Friday, June 26, 2015

6 Top Hosta Myths

I love Hosta,  There, I said it!  I love buying them, planting them, and watching them get bigger and more beautiful every year.  I also like the way they brighten up my gardens like no other plant can.  They come in some gorgeous shades of green, white and yellow with leaves that range from small to large.  I really like the pie crust edge ones right now-they add a little something to the Hosta.  I am not a Hosta expert by any means, but I have a little experience and have done plenty of research on this wonderful species over the years and there are a few myths I hear constantly and it drive me nuts. So, here they are:

1.  Hostas are shade plants-this is probably the biggest myth there is.  I get so sick of people telling other people that Hostas can not tolerate any sun.  Hostas are the opposite, meaning they are shade tolerant which means they tolerate lower levels of light.  In Asia, where they are from, they grow in the sun.  Now, those of you in the southern part of it's range,  it is best to give them shade because the sun is stronger down there (it's all about latitude).  But those of us up here in the north, well, we can grow some of them in the sun as long as we supply adequate moisture.  The more sun and water they get the bigger they get.  Also, some of the yellow and variegated cultivars will color up better with some sun and the solid green ones are pretty sun tolerant.  The only ones I would avoid planting in the sun are the blue ones-they won't hold their color well (they will lose their waxy coating and look green).  Here are a couple pics of some I have growing in some sun:

Hostas "Brother Stefan" and "Elvis Lives" growing in the sun with Lamb's Ear
Hosta "August Moon" can take quite a bit of sun
Hosta "Honeybells", like most fragrant Hosta, can take the sun

2.  Hostas are hard to kill.  Another myth.  While it might be almost impossible to kill the "old fashioned" Hostas it is possible to kill a plant you paid good money for.  Some Hosta growers have also said that certain hostas like "Great Expectations" are very difficult.  If you google difficult Hostas you will see some chatter on the internet on the subject.  I haven't come across any that seemed difficult to me but I have lost Hosta "Sum of All" this past winter to vole damage.  They ate the entire crown.  Voles and rabbits are usually what take mine out, but I have lost a few to other issues related to the retailer I purchased them from, hence number 5 on my list.

"Old Fashioned" Hostas are hard to kill

3.  Hostas should be divided.  This is soooo untrue!  Sure, Hostas can be divided-but they don't need to be-at least not for many years.  Why is it that some people never let their Hostas reach their size potential?  I love big Hostas-I think that is when they look their best.  Most of the time heavy corrugation or huge leaves won't show up in a Hosta until it gets some age.  I didn't buy "Sum and Substance" or "Sagae" because I want a small Hosta with little leaves.  I bought them because they get huge with gorgeous leaves!  If you want  a bunch of small Hostas then buy small Hostas-there are many out there.  Don't buy An "Empress Wu" and then never let it get to the size that it should be.  That is just silly! 

Hosta "Sum and Substance" is young but already 3.5' wide
Hosta "Christmas Tree" is 4.5' wide

4.  Damage to Hosta plants is caused mostly from slugs.  This one drives me nuts!  All over the internet people show pictures of an issue with their Hosta and everyone always tells them it is slugs and to put eggshells down.  Slugs are not the only cause for holes or damage to Hosta plants.  There are sooo many reasons a Hosta can look terrible or have holes.  A few of these reasons are: falling objects, hail, cold damage, stepping on, cutworms, animals eating them, and anthracnose.  My biggest problem is with cutworms and I did a post last year on them-here it is:  Here are some examples of some damage I have on my Hostas and what caused it:
Slug damage on Hosta
Cutworm damage on Hosta
Hosta damage from being stepped on in early Spring
Damage on a Hosta from falling debris
Damage on Hosta from falling debris
Rabbit damage on Hosta

