The Sad Story of Hosta Plants in Full Sun
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Question of the Week © 2023 Mike McGrath
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Q. Steve in Wethersfield Connecticut writes: "Just as you described about your crabapple on a recent show, I also had a wide circle of Hosta around a large (pine) tree. But my tree developed problems and had to be removed. The Hosta were suddenly exposed to a lot of sunlight and looked terrible. I placed a post on Craig's list for anyone who wanted free plants to come over and dig them up. Eight people came and dug as I sat in the shade. When the dig was over, the last two people raked the bed clean and I had a glorious circle ready for replanting. I felt like Tom Sawyer!"
A. Don't take this the wrong way but I could kiss you on the lips Steverino, as I needed to receive an email just like yours to make peace with some of our show's Facebook friends. Hosta (the singular and plural forms are the same for this plant) seem to be the topic of the summer, and a few weeks ago, someone posted a kind-of-a-question on the show's Facebook page recounting a story very similar to yours. Specifically:
Q. Karen in Dayton posted: "Our home recently survived a tornado, luckily with very little damage, except for some downed trees. But now areas that were heavily shaded are a lot sunnier, and some of the plants (especially my Hosta) look a little shocked. The suddenly high temperatures we've been experiencing aren't helping. I hesitate to move them right now because of all the clean-up work still going on; and because I plan to re-do the landscaping in the fall to accommodate the changes to the property."
A. Now I don't respond to all the posts on our Facebook page and I was distracted by a massive battle against clutter in my house (a full dumpster and four 500-cubic-foot trailer loads already hauled away! We can see floors! And I found three giant Rodan toys from 1977; one mint in the box!). Plus it was late; I was tired; the dog ate my homework...anyway; I violated my rule of no emails or posts after 10 pm and told Karen that Hosta (I keep wanting to say hostaS but spellcheck won't let me) can't handle full sun and that she should just focus on the clean-up and planning of a new landscape.
Well, I got hammered for not being helpful, which in this case is a fair cop--but it also allowed our Facebook friends to step up and help out with some great suggestions of their own.
Joanie G. recounted that she had taken a 'Master Gardeners garden tour' a few years ago and one spot was the home of a member of the Hosta Society. "She had also lost some trees and put up big, colorful beach umbrellas to replace them. It was gorgeous! I can't imagine that they could be left out all the time, but it sure was charming. Perhaps there's some similar temporary solution that can be used until something permanent can be done."
A great idea, and the umbrellas would only have to stay up for the summer. Lynda P. suggested shade cloth and extra watering. Pat M. suggested digging them up right away, potting them up, placing the pots in a shady spot and replanting in the fall or turning them into pass-along plants.
But the odds of success with this idea are not good; Hosta plants grow really big really fast and would probably require large containers and a lot of potting soil. (And a lot of time-on top of the time the after-tornado clean-up is going to take.) Plus, its bloom time for the plants, meaning they're at their largest size so you'd have to cut them back extra hard to make them manageable enough to accomplish the task.
Instead, I like the ideas of providing artificial shade for them until the fall.
But the bottom line here is that Hosta is a shade-lover that rapidly looks like The Dog's Breakfast when exposed to full sun. My friend Diane--like many of you out there--lost a tree that was shading her Hosta plants and now they look like somebody threw bleach on them. Even worse--I see Hosta plants that appear to have been deliberately placed in full sun, and they are Poster Children for sadness.
The good news is that even if Karen took my non-helpful advice, she'll still be able to save her plants. Although a Hosta plant in full sun is a sad thing to see, it almost certainly won't die from the experience. (I'm not sure that Hosta CAN be killed. I've divided enough of the monsters to know that they seem to actually enjoy having a stake driven through their heart. And I wouldn't waste a silver bullet on them.)
So--amended advice for Karen. If you like the idea, your Hosta plants would love to be protected by big umbrellas; they'd offer more protection than shade cloth and you wouldn't have to rig up the support structure that shade cloth requires (its typically stretched across the top of a greenhouse, hoop house or similar structure).
Either way, the shade provider can be taken away at the end of the summer when the plants start their time back underground. And while Hosta can be dug up and transplanted in either Fall or Spring, I vote for Spring--more time to let your friends and neighbors know that you've got Hosta plants for them, free for the digging.