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Barry Fugatt: Versatile, hardy hostas make good potted plants

Barry Fugatt: Versatile, hardy hostas make good potted plants

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2020-05-03 sc-barryp1

Many large blue hostas, such as the Blue Angel seen here, are built like sumo wrestlers — wider than they are tall. Barry Fugatt/for the Tulsa World

A Garden World reader, new to gardening, was perplexed about the “proper” way to grow hostas. He purchased three hostas last spring, planted two in his garden, but never got around to planting the third. He was surprised this spring to discover that the hosta he over-wintered in a pot on his patio looked as good or better than the two he planted in the garden.

“Was this highly unusual?” he asked.

This gardener had stumbled upon a neat little garden secret. Hostas make outstanding container plants! And with more than a thousand different hosta varieties on the nursery market, there is a size, shape and color to suit every gardener’s taste. Honestly, of the countless shrubs and perennials I’ve grown in containers, hostas are my absolute favorites.

Bear in mind, however, that some hostas grow quite large, 3 to 4 feet in height and width. Whereas, others stay quite small, maturing at less than a foot in height and spread. For best results, match the proper pot size with the variety being grown. Placing a small hosta such as Grand Tiara or So Sweet in a large 5-gallon pot may result in poor plant performance and possibly death from root rot.

As odd as it may sound, many hostas appear to enjoy being relatively pot bound. When pot size and hosta variety are a good match, the plant can go for years without need of repotting. I have a large hosta named Sagae (a truly spectacular variegated variety) that has been happily growing in the same 15-gallon pot on my patio for the past six years! I’m sure it’s totally root bound by now, but as long as it’s happy, I see no reason to repot it. And when I do repot it, I will divide it into four to six “pups” to share with friends. Dividing hostas is best done in early spring, just as new growth begins to emerge.

A question often asked involves how best to safely over-winter a container-grown hosta. After early winter weather has killed top growth and produced plant dormancy, I then place container hostas next to my home’s foundation where they receive just enough protection to survive truly cold temperatures in December and January. Another safe way to over-winter a container-grown hosta is to bury the container up to the container rim in the ground and place several inches of mulch around it. The warm soil and mulch will safely carry a hosta through the coldest winter. In spring, simply lift the pot from the ground, clean the exterior of the pot, fertilize with Osmocote and you’re good for another season of hosta beauty.

Still another question asked by gardeners involves blue hostas. Specifically, they want to know why the lovely blue foliage color of many hosta varieties fades to green by mid-summer. The color change, I assure gardeners, has nothing to do with gardening prowess.

The mystery behind the color change may be solved by simply wiping one’s finger across the blue surface of the leaf. The blue color easily wipes off. The color, it turns out, is caused by a waxy surface bloom (coating) that gradually wears off on its own due to sun, rain and high summer temperatures.

Many large blue hostas are built like sumo wrestlers — wider than they are tall. Therefore, give them plenty of room to fully mature. Several varieties that I’ve enjoyed growing include Blue Angel, Elegans, Halcyon and Hillbilly Blues. There are many others to select from.

Hosta la vista!

Barry Fugatt is director of horticulture at the Tulsa Garden Center and Linnaeus Teaching Garden. He may be reached by email:

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