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Hosta blues: beat slugs and snails

Hosta Canadian Blue
Hosta Canadian Blue

If lush foliage and luxuriant leaves are your things, you can’t do better than a hosta.

However, mine often look more like lace curtains, thanks to snail population boom.

Not many of us can boast the dappled shade of a woodland’s edge to grow them in, but with so many of us gardening in the shadow of buildings, their architectural shapes, colours and flowers (which many people forget), make them an ideal component for contemporary planting.

They do have some demands but are on the whole quite easy. Hostas will grow almost anywhere, but not in the hot sun – dappled shade is their thing.

Leaves with lots of white can scorch, so need deeper shade, and blue varieties grow bluer in a shadier home. I have divisions of the same plant which look completely different depending on the light intensity.

Give them a moist but well-drained, humus-rich soil – dig in lots of compost when planting. Mulch with well-rotted manure or compost in early spring, adding slow-release fertiliser or a handful of fish, blood, and bone.

For hostas in pots, I’ve read that several growers warn against Miracle-Gro for fertilising all the time, as nitrogen from it builds up too much acidity in the soil.

Some recommend half-strength tomato or seaweed preparations as a foliar feed, or chicken manure pellets.

I have to say until I looked it up, I didn’t know there were so many competing theories! Maybe this is why hostas have a reputation of being awkward.

Decent compost

I bought my first one nearly 25 years ago. I’ve planted mine in decent compost, chuck a random handful of fish, blood, and bone at them in spring and let them get on with it.

If you overfeed, the lush growth will just attract slugs and snails. Many of my early varieties were simply labelled “variegated hosta” which looking back, isn’t very helpful.

I did buy two so-called “bargain deals” from an online supplier during winter, with the result that several did not come away at all. (I’ve never got over the laughably-named Touch of Class, dead as a doornail).

Container-grown, in-leaf specimens are more expensive from a garden centre, but my choice would be small-scale specialists, where you’re likely to get more unusual varieties. You get what you pay for.

Poor old Empress Wu

After 2014’s trip to the Harrogate Spring Flower Show, I bought the biggest hosta of them all – Empress Wu (50”), with huge dark green leaves (28”x25”) and pale lavender flowers.

The lovely people at Mickfield Hostas did warn me how big it got… which only added to the attraction.

By last autumn, poor Empress Wu had been moved from pillar to post, now in her third position in the border.

As I write this, she’s due for another move – the slugs and snails mauled her to shreds in the border. Now I’m moving all my hostas into large containers surrounded by slug-proof barriers at the base and a band of deterrent material at the top.

Slug and snail-resistant hostas (sometimes)

Hosta Orange Marmalade
Me at the Harrogate Spring Flower Show 2015 with hosta Orange Marmalade

Gastropods – slugs and snails – are the bane of a hosta’s life, but there are varieties which they don’t seem quite so keen on – those with blue or thick, puckered leaves.

Start your campaign mid-February with organic slug killers.

Surrounding prized plants with coffee grounds, eggshells, beer traps and copper tape or bands.

Here are some of the best slug-resistant varieties:

  • Sum and Substance: colossal, ridged and wrinkled, golden leaves. Lilac flowers, 1m.
  • H. sieboldiana var elegans: stiff, puckered leaves, lilac-tinged white flowers, 60cm.
  • One Man’s Treasure: glossy, rippled dark green leaves, purple-spotted stems, flower stems and seedpods, 35cm.
  • Devon Green: dark, polished leaves, 45cm.
  • Praying Hands: waxy, white-edged dark leaves, folded into parallel undulations, pale lavender flowers, 45cm.
  • Sleeping Beauty: blue-grey pointed leaves with creamy margin, lavender flowers, 40cm.
  • Stepping Out: blue-green plump leaves with gold margins, white flowers, 40cm.
  • Toy Soldier: blue, heart-shaped leaves with a two-tone margin, lime in deep shade, cream in brighter conditions, lavender flowers, 40cm.
  • Dorset Blue: heart-shaped, powdery blue leaves, large white flowers, 25cm.
  • Blue Mouse Ears: thick, rounded, blue leaves, with large, almost double flowers in pale, clear lilac, 15cm.

    Mickfield Hostas stand at the Harrogate Spring Flower Show 2015
    At the Mickfield Hostas stand at the Harrogate Spring Flower Show 2015

If that’s not enough, look these ones up: Blue Wedgwood; Canadian Shield; Leather Sheen; Krossa Regal; Halcyon; Queen Josephine; Blue Moon; Love Pat; Blue Dimples; Hadspen Blue; Camelot; Blue Arrow; Tokudama; Sweet Jill; Sweet Marjorie; Sweet Standard; Sweet Susan; Sweet Winifred; Blue Angel; Northern Halo; Grey Ghost; Venus; White Knight; Robert Frost; Northern Exposure; Olive Bailey Langdon; Blue Dimples; Blue Whirls; Wide Brim; Zounds; Great Expectation; Regal Splendor; Sea Lotus Leaf; Snow Cap; Sun Power; Super Nova; June; Bold Ruffles; Blue Mammoth; Joseph; Guardian Angel; August Moon; Big Daddy; Aspen Gold; Fragrant Blue; Blue Shadows; Christmas Tree; Night Before Christmas; Paul’s Glory; Pineapple Upside Down Cake; Sun Power; September Sun.