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.

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. After studies at the University of Toronto and Laval University where he obtained his B.A. in modern languages in 1978, he succeeded in combining his language skills with his passion for gardening in a novel career as a garden writer and lecturer. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He is a regular contributor to and horticultural consultant for Fleurs, Plantes, Jardins garden magazine and has written for many other garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening, Rebecca’s Garden and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 50 other titles in English and French. He can be seen in Quebec on French-language television and was notably a regular collaborator for 7 years on the TV shows Fleurs et Jardins and Salut Bonjour Weekend. He is the President of the Garden Writers Association Foundation and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. An avid proponent of garden tourism, he has lead garden tours throughout Canada and to the gardens of over 30 countries over the last 30 years. He presently resides in Quebec City, Quebec.

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.

  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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