Thursday, June 18, 2009

Trees As Competitors

Thursday, June 18, 2009

A damp and drizzly evening here on the mountain. It's holding at 52 degrees as clouds thicken over Peacham Pond and the rain drips off the standing seam roof with a plunk, plunk, plunk as drops hit the big leaves of a burdock below. We needed some rain so I am not complaining but the reproductive strength of burdock is not impressive to me; I'd prefer more creative music than those leaves encourage.

I arrived at the nursery at a little after 4 PM today and Gail and Austin were well drenched despite changes of top clothes and boots and socks. It was one of those days that started slowly but as the rain advanced, it came on strong. Gail suggested that I go home, more a caring gesture than a "we don't need you here today" notice. I'm creating a new hosta garden and time is short and the hostas I am moving are growing quickly so the sooner I can move them, the more successful I will be and they will look. I have reached a point in my life where some things advance too quickly and I have to show caution to accomplish what I set out to do. This type caution exists with or without raindrops.

Hostas, like all plants, on occasion show a temporary rearrangement of their genetic structure and as a gardener you just stand there some day and ask "Where did that leaf come from?" A perfectly nice plant that you have savored for some time suddenly displays one or more leaves that just don't seem to belong. Such an occurrence is called "sporting" I hear and the dissimilar leaves are a "sport" which can be excised with care from the main plant and grown on to determine if the new look continues or if it reverts to mother's look in another year or two. Some hostas produce more sports than others and I am sure that is true of plants in general. Below is a sport of the famous hosta 'Striptease' which originally sported from 'Gold Standard' Last I counted there were 35 registered sports of 'Striptease' but by now there are probably more. I imagine mine is one of the named ones by now but I haven't done any comparisons.

If you scroll back to the photo at the top, you'll see another sport of a plant of 'Striptease' I have had at the house for some time. I am still kicking myself for not separating it years ago when the streaking was very balanced. Gardeners have hindsight like everyone else and I am no different.

This time of year when hostas are a popular plant to purchase, not a day goes by but what someone visits and says that they want to purchase hostas to plant "under a large white pine", "under a maple", "under a lilac", "in where's it's quite dark". These are not always good conversations because people often have their minds made up and it's almost useless to try to provide a little experiential insight that might even work. Just the same, we always try to sort out what people have in mind and what might work. Sometimes it can work nicely but often with a little more planning than the gardener arrived at our place with.

The planting situations I described are not at all satisfactory for hostas as trees and root systems in general make for fierce competition over time. If you think of a tree out on your lawn, the root system is at least as big as the tree that you see growing above the ground. That provides incredible competition for a hosta. I have found that planting a hosta in an oversized nursery or tree pot prevents root system encroachment and allows you to dedicate water and nutrients to the hosta via the confines the container provides. I have done this for five years and am just now moving some of these plants. Here is an example that was three years old. It's a three gallon nursery pot in which I grew two plants of Hosta 'Rascal'.

Notice the root system that forms and how it grows within the pot. The roots are thick and the plants are healthy. I suspect that if I had watered them at all last year, they would have grown even better. I started with a very good soil/compost mix and during the first couple years was conscientious about applying fish emulsion, magnesium sulphate and plenty of water.

If you have a place where trees as competitors are a consideration, try potting your hostas and sinking them into the ground. The container will provide protection against incoming roots, mice and voles and it's worth the time and the couple bucks for the protection. I have to say that digging the holes isn't that handy but looking at the reward in a couple years is.

Writing from the mountain above Peacham Pond where no barred owl will hoot tonight as rain is falling harder, and the silent woods are dripping. The mice population is safe until the rain stops.

George Africa
The Vermont Gardener
Vermont Flower Farm A web site that likes mail orders

No comments: