Nancy Brachey

Cool off by enjoying hostas

This hosta named Paradigm shows the texture and contrasting colors that make these perennials top choices for the shaded landscape.
This hosta named Paradigm shows the texture and contrasting colors that make these perennials top choices for the shaded landscape. McClatchy file photo

On a week as hot as this one, it helps to look at hostas. There they are, their leaves a cooling green, not flagging even as the temperature soars. Looking at them just makes me feel better when it is 95 degrees.

This ability to look fresh and comfortable through the summer is a major asset that hostas bring to the shaded landscape.

Consider these pluses:

▪ A great range of color even for a green plant. Varieties come in solid greens, but this can vary from lightest to deepest green. There are also beautiful yellow-greens, such as lemon, lime and chartreuse, which really light up a landscape. Some varieties have yellow, golden cream and white markings, such as stripes, edges and splotches, another way to vary the look in a bed.

▪ Lots of choices in leaf shapes and sizes. Hostas are such an important plant these days, breeders have worked to produce plants that range in size from tiny to huge. The tiniest miniatures may be just a few inches tall; the biggest, boldest hostas may rise several feet over time. Some leaves are roundish, others oval, still more are strap-shaped. This makes for an interesting collection.

▪ Very interesting texture on some varieties. While many common hostas have smooth leaves, others have great texture. This comes in the crinkled, dimpled leaves that look sort of like seersucker. Others have wavy margins that seem to flutter in a breeze. It is all very beautiful and interesting to see.

Your choices should be based on the size of the designated space and what appeals to your eye as you look over the shelves.

While now is not the most comfortable time for digging, it is an excellent time to see what the plants look like at their summer best. Since they are sold in pots, you can make your selection and keep them in a shady place, well-watered, until the current heat wave ends and you can face working outdoors again. Of course, many gardeners keep at it by setting their alarm clocks for an early rise and are out there at dawn digging, as the runners and dog-walkers pass by.

Like most perennials, it is good to plant at least three of a kind. This achieves a full and complete look. But with hostas, it is not essential. A single plant with a distinctive look – ruffles, crinkles, dimples or splotches of a contrasting yellow or cream – can stand on its own and demand attention, even in solitary splendor.

Several shade-loving kinds of plants make excellent companions for hostas. Lenten roses look good with them and are evergreen, while hostas are not. Both, however, send up fresh, new foliage every spring, which is a delight to see. Other great partners for hostas are the various hardy ferns, very long-lived plants that may be evergreen or deciduous. Their fluffy fronds make a beautiful contrast to Lenten roses and hostas and enjoy a similar environment of good, loose soil that holds moisture. It makes a beautiful sight, especially on a really hot stretch of summer weather.

Nancy Brachey: nbrachey@charlotteobserver.com

Ask Nancy

Q. I am wondering about moving my house plants outdoors for the summer. They look very nice now, but I think they might grow better with some sun.

A. Most house plants that thrive indoors do not require outdoor sunshine. For them, it would be too bright and some would have a hard time adjusting to the lower light when you bring them indoors. They do seem to prosper from fresh, humid air outdoors. If you wish to send them outside for a time, pick a very shady place with dappled sunlight or a covered porch with light but not direct sun. Keeping them watered with regular doses of house plant fertilizer will encourage growth. If the plants have been in the same pot for some time, consider moving them to a larger one to give roots more room to grow.

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