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Flowers, Fruits, and Frass

Winter Hosta Care

Hostas are among some of the most cherished perennials of all time, creating a lush pallet of bright greens, muted greens, chartreuse greens, variegated greens and creams, and blue greens.

They come in miniature versions to lofting leaves as tall as a small child. Hostas are commonly described as ''fabulous foliage plants" by the industry but some of their blooms can be exceedingly showy, exceptionally fragrant and especially attractive to hummingbirds and bees.

These perennials thrive planted in the shade of trees and are acknowledged for their reliability and hardiness. Spreading by rhizomes, they can be easily divided in the early spring by digging up and separating growing tips.

Many hosta gardeners may not realize this, but there are few winter garden tasks that will help maximize their display:

1. Cut back your hosta foliage and petioles. If hosta nematodes are present they can be removed before settling back in the crown, plant debris or soil. Hosta nematodes are microscopic roundworms that live and feed on the hosta leaves. Symptoms show up in the early summer as yellow discoloration followed by brown streaking between the veins, eventually killing the older leaves. If a disease is present, dispose of discarded spent foliage so that it does not spread the following spring. Hosta disease comes in a wide range of leaf markings. Cutting back the foliage also reduces future slug populations.

2. Hostas prefer rich soils high in organic matter. Adding organic materials such as peat, composted manure, kitchen compost or shredded leaves will help improve soil structure and add nutrients. Add handfuls into the soil when cutting back leaves.

3. Remove soggy wet leaves to discourage rabbits and voles.

4. If hostas are newly transplanted, a layer of mulch may be added after the ground has frozen. This will insulate the soils to prevent frost heaving. Remember to remove the mulch the following spring so the crown does not rot.

5. Vole damage on hostas may have to be addressed through garden alterations, repellents, and trapping. If voles are a major problem, adding a layer of mulch for winter protection may not be a viable option and removing hiding places like tall grasses may help. There are repellents made of capsaicin (hot pepper) and castor oil but their effectiveness is not fully known because of their short-term presence and should be applied to the soil around the hosta crowns. Trapping voles can be done but must be used with other methods to be effective.

Photo by University of Illinois Plant Clinic