Mollusks Perennials

Not-Quite-a-Myth About Hostas

Hosta ‘Undulata Albomarginata’ is a fast-growing, thin-leaved, inexpensive hosta that slugs will adore. Photo: http://www.gardenworld.co.uk

Question: I’ve heard that only so-called collector’s item hostas are resistant to slugs; that is, that slugs won’t eat expensive hostas, only cheap ones. Is this a myth?

Claire S.

Answer: There is some truth to this belief, but it comes mainly from the fact that, in general, hostas that reproduce quickly cost less to produce and this windfall is passed on to the gardener. However, these fast-growing varieties, such as ‘Undulata Albomarginata’, ‘Undulata Mediovariegata’ and ‘Undulata Erromena’, have thin leaves that slugs adore. (With hostas, growth rate and slug sensitivity seem to go hand in hand.) So, in a sense, yes, very cheap hostas are also very likely to be susceptible to slugs.

Hosta ‘Halcyon’ is an example of a hosta that sells at quite reasonable prices and yet is slug resistant. Photo: paramountnursery.ca

On the other hand, it’s not only among the most expensive varieties (in general, new introductions, which can be very expensive for a few years given their limited availability) that slug-resistant hostas are found. Many older, widely available hostas like ‘Frances Williams’, ‘Krossa Regal’ and ‘Halcyon’ are slug resistant and are offered at reasonable prices. 

In large part, it’s the thickness of the leaf that makes the difference—hostas with thick leaves tend to be slug-resistant—rather than the price.

So, between the cheap, thin-leaved hostas full of holes and the most recent introductions with intact leaves but a hefty price tag, there is a still a wide range of hostas at quite reasonable prices that slugs tend to avoid. (For your further information, here is a list of 200 slug-resistant hostas.)

Of course, a cheap hosta that will require repeated and expensive treatments to control slugs really isn’t cheap, is it? Filling your shade garden with modestly priced slug-resistant hostas is actually likely the cheaper option.

Garden writer and blogger, author of more than 60 gardening books, the laidback gardener, Larry Hodgson, lives and gardens in Quebec City, Canada. The Laidback Gardener blog offers more than 2,500 articles to passionate home gardeners, always with the goal of demystifying gardening and making it easier for even novice gardeners. If you have a gardening question, enter it in Search: the answer is probably already there!

4 comments on “Not-Quite-a-Myth About Hostas

  1. Christine Lemieux

    I recently read that applying a dilute bleach solution to cleaned up hostas in the fall kills slug eggs and can make a big difference in numbers. I am hesitant to try it out of concern for my hostas and also other critters. Do you have any advice? Thank you!

    • The only way to kill slug eggs with bleach is to spray them directly, which presumes you can see them. Since bleach can harm plants (it can be used as a herbicide), it would seem more logical to simply pick up the eggs with a tool of some sort. Dormant hostas can be dipped in bleach to kill slug eggs, but digging them up and soaking them would be a lot of effort.

      • Christine Lemieux

        Thank you very much. I will put that idea to bed!

  2. Wow, I was not aware of this. I don’t grow hostas anyway. Those that were already here are not happy enough to divide into more. Slugs damage them significantly, not because there are so many slugs, but because the hostas are so dinky. A few chops ruins them.

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