'Tom Schmid' and other shade-tolerant hostas around tree tunk
Photo: Alison Rosa
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Susceptible to Garden Pest Damage

While hosta leaves are tender, meaning they die back where winters are cold, the plants are not delicate and will survive down to minus 40 degrees F, growing in the coldest parts of Minnesota (Zone 3) as well as in central Florida (USDA Hardiness Zone 9). They prefer moist, well-draining soil with a good amount of organic matter. It's hard to overwater hostas, but expect them to need about an inch of water each week during the hottest months. Generally easy to grow and disease resistant, they can be susceptible to damage from common garden pests, including deer, voles, rabbits, and slugs.

Today's breeders are tackling practical concerns, such as increased slug resistance (by developing varieties with thicker, more textured leaves) and smaller plant size, as well as cosmetic improvements, including better colorfastness, new leaf shapes, and surface sheen. A lot of effort is being put into developing miniature hostas because of the versatility that these smaller plants, most of which are less than 7 inches high, can provide. Planted under larger perennials in borders or mixed into a container, minis work where larger hostas overwhelm. Newer ones of note include 'Alakazaam,' with ruffled, tapered leaves with green centers, yellow margins, and tiny lavender flowers; and the larger 'Gemstone,' up to 10 inches high, with wavy, rippled blue leaves and lavender flowers on 22-inch-high stems.

Shown: When a lawn runs right up to the base of a tree, mowers and string trimmers can damage the trunk. Ringing the tree with shade-tolerant hostas safeguards the bark and creates a focal point in the yard. Here, the large, variegated leaves of 'Tom Schmid' tower above smaller varieties.
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