Hosta As Houseplants?
9/23/01 "Hi-- For a variety of reasons, I and several co-workers here have inherited some rather unhappy hosta in pots. We are wondering what we can do to revive them, and whether they can be raised as indoor office plants. So far, everything we have found on hosta refers to their care and feeding when they are outdoors, and no one we've talked to has ever tried to raise them inside. Any thoughts would be greatly appreciated! Thanks-- EH, Bismarck, North Dakota"
Hello, Elizabeth....Thanks for your inquiry. There's really no valid reason to suspect that hosta wouldn't thrive indoors in containers—providing a few essential conditions are met.
Hosta have a very robust and large root system, and will need a container considerably larger than most common houseplants. Minimum 12" for a medium-size hosta. (Roots in improved garden soil will spread 18+ inches in all directions—including down—so give them some foot-space.)
A key—and inescapable—requirement is correct soil pH. Lime must be added to maintain nearly neutral pH (your State University Ag Department can provide reliable soil-testing service at a reasonable cost; contact your local Cooperative Extension Service for assistance and instructions). Any medium- to high-quality houseplant potting mix will suffice; add 1 cup of ground limestone to one 20-pound bag. Thereafter, add an ounce or so to the container once each following year.
Trim away all damaged, decaying, or unsightly foliage, and gently wash remaining leaves with a damp sponge or moistened, soft towel. Resist the temptation to coat foliage with products that're supposed to make leaves shiny...they can plug pores and, if used heavily, will attract even more dust...unless you like polishing leaves every week.
As you likely already know, moisture must be maintained—but not a "soggy-bog." And while you may wish to place a saucer or tray beneath each container to protect furniture, that saucer should never be filled with water. Irrigating should be done in a sink, where a flush of water is allowed to completely drain before return to the saucer. (Any sign of whitish-yellowish-brownish deposit around the container's lip or drainage holes is an indication of fertilizer salt buildup—and must be dealt with quickly: Scrape or soak deposits from all surfaces, place the container in a sink, tub or shower, and flush it out thoroughly.)
Hosta (and most other indoor plants) benefit from an occasional shower using slightly-lukewarm water. A shower stall or spray hose attached to the kitchen sink works well. Bathe them once every 2 or 3 weeks—removes dust and cat hair, serves to keep plant's pores open and efficient, and prevents salts build-up.
Every 3 months or so, add a teaspoonful of Osmokote (14-14-14 +/-) per one-gallon-size pot's worth of soil. (By the way, a standard "one-gallon" black plastic nursery container is actually 3/4-gallon. (I've been in the nursery business for years, but I'll never understand why most nursery operators insist on calling 3 quarts a gallon. There must be some slick 'n mysterious, big-city marketing tactic in play here! They use a 6-quart container for a plant, then call it—and price it—as "2-gallon!" Personally, I always feel significantly short-changed when I'm asked to pay $14.99 for a 2-gallon plant that's about the right size for a $6.99, 1-gallon pot.) Enough of that...back to basics:
Most hosta are grown in partial shade. A couple hours of very bright window light early in the day, followed by bright, conventional, fluorescent lighting during the remainder, should suffice. Be aware of drafts, especially during winter months. Allow your plant to "talk" to you. Continuous production of rich, dark green (variegated or other color) leaves, standing tall, lustrous and healthy say, "I really like it where I am!" Leaves which droop, hang, appear dull and possibly faded are saying, "Something is really wrong, here!" Improper pH? Insufficient moisture? Fertilizer salt build-up? Far too much light? Attack by hoards of tiny insects? Your job: Play Sherlock Holmes, then react accordingly. Far better, however, is to be pro-active—prevent problems before they occur.
Spider mites could present an annoying, but manageable, problem. Tiny insects (about 25-30 of the little critters lined up nose to tail might stretch an inch) mites usually congregate at or near the tips of new growth. Mites are piercing-sucking insects, and cause curling and distortion of leaves, and speckled discoloration on the upper surface. Most large garden centers and farm 'n garden stores carry a highly effective natural insect control called "Pyrethrin." That's the one; follow label directions, be sure to avoid inhaling spray mist, and wash up with soap and water when you're done. Yes, it's supposed to be natural and safe, but I still don't want anything in my mouth, eyes or lungs that can kill a bug. Indoor plants should never be sprayed with toxic pesticides for obvious reasons: children, pets, your lungs and bone marrow.That should give you some guidelines....it's really not as complicated as it sounds. Apply modest intelligence and common sense. Hosta are easy; they've been said to grow on a bald man's head! So, jump right in and enjoy.
Holes In Hosta Leaves
3/1/01 What can you do when you have little holes on your hosta leaves? And also, what eats the whole root and kills the hosta? Thanks. L.
