Shade-loving hostas among best plants for beginners – Springfield News-Leader

When it comes to growing hostas, Tom Lakowske might serve as inspiration — or perhaps as a cautionary tale.

“I saw one at a nursery and picked it up and brought it home and planted it. And that started me on the road to having more than 250 varieties. Oops!” Lakowske says with an easy laugh.

The Master Gardener and president of the Greater Ozarks Hosta Society is an avid fan of shade gardening in general — he and wife Cathy have transformed their private Alta Birdsong gardens into a shade-garden paradise — but hostas top his list of favorites.

And with good reason: They’re among the least fickle plants in the world.

Lakowske says they’re particularly suitable for the newbie gardener.

“The thing for new people to gardening about hostas is you plant them and they’re so easy to care for and they’re beautiful and they come in a multitude of sizes and colors,” he says.

Hostas can be grown in a sunny area, but by July, they’ll take on a fried look, shrivel up and die back. Placed on the north or east side of a home or in a tree-shaded area, hostas typically thrive.

Lakowske does have one caveat about placing a hosta under a shade tree: “Don’t put them under maple trees. It’s tempting to do. They’ll slowly decline because the maple tree has such a fibrous root mat it will choke out anything, and it’s really good at choking out hostas,” he says. Japanese maples, however, are OK.

Aside from that, perhaps the biggest problem is deciding which hostas to grow. Some are tiny. Some grow to 4 or 5 feet tall and 6 feet around.

Lakowske says hostas originated in Asia and, while they’ve been in the United States quite some time, didn’t explode in popularity in the United States until the 1980s, when a new way of propagating through tissue culturing was discovered.

“Now there are several thousand varieties of hostas, anything from the size that will fit in a teacup to giants that are 6 feet tall,” Lakowske says.

Lakowske recommends anyone interested in starting a hosta garden first take a stroll through the hosta garden at Springfield-Greene County Botanical Gardens. The garden has recently been named one of 18 American Hosta Society National Display Gardens.

He also recommends planting in groups of three and playing with different shades, shapes, sizes and colors to create a striking landscape.

“The blues and chartreuses look really good close together,” he notes.

If soil or space is a concern, Lakowske says hostas do quite well in pots. When selecting a pot, he says bigger is better, but anything greater than a gallon will do.

Fill the pot with a mixture of half potting mix and half fine pine bark mulch. “If you do that 50/50, it’ll retain moisture and hostas will thrive in them,” Lakowske says.

And that brings us to the two things critical for successfully growing hostas:

• Keep them wet. “When you water your hostas, once you think you’ve given them enough, give them a little bit more,” Lakowske says, adding not to forget to give them a good watering when they go dormant in fall.

• Keep the bugs off them. Slugs and cutworms view hostas as a buffet. Regularly treat hostas with an organic pest control, such as Sluggo.

Finally, Lakowske says if you’re just getting started with hostas, strongly consider attending the Greater Ozarks Hosta Society’s Hosta Dividing Seminar and Plant Sale on April 12 at the Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center.

“It’s free,” he says. “I also get into basic hosta care, and we sell some gorgeous hostas cheap.”

TO LEARN MORE• Greater Ozarks Hosta Society, gohs.org• Alta Birdsong, www.swmogardens.com

WANT TO GO?What: Greater Ozarks Hosta Society Hosta Dividing Seminar and Plant SaleWhen: 9 a.m.-noon April 12Where: Springfield-Greene County Botanical Center, 2400 S. Scenic Ave.Cost: FreeInfo: Go to gohs.org

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