by Connie Oswald Stofko
“This is the ideal climate for hostas,” said Mike Shadrack. “They like a harsh winter. You can’t grow them in Florida or Texas.”
Mike and his wife, Kathy Guest Shadrack, have written The Book of Little Hostas: 200 Small, Very Small, and Mini Varieties. Last week, they introduced us to this plant that enjoys a cult following, and in this article they share some tips on caring for little hostas.
(By the way, the proper designations are “small,” “very small” and “mini.” The term “little” is an umbrella term the Shadracks use for all of these varieties.)
While hostas love our climate, you must do a bit of work to make our soil more pleasing for the little varieties.
“The small ones can’t take our heavy clay soil,” Kathy explained.
Little hostas need good drainage. They should be planted in a container or raised bed that has been specially prepared. The Shadracks suggest mixing pea gravel into your soil, and more detailed instructions are in the book.
To keep the little hostas looking their best, you need to mulch them. This prevents the soil from splashing up– a good rain will leave the plant covered in mud, Kathy said.
You can’t use big clunky wood chips as mulch because they will look out of scale next to the tiny plants. The photo at the beginning of this article shows a container of H. Blue Mouse Ears surrounded by small stones.
You can be creative with your choice of mulch. Try colored aquarium gravel or the small glass marbles that are used in flower arrangements.
“Kathy doesn’t like coal, but I think it’s brilliant,” Mike added. Even moss or a low-growing thyme can serve the purpose.
The little hostas do need a bit of care in the winter, too. Periods of frost and thaw can push plants up out of the ground, which can be harmful for such small plants. Adding heavy mulch keeps the plants safely rooted.
If you keep the plants in pots, the Shadracks suggest that you place the pots in a safe place away from mice and voles.
Kathy points out that it’s a misconception that hostas are shade loving. They’re actually shade tolerant, and do need some sun.
The hostas in the Shadracks’ book are all less than a foot tall. Many are just 5 or 6 inches tall, and some are as small as 2 inches. Because they are so small, planting them in containers makes them easier to see. The container can be a wash tub, bowl, watering can, tea pot or even a sea shell. Mike described mini hostas planted in a box that was set in a frame and displayed on an easel.
“Use your imagination,” Kathy said.
Because you will probably keep containers on your deck, little hostas in pots are easier to keep away from deer.
Besides, they’re so small that “that’s not even a mouthful for a deer,” Kathy said.
However, Kathy cautions against planting little hostas alongside larger hostas because the larger hostas will crowd out the little hostas.
All of the little varieties of hosta get flowers, but not many of them are scented.
Many small hostas are simply scaled-down versions of classic hostas, while others offer distinctly new attributes in terms of color, leaf shape, and patterning.
Like full-size hostas, small hostas can be upright, flat, or cascading; there are varieties that are full of substance, and others that are fine and delicate; there are green ones, gold ones, blue ones, variegated ones, and splashed ones. Some are better garden plants than others, and the book showcases the best of the new introductions.
Lockwood’s Greenhouses in Hamburg will have 15 varieties of little hostas available this spring, including H. Holy Mouse Ears, H. Little Treasure and H. Might Mouse. The tiniest is H. Itsy Bitsy Spider, which is just 2 1/2 inches tall.
The Book of Little Hostas: 200 Small, Very Small and Mini Varieties will be available on Amazon, but signed copies are available from the Shadracks themselves. Contact Kathy at firstname.lastname@example.org.
The Shadracks are available to speak to local gardening groups. You may contact them at the e-mail address above.