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Gardening: Try growing hostas in pots

This hosta named June is an excellent choice for growing in a medium-to-large container
This hosta named June is an excellent choice for growing in a medium-to-large container Proven Winners photo

Gardening always surprises, and that is part of its charm. One of the big surprises of my gardening life has been how well hostas grow in pots. It’s a practice I learned from my garden mentor, the late Willie Royal of Charlotte, who loved hostas and looked for ways to keep his beautiful plants safe from pests, especially voles.

I had not thought of perennial hostas as container plants until his turned out so glorious. In the ground, mine had done just OK and seemed to have rather short lives, probably due to voles, which eat plant roots. This troubled me, partly because I admired their beauty, partly because they were made for the shade and partly because I had invested in some expensive ones.

Given a push by my mentor, I dug some up and put them in large terra-cotta pots where they have flourished. Perhaps the voles looked elsewhere for an easier path to the plant roots they love. Deer, which have been sighted in my neighborhood more than once, have passed them by, and that’s a reason to rejoice since hosta leaves are a delicacy for deer.

So, mine grow in pots sitting on the front steps. They have lived like this for years, just one plant per pot. I don’t think just having them in a pot is the deterrent to deer, but maybe having them on the front steps is sufficient.

The pots look bare all winter as the foliage goes away in late autumn, so I tend to stick them out of the way under an azalea until they show signs of life.

For the first few springs, I wondered if they would reemerge, and sure enough those fresh shoots poked out of the soil and began to unfurl. What a joy that is, particularly since these hostas are the variety June, considered by many to be among the most beautiful hostas with soft tones of gold through the center of leaves and bluish-green margins. This hosta gets just enough morning sun to maintain the gold color. In shade, it would become greener.

When I moved my hostas from ground to pot, I used first-rate potting soil that has kept the plants going for several years. To ensure good drainage, I put a piece of broken terra-cotta over the hole in the bottom of the pots, which keeps the hole from clogging and also keeps the good soil from washing out.

And while most gardeners like to see a combination of plants in their containers, I think medium-to-large hostas look better solo. This is due, I think, to the spreading shape of the plant which is so graceful on its own.

The smallest hostas, however, could be used in combination with other shade-tolerant plants such as begonias. These hostas have small leaves and do not grow very high or wide. They could be used as the green contrast for red, pink or white begonias that are more compact and vertical.

Ask Nancy

Q. I am looking to attract hummingbirds with a vine that has a long season of bloom. One I tried seemed to bloom out and leave nothing for the hummingbirds later on in summer.

A. The mandevilla, which comes in beautiful red forms, is a long-blooming tropical vine and considered one of the top vines for attracting hummingbirds because of the tubular shape of the flowers. It has a very long bloom season, but will not survive winter outdoors in the Piedmont. Some gardeners keep it in a pot they store in a garage or other frost-free area through the winter.