5.  It doesn't matter where you buy your Hosta plants.  Another falsehood.  I no longer buy my Hostas from a source that has no clue about the plant or who doesn't guarantee disease free stock.  Your big box stores and some nurseries are clueless to any diseases or issues associated with Hostas and because of that they are spreading the problem.  Heck, they have diseased stock sitting there on the salesfloor just waiting for an unwitting customer to buy up their infected plants.  Ignorance is on their side.  Personally, I opt to buy disease free stock from the most reputable sources.  And guess what-they are not more expensive and they have better selections. You would not believe the varieties you can buy-not just the same old Hosta.  Here are just a few of the issues that you might find with your Hosta if you buy from a unreliable source: HVX, Nematodes, Athracnose, Crown Rot (also called Petiole Rot), and Bacterial Soft Rot.  My favorite Hosta retailers are:

6.  HVX is not a problem.  Yes it is!  One of the biggest problems with HVX is denial.  I once saw a very reputable blogger's post on shade plants and what did she show a picture of?  An HVX infected "Gold Standard" Hosta.  Of course, she has since removed the photo (I think), but still did she not notice something wrong?  It had classic ink bleed throughout the entire plant.  I hope she didn't think she had something interesting there. If your Hosta is looking unhealthy, has ink bleed or tissue collapse you should have it tested for the disease.  For more information on this issue see the Hosta Library:

I hope I have given you some information on Hostas that you can use and refuted those pesky myths that seems to surround these beautiful plants.  If you have any question or comments feel free to leave them below. 

Happy Gardening!  Rhonda

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Composting and/or Lasagna Gardening the Easy Way

Every gardener has their own way of doing things and this is true of composting.  Some have an elaborate bin system and take the temperature, some people use pre-made compost tumblers, and some just pile it up.  There are many ways to compost and they are all correct if it makes you happy and you get compost in the end.  In this post I will explain a couple ways I compost and how I use kitchen scraps and yard waste to make a better garden.

I have been composting for many years now, even when I rented.  I did this mostly to be "green" and reduce landfill waste my family created.  That changed when we purchased our own home.  That is when I not only composted to be "green" but also for the end product.  The soil at my new home was hard and unworkable, especially in my backyard.  I began using my compost to raise up (mound) my flower beds to make it easier to plant and to give the plants a fighting chance.  When I began work on my backyard I began a form of composting similar to "lasagna" gardening.  This method has made a huge difference in the condition of the soil in my backyard.  Almost every flower bed is a product of lasagna gardening, even a few in my front yard.  It has worked out very well for me and I think it would work well for anybody who has difficult soil.  The addition of compost to any soil can only improve it.  Here are a couple of pics of some of my lasagna beds that I have made:
Starting a Lasagna flower bed
The start of a lasagna bed last fall

Lasagna flower bed
Lasagna bed this spring
Completed lasagna flower bed
Completed lasagna bed now connecting 2 other beds

Lasagna flower bed in progress
Lasagna bed in progress

Lasagna bed complete and planted

Finished lasagna flower bed
Lasagna bed today
I have 2 different ways I compost-the first is the lasagna garden i mentioned earlier and the second is just standard composting.  My family and I produce enough waste to do them simultaneously, or if necessary I will go and find myself some material to compost.  Neighbors leaves and grass are always a welcome addition as well as coffee grinds from a local coffee shop.  Whatever I can get a hold of.  So here are a few questions you might have:

1.  So what do I compost?  Just about anything that is plant based.  This includes small sticks or branches (cut up), paper, vegetable waste, leaves, pine needles, grass, weeds that haven't set seed, yard waste (non diseased), sod, dirt, cotton clothing, tea bags, coffee grinds, old coffee, old juices, fruit, old mulch, fish water, gunk from my pond when I clean it, the list can be endless.  What I do not put in my compost is dog or cat waste (most other animal waste is fine), meats, dairy, fats, bread or pasta-some of these attract unwanted animals or nasty bugs.

