A nationally known expert on hostas spoke to about 80 Master Gardeners on Sunday and offered a revelation: The plants merely “tolerate” the shade, but they thrive in full sun and good watering
Rob Mortko, known as the “The Hosta Guy,” brought about 100 hosta plants from his suburban Kansas City business, Made in the Shade Gardens, to sell before and after his hour-long Powerpoint presentation at the Iowa State Extension Service office in Bettendorf.
His talk was built around a number of “pop quizzes” that debunked numerous myths about the hosta, including the tip about shade. Also, the hardy hosta likes more water than you’ve probably been giving it, he said.
“I think that the usual standard of one and half inch of water per week may not be enough,” Mortko said. “Especially with the wind drying out the ground.”
Still, “They’re a tough plant. They’ll grow in less-than-ideal conditions and despite our lack of attention,” he said.
And, as one audience member chimed in, “They play well with other plants.”
The hosta, according to a poll by the Perennial Plant Association, remains the most popular perennial every year since 1965.
Mortko, who earned a chemical engineering degree, said the 30-plus species of hostas originated in China, Japan and Korea.
“The balancing act,” he instructed, “is give them enough sun where they’re optimally vigorous but not too much that they will burn. And they will tell you!”
He added that too much sun wouldn’t kill them; they’ll just start burning a little bit. That’s where the extra water helps.
“Water cures a lot of sins,” he said. If it doesn’t rain enough, he suggests using mulch to help retain the moisture.
And despite his college degree, he isn’t big on fertilizer, preferring good soil preparation and the proverbial water. He does encourage using organic matter from your compost pile.
Other tips include:
• Hostas with more white in the middle thrive best with morning sun
• The best time to divide the plants is in the fall, four to six weeks before the first frost. This allows for better root growth
• Remove decaying leaves before winter sets in.