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Published August 09, 2009, 12:00 AM

DARREL KOEHLER: Homage to hostas

While the real glory of hostas is in their foliage, the thin spikes of white or blue trumpet-shaped flowers that appear for several weeks in the summer can be a bonus. Originally from Asia, this perennial, which is also known as plantain lily, comes in a wide variety of leaf shapes, sizes and color.

By: Darrel Koehler, Grand Forks Herald

While the real glory of hostas is in their foliage, the thin spikes of white or blue trumpet-shaped flowers that appear for several weeks in the summer can be a bonus. Originally from Asia, this perennial, which is also known as plantain lily, comes in a wide variety of leaf shapes, sizes and color.

Generally, hostas are shade lovers, although some will tolerate sun. Many will even grow in considerable sun in cool-summer regions such as the Red River Valley. All forms go dormant in winter, even in mild climates. All are splendid companions for ferns and plants with fernlike foliage, such as bleeding heart and columbine.

Care is minimal as plants last for years. Hosta clumps expand in size and shade out weed growth. Feeding once a year will bring on extra leafy splendor. A blanket of peat moss around the plants will prevent mud from splattering leaves. Unfortunately, both slugs and white-tailed deer enjoy dining on tender hostas, so you will have to make provisions if either or both are a problem.

Varieties

Hosta varieties welcome spring or fall dividing, making them a good choice for gardeners seeking to build their investment. They’re tolerant of acid and alkaline soils, although they perform best in good old-fashioned garden dirt.

An excellent place to view newer varieties is at the hosta and daylily garden, operated by All Seasons Garden Center and Floral, 5100 S. Washington St. Owners Georgia and Dieter Heitmann have set up the display garden in a wooded glen, just north of the garden center. You are welcome to visit and take notes on the latest in either hostas or daylilies.

There is a sign at the entrance, which is invitingly planted with petunias, flowering kale and other border plants. An iron archway allows you to pass through, and then you just follow the redwood bark trails. Even after a rain, you won’t get muddy shoes on your trek.

The first portion of the garden is devoted to hostas, many of which were planted this season. This is followed by the daylily section at the rear. Plants, as well as the shade trees and shrubs, are marked. As visitors will note, many of the daylilies are repeat bloomers — a trend in many perennials. This extends the bloom period from a couple of weeks to the entire summer.

Diverse plant

One of the largest hosta-growing operations is in Minnesota. Gordy Oslund is a banker turned nurseryman and operates Shady Oaks Nursery in Waseca, Minn., near Mankato. It is a sizeable retail, catalog and wholesale operation, selling specialty plants to gardeners and nurseries nationwide.

According to Oslund, hosta is a diverse plant, varying a great deal in size, color, shape and texture. Varieties range from ankle-high miniatures to flowering stalks more than 3 feet tall and 5 feet across. Plants can come with variegated foliage, or in a flashy florescent. Some emerge with leaves that curl or fold. A few are fragrant; most are fast-growing.

Hostas rank among the nation’s top-selling herbaceous perennials but that doesn’t mean they come cheap. According to Oslund, hostas can range from $4 to $40 with new introductions in the $50 to $100 category.

Ash update

Since spring, there have been two emerald ash borer outbreaks in Minnesota — one in Houston County in extreme southeastern Minnesota and later a more serious one in the St. Paul area. About 67 ash trees. which may have been unknowingly infested for three to five years, were removed in the St. Paul area. So, it can be assumed that other ash trees in that area may be infected, but aren’t showing symptom yet. The situation is being monitored.

The best way to avoid bringing the emerald borers to this region is to not bring in firewood from a distance, which may have been the culprit in the two Minnesota outbreaks. The borer only attacks ash trees of which we have white, black and green varieties. The blue ash, said to better resist the borer, is not suitable for this region.

Foresters say homeowners should hold off treating any ash tree until they are within 15 miles of a confirmed infestation. Because we are still a considerable distance from either site, we may have some extra time to prepare. In the meantime, don’t plant more ash, but by the same token, don’t start chopping down existing ash trees.

According to the Minnesota Department of Agriculture, treatments cost $50 to $200 and, once you start them, they must be done every year or two. Trees of high value are the ones you would treat. It would then be better to remove smaller trees or those that are not of high value and replace them with other shade trees if and when that becomes necessary.

Some treatments are injected into the tree, while others are applied near the base. How effective any treatment is depends on what is used, how it’s done, the age of the tree and how badly it is infested. If the tree is more than 30 to 40 percent infested, the damage is so great that there’s no way to save the tree.

For more information, Minnesotans can call the toll-free line of the Minnesota Agriculture Department at (888) 545-6684. North Dakotans can check with their local extension service office.

Garden meet

There’s still time to take in the North Dakota State Horticultural Society education conference and annually convention Aug. 13-15 in Dickinson, N.D. For information, call Craig Armstrong at (701) 456-7873 or go to craig.armstrong@diskinsongov.com.

The convention moves around the state and will probably be heading east for the 2010 event. The emerald ash borer is scheduled for discussion as well as developing a community garden and trees and shrubs for the northern plains. The first day consists of an ice cream social and a tour of campus gardens. The event kicks into high gear on Friday with a full day of educational sessions. Saturday it wraps up with more sessions, a business meeting and more tours. Visitors can also extend the trip with a stop in Medora, N.D., for a pitchfork fondue and the Medora Musical.

Plant sale

The Grand Forks Horticulture Society is planning another plant sale for Sept. 5-6 at Home of Economy. This will be the third annual sale at this site on the north-end of Grand Forks. Earlier, the group conducted a plant sale in conjunction with the July 17-18 garden tour.

The group advises that gardeners planning to make donations should pot their plants up a day ahead of time, so they will perk up for the sale. Tags with the name, color, growing preference and potential size will also help. Proceeds will go to a variety of horticulture projects. The regular fall-winter meeting schedule resumes Sept. 19 at the Campbell Library in East Grand Forks. The business session will be at 9:30 a.m. followed by the regular meeting at 10 a.m.

Dragonflies

A Grand Forks reader calls in to report an abundance of dragonflies this summer. The Prairie Gardener has also noticed the insects. They are a bit smaller than regular dragonflies, and they have a distinctive blue color about them. They prefer mosquitoes and other insect pests, so we will just leave them alone and admire their fleeting beauty. So far, mosquitoes haven’t been a problem this year.

Koehler is the Herald’s garden columnist. His column is published every Sunday in this section during the growing season. Send garden questions to him in care of the Grand Forks Herald, Box 6008, Grand Forks ND 58206-6008. Tune in the weekly gardening show airing at 4:10 p.m. Thursdays on KNOX Radio 1310 (A.M.)

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