Holes in hosta leaves are most often produced by slugs, grasshoppers and certain caterpillar-like insects. Some types of leaf-cutter bees also take almost perfectly-round sections right out in the middle of leaves. Considering you're in Minnesota, I'd guess yours are the result of slug or grasshopper feeding - the most common cause.
More than a few gardeners these days are leaning away from highly-toxic bug sprays - which I think is a wise course of action - and selecting equally-effective natural materials. Slug pellets are attractive to birds, small animals, household pets and small children (even cats who've lain on, or walked through, pellets later ingest poisons during their grooming process). Residues get into the soil, then into our food chain and water supplies. I don't use them...the potential consequences are too disturbing.
Slugs are physiologically acidic - powerfully acidic - and are repulsed by alkaline conditions. Oddly enough, hosta grow and perform at their maximum in alkaline soil...........so...........if the soil pH is adjusted (sweetened) to the point where hosta (and almost all other perennials as well) like it....the slugs will avoid that area. There are a couple of articles in Archives that will expand on the subject: "All You Need To Know About Hosta" and "Slugs & Snails".
Mice, shrews, moles, voles and gophers consider hosta crowns (roots) a particularly tasty treat....and will munch on them during any time of the year... but especially over winter - under the snow - when other foods are scarce.
Cats - lots of them - can help....but these tiny munchers multiply at prodigious rates. Once again, poisons are dangerous and can be a slow, prolonged and unpleasant death for even vermin to have to undergo. Quick-kill traps are probably the best and most effective. Orient traps so the creature MUST approach the bait from the end....not the sides. A standard mouse trap can be baited with something like half-cashews (salted...they love salty food) and placed between two bricks to prevent side-access. (if they come in from the side, they're apt to be caught by a foot or leg, and suffer for several hours before perishing from exhaustion.)
As you might expect, I prefer a more humane approach. Today, a number of live traps are on the market and, since these little creatures adapt quickly, they can be lured into them and you can transport them into a more wild location away from your garden. A mile would work... but not around other dwellings. Be very cautious, however, because almost all have fleas (that could be carrying disease) and could possibly carry rabies. Up close they're "cute" but don't be tempted to directly handle them.
By the way, both vermin and slugs are apt to be present in HUGE numbers—even if you don't see them. Get yourself ready for what might end up being an extended battle.
Nibblers and browers can be discouraged as well (deer, woodchucks and rabbits all like hosta leaves). A very effective deterrent is detailed in the article "Repelling The Rascals" on the web site.
Dividing Hosta (and sowing hosta seeds)Jim....Thanks for your questions...and your "thank you" -- Hosta can be divided either fall or spring. If Fall, early enough so they can re-develop some new roots for anchoring. If Spring, just as the growing points (usually like little green bullets pointing out of the ground) emerge. I dig, shake all the soil off, then cut into 2 or 3 "eye" pieces (each "eye" being a growing point). Be careful not to cut or injure any more roots than necessary. Replant into renewed soil immediately so they don't dry out. After flowers fade, seed capsules form - most hosta growers remove them...for looks and so the plant won't waste too much energy making seeds that will never be used. When these pods yellow and begin to split, you can harvest the winged seeds (very thin and fragile), allow them to dry (or cure) a few days in a cool, dry area....then plant by spreading on prepared soil and covering lightly. Keep them moist but not soppy wet and, in a few weeks (or next spring if you sow outdoors) you'll see some babies. Since the seed is "open-pollinated" (and, assuming you have more than one variety), you may see some interesting (and potentially valuable) variations in leaf color, shape, variegations, etc. Fun. You might like to check out the "All you need to know about hosta" article on this website. Fred.
10/16/00 When do you split hosta - if you do. Spring or fall? One hosta plant with flower that has died has little buds with little black leaf like objects. Are these seeds and can they be dried and planted in the spring? Thank you, Jim
HOSTA lancifoliaGood Morning Mike.....Lancifolia is one of the most common hosta varieties. Actually, you might have ended up with another variety called "Rigosa" which is virtually indistinguishable from lancifolia to the untrained eye. Most nurseries have it in abundance for around $4 or $5. Doesn't surprise me that the mega-box-stores can't get any more....(translated: "we don't think there's enough profit TRYING to get more"). Not so with the independent nursery.
5/4/99 Hi, Do you know where I can get a Hosta variety named Lancifolia? I purchased some at a Wal-Mart and I need more. They cannot get any. Mike
(Later note: Lancifolia type hosta are easy to grow and multiply rapidly. I suggest you visit the largest retail nursery in your area and purchase a couple of larger plants, then take them home and divide down to as many 2 or 3-eye sections as is allowed by its size. I've gotten as many as a dozen out of one $12.99 plant! Such a deal! Spring or early fall is the best time. Fall may be better because Lancifolia isn't too popular and you might run into a decent sale.) Fred
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