Every year since 1996, the American Hosta Growers Association picks one outstanding variety to honor as Hosta of the Year. The winner for 2019 is “Lakeside Paisley Print,” with thick, heart-shaped leaves edged in wide, wavy green margins. A narrow, creamy-white feather seems to fill the center of the leave, flowing from a cream-colored petiole. An added bonus is pale lavender flowers in mid-summer.
I checked several online nurseries for “Lakeside Paisley Print” availability. Even though starts of the most recent selections tend to be very small and very expensive, some nurseries were already sold out. Sellers with “Lakeside Paisley Print” in stock were offering a 4.5-inch pot for an average of $17 plus shipping. You might be willing to pay that if you were an avid collector, and couldn’t live without this one. But for most of us, older cultivars can be just as spectacular and way more affordable.
But there’s an even better way to increase your hosta collection.
My dear friend Sarah’s beautiful Linden Way garden was featured on the Arboretum Garden Tour in June. In her shady backyard, she pointed out a variegated hosta I gave her, probably 25 years ago. It was one I named “Aunt Mary,” because that”s who gave it to me. It traveled a long way to Sarah’s garden.
Remember the days when an economy airline ticket allowed you to check two large bags in addition to your carry-on, free? I took advantage of the opportunity, hauling suitcases full of “Aunt Mary” hostas, Wardynski’s Polish sausage and thrift store Buffalo Bills sportswear back to Yakima each summer, after visiting family in western New York. In the mix over the years were plenty of hosta “Charlene’s Mother,” and hosta “Sophie Next Door.”
The best way to get more hostas is for someone to divide the ones they have and share them with you. Or you can do a swap. Either way, September and October are ideal times. As long as they’re well-watered for a few weeks to help them get through the shock of being transplanted, hostas can be divided almost any time. Their fleshy roots hold moisture and nutrients to help the new divisions through the transition. Just allow at least three or four weeks for them to become established before the soil freezes. Here’s how to do it:
- Dig around the hosta clump in a circle, and then use your shovel as a lever to lift the clump out of the ground.
- Now you can see that the clump is made up of many individual plants.
- If possible, separate the individual plants by hand, by gently forcing your thumbs between plant’s stems, and easing the stems apart.
- Divisions made up of at least three sets of shoots coming out of a crown are best.
- If the clump is very large, it may be easier to use a serrated kitchen knife to slice up the clump like a pie. Hostas are tough plants, and can handle fairly rough treatment. Any tattered foliage will be renewed come spring, an advantage of fall division.
- Plant new divisions at their original level, so that the white basal portions of the stems are just under the soil. Replace the soil, and water the plants well, leaving no air pockets.
Most hostas thrive in filtered or dappled shade. They can survive in deep shade (less than 4 hours of sun a day), but will have slower growth rates. Yellow and gold hostas develop richer leaf color in two to three hours of morning sun. Blue hostas have a waxy coating on their leaves, and may require more shade to avoid leaf burn and bleaching. Brown, scorched leaf surfaces or leaf tips means sunscald. If this occurs, move the plant to a shadier location, or provide more water.
Hostas prefer rich, moist soil that’s high in organic matter and well drained, but they can survive in more difficult conditions. Applying 2 to 4 inches of mulch after the soil warms in late spring (keep it away from the central crown) will help preserve soil moisture and keep them happy, especially if they’re planted near trees, whose roots can rob hostas of water and nutrients.
Unless they’ve outgrown their space, it’s not necessary for the health of the plant for mature hostas to ever be divided. The usual reason is to have some to share with friends and family. That’s one way to have a hosta named after you.