Grass clippings to compost

Sticks to compost

Paper to compost

Vegetables for compost

2.  What do I use to collect my compost in the house?  I use an ice cream bucket.  No need for anything fancy-the ice cream bucket seals well enough to keep odors in and if it gets too nasty I can throw it in the recycle bin and use a new one.  You can decorate it if you feel the need, but I leave it.  I usually have a few on hand-I can fill a bucket up fast so I have backups ready.
Ice cream bucket to collect compost

3.  Where do I put my compost pile?  Wherever I want a new flower bed or for my other pile I put it where I can find the space.  These are usually in the backyard-compost piles are not attractive so I avoid anywhere in the front yard.  Since they are in the back that means they are in shade or part shade.  If you want to hot compost (which will kill seeds and diseases) it will need to be in full sun.  I cold compost-which takes longer so my location does not matter.
My compost area
Lasagna garden I am working on-was a low area

4.  Do I need to turn my compost pile?  If you want to.  It will make it "work" faster.  I do not.  I just lay it in a pile, cover it, then let nature and the worms do their job.
Worms galore in my compost pile

5.  Do I worry about browns and greens?  Nope.  I just add what I have.  I do, however, cover any new addition to the pile with either soil, leaves or grass.  This helps keep animals out and also keeps it from smelling.

6.  Do I get bugs in my compost?  Sure do-all kinds.  Does it "bug" me?  Nope-bugs, like worms, are an essential part of the composting process.

7.  How do you lasagna garden?  My lasagna gardening technique is almost the same as everyone else except I do not lay down cardboard and I do not double dig.  I just find a spot for the garden and start my pile.  I usually begin this in fall when I have an abundance of leaves and pine needles and this is also when I have plenty of yard debris from my gardens.
The start of a lasagna garden

Adding scraps to new lasagna garden

Just keep adding material to the lasagna garden until it fills in

Lasagna garden almost ready

8.  How long does it take to have a finished lasagna garden?  Depends on the size of garden you want and how much material you have.  It takes about 1-2 years for some of the gardens I have made, but if you went small you can pile and plant right away.

9.  Does it really work?  You bet!  The soil in my backyard has improved 100 percent!  Before I had nothing-not even weeds (wish I had a before picture) and now I can grow just about anything. 

10. What else do you use your compost for?  I usually add it to my flower beds when I expand them or fill in holes I create.  I also use some of the compost from my actual compost pile  for the lasagna beds to cover up the additions of scraps I make.  Let's just say I use a lot of it!

Composting and lasagna gardening are wonderful ways to add nutrients to your soil and to also help the environment.  Why send all of that great garbage to the dump when you can use it at home and reap the benefits?  If you want to read up on another easy method for composting check out my friend The Garden Frog's technique at this link:  I hope I have motivated you to do some composting or lasagna gardening and if you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them below.

As always-Happy Gardening!  Rhonda


Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Easy Plant Propagation Using a 2 Liter Bottle

I love growing plants from seed but sometimes it isn't feasible to do this.  Some plants won't come true from seed while others might be sterile and not set seed at all.  Another reason is also time.  In some cases it takes time to grow out a plant from a seed.  This is where propagating from cuttings of the plant works out beautifully.  Some people shy away from propagation of plants by cuttings because they think it is difficult or it might take a long time.  Well, it doesn't.  In some cases you can get a plant cutting to begin rooting in as little as a few days.  One example of an easy to root plant is Mint and another would be Lemon Balm, but almost anything can propagated from a cutting.  I have used my method on just about anything including herbs, houseplants, perennials and shrubs (softwood cuttings).
Plant propagation using a 2 liter bottle
Cuttings grown in 2 liter bottles

The method of propagation I use involves the use of a 2 liter bottle and cuttings.  For a cutting to take root humidity/moisture levels must be maintained and the 2 liter bottle keeps the cutting all warm and moist until it sends out new roots.  You can do it inside anytime or outside (in the shade) when it is warm out-Spring and Summer are the perfect time to expand you plant collection.  Just follow my steps and you will have success at propagating your plants from cuttings too!

