Sunday, May 20, 2007

Hostas on the Rise

Sunday, May 20, 2007

A very dark morning here on the mountain.....with a sky so dark that it's difficult to believe that the thermometer, standing at 52.8, could possibly be right. The heavy rains of the past few days have encouraged all the trees to spring forth with new leaf growth in various shades of green. I never thought I'd say I was happy to see leaves but there is a very tall green ash tree by the edge of the foundation garden. The emerald ash borer has been killing trees right and left here in recent years and this tree is too nice to lose. Last year it lost a section at the top and although I couldn't find any "D" shaped borer exit holes, I suspected that was the problem. Once the borers are in your neighborhood there is no hope they will leave. It's not a good thought and some agencies try chemical attacks which to my way of thinking just slow the inevitable. There are so many new insects in the gardens this year that even an entomologist would have to work over time.

The hostas jumped out of the ground this week with all the rain after two weeks of hot, dry weather. I'm trying to learn them from their spring display but this is not an easy task, with leaves rolled tightly and grouped closely. Pacific Blue Edger, pictured above is a very nice hosta at about 12" tall. Whiskey Sour, pictured next, is one I picked up from the New England Hosta Society last June. Its spring display is an eye catcher for sure as is Golden Scepter which comes next. Probably the one that has caught gardeners eyes for years how is Sea Fire. I have to keep buying it in because the interest for it between now and mid July is always strong and greater than the speed with which I can reproduce it.

When the hostas break though the ground I begin a fertilizing regieme which works for me. First I take the hand spreader and lime everything. The soil around here is some of the most acid I have encountered and lime helps us get through another year. Since we water the hostas a lot, there is a degree of lime loss to other parts of the garden. A new soil test would be good but I just don't seem to get to that.

After the lime, I spread on commercial 5-10-10. I don't get carried away as too much fertilizer can do your garden in quickly. The little Scott's hand-held plastic spreader set on opening number 5 does just right. Once in a while it stops spreading as a coagulated piece of fertilizer clogs the exit port but all in all it works fine for this task. Something like $12 at the box stores.

Finally I give each plant a good drink of Epsom salts and water. This is magnesium sulphate and a great addition to stimulate root growth. If you looked around the stairs to the cellar of about any old farmhouse in Vermont you'd likely find a discolored box squirreled away someplace. In the old days when it was cheaper, it was used on all the corn fields but in the home it was used to soak feet in tubs and people in their baths to ease the physical stresses of difficult farm chores.

I like magnesium sulphate because it stimulates root growth, doesn't affect the soil ph long term, is easy to use and and enhances leaf color nicely. A competition rose grower told me about it several years ago. My very unscientific distribution format is one heaping handful in a 5 gallon of bucket of water, stirred a couple-three times until it dissolves and then dumped on liberally to each plant. If you want to experiment, buy a carton in about any store's drug section. It comes in little pint and half gallon milk carton sized boxes. Usually in that format it's in crystal form and the crystals take a while to dissolve. It's also more expensive. I buy from the agriculture stores like Agway, Blue Seal and Oliver Seed. 50 pound bags have run about $16-$18 and that's more than enough to carry me through the year. It can be used on anything you grow and the results are significant.

My last fertilizer is fish/seaweed emulsion. I mix 3 ounces in a 5 gallon bucket and again dump some on each plant. It's $14 to $25 a liquid gallon but worth the price because of the inert minerals which come from the sea. All this mixing and lugging and dumping is not easy but it's a worth it. If you can't get through the task yourself and want a real challenge, find a school kid and try to assure them that this is a good job for them to help with.

Hostas in spring are fun to watch. They grow quickly and after they're up, the warm days encourage the leaves to unfurl and grow in size. As you walk your gardens in spring, keep in mind your younger days when you folded a piece of paper and made snowflakes. When you unfolded the paper, the cuts repeated themselves. In spring look for freshly opened leaves and look for repetitive holes of the same size and shape on the same leaf. This could be the sign of insects or worms eating into your hostas at ground level when they started to rise. Take appropriate action and try to eliminate the culprits early on.

There are thousands of hostas available now and the best have yet to be released to gardeners. We have a good 165-175 different varieties for sale this year from minis to extra large. If you like hostas, stop by any time now and you'll get to see unfolding beauty on the mountain above Peacham Pond.

Have a nice Sunday! Garden walks bring peace and a to-do list at the same time.

George Africa

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