Country Gardener

Widely regarded as the authority on gardening in the south west

Small is beautiful

Miniaturisation is not a trend which is limited to the world of electronics. It is increasingly relevant to plants and as in the case of mini hostas shows cult status soon follows.

If you think of hostas you probably immediately picture lush, leafy plants forming clumps of bold dramatically coloured leaves.

But that is only part of the story.

There is an increasing interest and even devotion amongst gardeners for tiny hostas defined as’ Minature’ yet just as beautiful versions of their larger brethren with names such as ‘Tiny Thumb’, ’Little Caesar’ and ‘Shining Tot’.

Mini hostas have long been treasured by the Japanese, partly as their private gardens are so small, and also because these plants make ideal planting companions for bonsai.

Mini hostas have now almost reached cult status in parts of Europe and their popularity is growing enormously in Britain.

Most hosta collectors think of a miniature hosta as one that grows no more than about six inches in height. However, the American Hosta Society which sets the international standards for hostas now defines a miniature as one which has a mature leaf area of six inches or less. This means that some varieties with long narrow leaves are designated as minis even though their mature height may be up to 12 inches for example H. ‘Stiletto’ and H. Hacksaw’.

Many ‘very small’ hostas are still suitable for troughs and bowls since, like many vigorous miniatures, they very conveniently ‘bonsai’ themselves if their root-room is restricted.

Miniature hostas look great planted together in bowls or troughs, separately in pots, or in gravel beds. Some of the more vigorous varieties also look good as edging plants or on rockeries, but since they do not spread rapidly make sure faster growing and spreading plants can’t easily smother them.

Most miniature hostas are trouble free and, like their larger relatives, are very easy to grow.

hosta holy mouse earsThe secret is to make sure they have very good drainage. Miniatures need a lot of air around their roots and hate sitting in water-logged compost over winter when wetness combined with a hard freeze can cause root rot. Since miniature and very small hostas often have fine and shallow roots, you also need to make sure they do not dry out during the growing season.

Some miniature and very small hostas make wonderful accent plants for bonsai or look good by themselves in the smallest bonsai or accent pots. After a year or two the plant may push itself out of the compost. In this case, root prune, as you would a bonsai tree.

Miniatures, like all hostas can be given an initial boost by using a weak seaweed feed (root stimulant) between March and May. White centred minis, i.e. those with little chlorophyll in their leaves, benefit from a weak feed through the summer, but do not feed after July, when the hosta is beginning to slow down for the winter.

The best time to divide minis is when they are growing most strongly, i.e. from June to July. Before you divide, check that the root ball is a good size and that the plant has multiple eyes (leaf buds). To divide, depending on the size of the plant, use a sharp bread knife or a cheap disposable blade craft knife, cut carefully through the crown and tease the roots apart. The rule for dividing is: ‘Don’t be too greedy!’ The more divisions you try to get out of one plant the more chance there will be of losses.

All hostas benefit from about four weeks dormancy in winter so over-wintering minis outside in a severe winter isn’t a problem providing they have very good drainage. Cold won’t kill a mini but being waterlogged, frozen, thawed and frozen might, particularly during its first year of growth. Mulch your minis with bark chippings or horticultural grit to help prevent crown rot and the puddling of water around the crown if there is a top thaw after a really hard freeze.

The real joy of minis is that one can grow a great number in a small space.

They may be small in stature but they have a delicate charm of their own so it is scarcely surprising that interest in mini hostas is growing at such a rate.

Suppliers Bowden Hostas, Devon 
01837 840989 www.bowdenhostas.com 

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