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Garden Doctors: Hostas brighten up shade gardens


<strong>Leslie asks: We moved to Sonoma County from the Midwest, and in our previous landscape we grew several varieties of hostas. Given our mild weather, can we successfully grow hostas here?</strong>

We live in an older neighborhood that has mature trees and, therefore, shady areas are a significant part of the garden.

Yes, hosta, commonly known as the perennial plantain lily, can be grown successfully in our area. Even though our weather is milder than your previous home, they still will die back during the winter months and remain dormant until warm weather arrives.

They require regular water, filtered shade to full shade and organically enriched soil.

The beauty of growing hostas in a shade garden is the beautiful and colorful shape of their bold leaves. All cultivars contrast nicely with finer textured foliage plants such as ferns or small evergreen conifers.

Choosing evergreen ferns as shade loving companion plants will give the appearance of continued understory greenery during the time when the hostas go into their dormancy period.

A couple examples of popular evergreen ferns that thrive in our area are: Dryopteris erythrosora, commonly known as the colorful autumn fern, and Rumohra adiantiformis, commonly known as the leather fernand admired for its shiny green fronds.

More information for those readers not familiar with hostas: Each plant can produce many tubular-shaped flowers borne on tall spikes that rise up to 18 inches above the foliage.

The flowers may be white, lilac, or a bluish shade. The bloom usually lasts from mid- to late-summer, and the hummingbirds are attracted to the tubular-shaped flowers. Foliage is varied in appearance and can be oval with a heart-shaped base or narrow and lance-shaped, depending on the species or cultivar.

The width of the clumping plant can vary from 18 inches to 2 feet or even more, depending on the growing conditions. Heights can be 12 to 18 inches.

Foliage color can vary from light to dark green and blue-green, or it may be attractively variegated, with leaf colors of yellow, light green cream or white. There is a desired cultivar that will enhance any shade garden.

The ideal time to purchase hostas is when they come out of their dormancy and it's possible to see the leaf shape and color of the plant rather than choosing a specimen from a photo or catalog description.

Hostas can also be planted in large containers in a shady area. This might be an excellent idea when the surface roots of nearby trees make it hard to plant under their canopies.

Fertilize throughout the growing season with a water-soluble product or use a timed-release fertilizer such as Osmocote at the beginning of the warm weather.

Follow the directions on the container.

Now for the bad news: Slugs and snails love hostas. The solution is to begin baiting for the pesky slugs and snails before the first signs of foliage appear. Here are some control strategies:

Scatter Sluggo, a granular bait that is not harmful to pets and other wildlife; pour beer in low trays or other suitable containers, (the yeast attracts the slugs and they drown); place strips of copper sheeting, and the pests will avoid crossing the copper; apply crushed egg shells around the base of the plants, (slugs and snails avoid sharp surfaces); or sprinkle diatomaceous earth around the plants and it will cut the soft bodies of the slugs, thus leading to their demise.

Some gardeners prefer to use citrus rinds as attractants, and then daily collect and dispose of the snails and slugs in soapy water. If you have ducks or chickens, give the snails and slugs to them.

<em>Send your gardening questions to The Garden Doctors at pdgardendoctor@gmail.com. The Garden Doctors, gardening consultants Gwen Kilchherr and Dana Lozano, can answer questions only through their column, which appears twice a month in the newspaper and online at pressdemocrat.com.</em>