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Hosta Cultivation & Geography

Blue Hosta IllustrationShade gardening is not as easy as gardening in the sun. Shade comes in many degrees of intensity from the side of a building that never receives direct sunlight, or under the dense covering of overlapping trees in a heavily wooded area, to open, filtered light coming through a high canopy of leaves.

Geographic location also plays a key role. In the South, 2 hours of direct sun in the afternoon is more intense than 2 hours of direct sun in the North.

Descriptions of hostas which say they require sun for a quarter or half of the day have little meaning unless they include information on the geographic region.

Hostas often grow bigger in the North than the South under the same cultural conditions. Blue-leaved hostas seem to be more blue in the north, while yellow-leaves hostas often appear more yellow in the south.

Hosta BloomConsideration should then be given not only to the type of shade your hosta garden will have, but you should also consider that that shade classification has different meanings according to your geographic location.

In general, yellow- or gold-leaved hostas need some sun to fully develop their brightest coloring. These types of hostas often don't do well in total shade areas.

Blue-leaved hostas called pruinose or glaucous, will last longer if the plants are grown in light shade.

Green-leaved hostas can take a fair amount of sunlight, but too much direct sun will dull their color considerably. For any hosta, too much sun, combined with lack of water scorches the leaves, especially in mid to late summer.

For variegated-leaf hostas, placement will depend on the most dominant leaf color, usually the center coloring.

In general, the more sun, the more profuse the flowering.

Hosta Breeding

Breeding hostas essentially involves bringing the pollen from the chosen male parent into contact with the receptive organ of the chosen female. The mechanics of this are quite simple, but you do need to know some basic plant structure so you'll be able to identify what goes where.

Each hosta flower is quite simple: they typically have one female organ (the stigma) and several (often 6) male organs, or anthers which surround it. The stigma is longer and thicker than the stamens, which bear a remarkable resemblance to long eyelashes curling up at the tips.

Hosta diagram

Preparing the Pod Parent

To prevent the pollination of the selected flower by means and from males other than the one intended, the plant has to be emasculated. This means you'll be removing the stamens from the parent plant. Timing is critical. You have to catch the flower in the late afternoon of the day BEFORE it opens, while it is still in bud, but just ready to open.

The procedure is first to slit open the ripe bud carefully, exposing the sex organs without damaging them, and then to cut away the petals and sepals. Locate the anthers and cut them away without damaging the stigma. The removal of the petals and sepals deprives insects of a landing platform and makes it most unlikely that they will try to effect pollination. The removal of the anthers eliminates any likelihood of self-pollenation.

Gathering and Storing Pollen

Hosta BloomPollen carries the genes that are transferred to the female. Pollen is short-lived and sensitive to changes in temperature. When the hosta pollen is ripe and ready to use it has a powder-like texture. What governs its viability is enzyme activity which is mainly temperature controlled. Pollen needs a reasonable amount of heat to ripen, but too much heat and it loses its potency quickly.

Because of this sensitivity to temperature, pollen must be gathered at the right time: too early in the day and the temperature will not be high enough; too late in the day and the temperature will have fallen too low. Mid-morning seems to be the right time for the best results. However, the anthers need to be collected before the bees have become active and whisk the pollen away.

Anthers should be gathered early in the day and taken indoors, placed in the dark and allowed to come up to the optimum temperature before use (about 70 degrees). As soon as the pollen reaches this ideal temperature, it may be used. Pollen can also be stored by placing it in the crease of a folded sheet of paper and stored in the refrigerator until needed. Storing the pollen allows you to cross pollenate hostas that don't naturally flower at the same time.

Transferring the Pollen

Mating occurs when the pollen from the male anthers is transferred to the female stigma. Once this happens the stigma becomes moist and slightly swollen. Once it forms a dew drop, it's too late.

The simplest and most natural way to do this is to brush the pollen-laden anthers across the slightly sticky stigma. This of course, can only be done when both parents are in bloom at the same time. If this is not the case, then stored pollen will have to be used.

When using stored pollen a fine camel-hair, or sable brush is used. Pollen is carefully taken on the tip of the brush, then wiped across the stigma. If attempting to cross various plants with different pollen, a different brush will be required for each attempt.

It is important to repeat the pollination process several times during the day to make sure that pollination has been carried out at the right time. Once the pollination steps have been taken, it's important to protect the and stigma from bees that may remove the pollen. Take a short length of a drinking straw and slip it over the stigma for the rest of the day. It can then be removed on the next day.

Take Notes

Label your attempts so that they can be repeated if the results are successful. Identify the pod parents. Proper notation requires that the pod parent should always be written first, followed by an 'x' and then the name of the pollen parent. Attach these notations to the flower stem.

Harvesting and storing

It takes 6 — 8 weeks for the seeds to ripen. As the flower begins to fade, clean out the faded petals to prevent disease infections.

When the pods go brown and begin to split, they are ready for harvesting. All the pods of the same cross should be gathered and placed loosely in a brown paper bag to per the pods to fully ripen. Never use a plastic bag. Seal the paper bag with paper clips and clearly labeled. Remove all husks and husk fragments from the seed collection. These can harbor diseases which may destroy the seeds.

Seeds can be sown immediately or store for later planting. Most hosta seed will remain viable for 6 months if stored properly. Some varieties, particular large-flowered fragrant varieties, should be sown with a month of harvesting.

Sowing the Seed

Hosta seed germinates easily and can be sown directly into prepared seedbeds in the open garden, preferably in a shaded location. Once the seeds germinated, seedlings need to be kept watered and shaded until they are ready to be placed into small pots after they develop 4 — 5 true leaves.