranged by someone on a discussion forum I post on periodically. The idea is for a co-ordinator to collect a bunch of names and draw a name for each participant to send a small selection of hostas to that lucky person. You are expected to send at least one Hosta but most participants end up sending anywhere from 4 to 8, and some will send more than just hostas. I'll definitely participate again and I'm approachable when it comes to a potential swap, again, just
It almost goes without saying that we will continue to increase our Hosta collection in terms of variety as well as sheer numbers. In late winter 05/06 we acquired a very sizeable number of #1, #2 and #4 pots and they just beg to be filled with perennials, Hostas being chief amongst them. For 2006 the varieties were increased with bare root stock of 'Wide Brim', 'Dream Queen', 'Yellow Splash Rim', 'Twilight' and 'Frances Williams', as well as 'Sieboldiana Elegans' early in 2006 and later in the season we added 'Feather Boa' and 'Blue Mouse Ears'.
But, all's not well: the unfortunate thing is that the majority, if not all of our 2006 bare root acquisitions are HVX infected! They all came from Costco and the local Costco store's service counter indicated they would be happy to give me back my money. While that deals with my individual situation, there is a larger issue at stake here and until someone at the next level acknowledges there is reason for concern here there will be thousands of Costco customers in North America who will have planted their gardens with HVX infected Hostas. That really is a shame, and will continue to repeat itself for a few years, likely at accelerating rates, until the actual growers of the roots in Holland and the US have been made aware of what they are producing and perpetuating and are ultimately persuaded to clean up their act. The response I got from the national buyer was not encouraging in that regard however, as it is their opinion that an HVX infection rate of between 5 and 10% is acceptable!! Will that stop me from buying more Hostas from them? Probably not, particularly if there are varieties in their offerings that are on my most wanted list. I'll just have to be vigilant and careful with them.
After this discovery, another concern arose: what about the Hostas I purchased from Costco in 2005 or prior, are they HVX infected? Only time will tell obviously and while I'm keeping my fingers crossed, by the middle of October 2006 none of them are showing any signs, but just because you don't see any signs this year, what about '07?. One thing's for sure regardless: any new Hosta purchases we make, be it bare root stock or plants, will be scrutinized for at least two years. And not just for HVX symptoms, but also foliar nematodes, which I consider to be much more of an issue.
While it certainly is not our preferred way of growing Hostas, we have what I refer to as our 'Hosta Nursery', a planter which is mostly in the shade and serves to grow out recent divisions and acquisitions. Since there is an 8 inch ledge on this and our other planters there is plenty room for #1 pots, with the occasional #2 or #3 strategically placed on a corner The picture above shows what it looked like at the end of August '06. In addition to what is identified in the picture above, the planter also contains a few 'Golden Tiara', 'Fortunei Hyacinthina', 'Feather Boa', 'Morning Light' and 'Platinum Tiara'. On the ledge you'll find many more: 'Bright Lights', along with some more 'Feather Boa' as well as 'Dream Queen', 'Elegans' and 'Guacamole'. But, by mid November it doesn't look that good any more, does it?
The Wysteria in the corner has since been dug up and appears to have survived that ordeal. This year -2008- it is destined to go into the spring plant sale.
Now, fast forward 3 years to 2011 and you'll be surprised to learn the Wysteria is still here, potted up in a tall blue recycle bin those 3 years. The 'Sum and Substance' in the back corner of the box was a gorgeous looking specimen in 2010, but it was really getting too big for the spot it was in, so earlier spring 2011 -actually late winter- the plant was dug up and is being sold off this spring as a mature plant with in excess of 40 shoots on it. Whosoever buys this will see it at a size of a round 5ft wide by 3ft tall this year and it will command attention in the garden. Now the other, smaller divisions in here will be much more visible in 2011. It's empty spot has now been given to a brand new addition for 2011, 'Captain's Adventure', a member of the 'Fortunei' family -a sport of 'Captain Kirk'- which is hoped to be as vigorous a grower as the rest of the family. This box has seen a number of Hostas get to a fair size before they're dug up and divided, with smaller divisions being potted up both for sale and for locations in other areas of the yard.