Hosta By Kelley

Give Your Hosta a Canopy - No ... Not That Kind of Canopy!

I think I've discussed plant canopies in the past.  For those who do not remember your basic ecology any plant growth  has regions that create different zones or stratafication from the bottom of the growing area to its top.  In some cases the bottom is NOT ground surface; but rather the first layer of the soil below the surface.  These growing zones are more apt to be discussed in relation to forests or jungles of the world.  There are layering systems that discuss up to 8 definable layers, but for the purposes of this discussion I offer the simplistic view of how a forest might be described:

The Emergent Layer: The tallest of the trees.

The Canopy Layer: The level at which the average tree grows.

The Understory: Bushes (generally not trees).

The Floor: Grasses and smaller plants (generally not trees or bushes).

The Sub-Surface:  This layer is included because there are some plants where MOST of their growth structure is below ground.  Examples include:  Mushrooms, Fungus, Lichens.


This complex layering of foliage counteracts evaporation of water back into the air.  These same layers can also be found in your garden as well; you just have to look at the garden slightly differently.

There are some hosta growers who want their plants 'just so'; evenly spaced and everything fully visable.  What those gardeners loose is water.  Gardens such as those demand more water because there is no layering effect between the plants.  One waters those plants and the water goes into the ground, and then more likely than not evaporates again.  This form of gardening also permits more weeds to exist as well; so their more maintenace to the garden.

A layered hosta garden has two characteristics: 1) hosta of various heights 2) that grow in arrangements that act as umbrellas for each other.  Some readers I am sure have looked at my garden diagram and have said, "That's an overly packed garden with some varieties that should not be there."  If they look critically at my garden they might begin to see that the larger plants are in the center or in the back of the garden with each successively smaller one towards the edge or at the front of the garden.  This is like a good landscape architect designs the pattern of the plants that becomes important for both visual aesthetics and ground, and water conservation.  When the two concepts come together the design is met.

Now some very strange things begin to happen when these conditions are met; at least in hosta gardens.  A) You won't need to water your garden ... as much!  The plants will do it for you!  To understand how this works you need to understand that Hosta (all plants actually) transpire.  Hosta take their water in from their rhizomes, and release the water from their leaves.  The actually is that plants release their water from the back sides of their leaves, and IF YOU have a well designed emergent and canopy levels of your garden the most likely direction that water will go is ... down - back into the ground.  When it rains the plants let more water into the understory of the garden's micro-ecosystem.  The act of wilting helps with this!  You still may need to water your garden when the temperatures reach to or above 90° F / 32.22° C, or if you have a dry spell.  Remember to respect your local watering ordinances and guidelines.

The next challenge is to control those slugs.  According to the University of Minnesota the following animals eat slags: "... beetles (e.g. ground beetles, rove beetles, fireflies), toads, snakes, turtles, shrews, ducks, starlings and other birds. ...".  If your in Europe hedgehogs can be added to that list.  Keep in mind that most animals need more than one source of food to survive; in this case slugs and something else.  To be honest I am not a fan of many of these animals as some of these have secondary, and maybe tertiary repercussions.  As I personally view beetles and toads a bit more friendly/safe these might be the better to introduce as the moisture might be sufficient to support them.  B) If you can attract any of the above animals your also helping the environment by gardening holistically.

You've got the plants in the right place and you've got you slugs under control.  What's left?  The weeds of course!  The hosta will fight with you too!  C) With a tight canopy and understory the floor of your garden will have considerably less light.  With less light their be fewer weeds that can grow.  You will still need to be vigilant with weeding but with less light, there will be fewer weeds, and more time to do the fun things like admire your plants.

So growing your hosta with a canopy actually gives you some advantages.  Less watering, less pest control, and less maintenance in the garden.  One more advantage might also happen: maybe you'll have just a little more money in your pocket.

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Plant Name Menu Codes:

In Gardner's collection:  green.

In Collection but is an unregistered sport: BLUE.

Past Plants that are no longer in the collection: Brown.