Here is what you will need:
Supplies to propagate plants easily
 1.  2 liter bottles

2.  Sterile rooting medium-I use Pro-Mix All Purpose Growing Mix but you can use perlite, course sand or your favorite seed starting mix
3.  Clean scissors and something to poke holes in the bottom of the 2 liter
4.  Water

Here are the steps to propagate your own plants:

1.  Clean the 2 liter bottle (make sure to put the cap back on) and remove the label.

2.  With a screwdriver, ice pick or scissors poke holes in the bottom of your bottle.

3.  Using the scissors, cut the 2 liter bottle in half.

4.  Cut 3 or 4 slits in the top half of the 2 liter like this:

It should fit over the bottom like this:
2 liter propagator

5.  Fill the bottom half of the 2 liter with sterile medium.
2 liter propagators ready for cuttings

6.  Wet the rooting medium thoroughly and let drain.  Do not use any fertilizer.

7.  When the rooting medium in the bottom half of the 2 liter has drained set it to the side.  Clean your scissors.

8.  Find a candidate for propagation.  If you are new to this start with something easy like Mint, Basil, Coleus, or Lamium.

9.  Cut a piece off that has at least 3 sets of leaves.  Cut off below a set of leaf nodes if possible or if propagating Heuchera you need a piece of the crown.
Taking a cutting from Chocolate Mint
Chocolate Mint cutting

Heuchera cutting
Tradescantia pallida cutting
Pineapple Mint

10.  Rinse the cutting off.  I like to spray mine down first with a solution of water mixed with Dawn and epsom salts in a spray bottle to ensure no critters are hiding on the leaves.  After I spray with the solution I then rinse off really well.
Use a spray bottle filled with water, squirt of DAWN, and a pinch of Epsom salts to "clean" plant

Rinse cuttings off with water

11.  Trim off the bottom leaves or excess stem.
Pineapple mint cutting trimmed

Chocolate mint cutting trimmed

Heuchera cutting trimmed up with a piece of crown attached
12.  Stick the cutting in the rooting medium and press the soil to make sure there is contact with the cutting.
Place Chocolate Mint cutting into rooting medium

Place Heuchera in rooting medium

13.  Place the top of the 2 liter over the bottom and place either in a shady spot outside or in a sunny window inside.  I also do this under my seed starting setup which uses flourescent lights.
2 liter propagators
2 liter propagators

14.  Monitor the 2 liter bottle and make sure it stays moist.  I usually will set it in a tray of water if it isn't "foggy" or humid in the bottle.  Remember you need the cuttings to stay moist.
2 liter propagators

15.  After about a week check the bottom of the bottle.  Sometimes you can start to see roots form in the bottom especially with the easy to root plants.  If you don't see any roots don't worry.  As long as the cutting isn't wilting it is still alive and doing okay.   Sometimes if you give it a little tug you will notice it is resistant to coming out.  Just be patient.  Most plants will start to send out roots within 2-3 weeks.

Roots of propagated plant can be seen through the 2 liter bottle
Roots of propagated plant
Roots of propagated planted
16.  When you can see roots in the bottom of the bottle it is time to acclimate the plant to the outside air.  It will have to adjust to the change in humidity levels so remove the top for a couple of hours at a time for a few days until it gets used to drier air.  This is also true for the sun.  You will have to "harden off" the plant before you plant it back in full sun.  During this whole process do not let the soil dry out-keep well watered.

Chocolate mint roots
Chocolate Mint roots after 1 week
Lemon Thyme roots after 1 week
Heuchera roots after 2 weeks

17.  After the plant is adjusted to the outside air and sun you can now plant it or pot it up.  The following plants were rooted and ready in 2 weeks: Pineapple Mint, Chocolate Mint and Tradescantia pallida.  The Lemon Thyme and Heuchera will take more time to develop enough roots to survive-at least another 2 weeks.

Propagated plants potted up after less than 3 weeks

18.  Just remember that not all plants will root quickly-be patient.  Even if it takes a month to root you will still have a more substantial plant than if you had started the plant from seed.

I hope I have persuaded you to go out and take some cuttings and give this method a try.  Nothing is more rewarding than propagating your own plants, and using a 2 liter bottle is the cheapest and easiest way to do it.  Heck,  2 liter bottles are an essential tool for us gardeners-I also use them for seed starting.  So, next time you have a 2 liter bottle use it to make more plants!  If you have any questions or comments feel free to leave them below.

Until next time-Happy Gardening!