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Thursday, June 28, 2012 - Page updated at 02:30 p.m.
In the Garden
Healthy hostas, hellish cutworms, heavenly angel trumpets
By In the Garden; Ciscoe Morris
Special to The Seattle Times
Few plants come with such a wide variety of foliage color and size than hostas. There's a hosta for practically any spot in a shady garden, and the flowers even attract hummingbirds. They prefer light shade, but a dose of morning sunshine rarely causes problems.
The key to vigorous growth is moist soil and adequate nutrition. If you haven't mulched with compost, it's not too late. Hostas growing in the garden generally need only one application of organic fertilizer in spring, but if you grow them in a pot, feed with a balanced soluble fertilizer once per month. Deadhead as soon as flowers begin to fade to keep the plants looking tidy.
It is common knowledge that slugs and snails are the nemesis of hostas. Blue hostas with waxy leaves are more resistant than green and yellow ones, but all are susceptible. Bait regularly, and don't forget to put bait in container gardens. Slugs and snails can easily climb into a tall pot, and it only takes one night for a hungry mollusk to turn a beautiful hosta into confetti!
Put the kibosh
If you find large sections of leaves missing from your perennials, vegetables or annuals, there's a good chance cutworms have been at work in your garden.
Cutworms are the larvae of nondescript night-flying moths that lay eggs on foliage. Once hatched, the hungry caterpillars hide during the day (often under the soil) and come out to feed voraciously under the cover of darkness.
You can tell it's not slug damage because the damage is smoother and usually along the edge of the leaf, rather than in the middle. The caterpillars feed for two to four weeks before pupating in the soil, and the severity of the damage increases as they grow larger, so take action to control them at the first sign of trouble.
Go out with a flashlight and look for the caterpillars. Once again (you probably already guessed it) "el kabotski" is the most effective manner of pest control. These guys can get over an inch long and make quite a splat, so make sure you hold them as far away as possible as you squish.
If you want to add real eye- and nose-catching beauty to your garden, Brugmansia (angel trumpet) is your plant. These magnificent tropical shrubs are decked out with footlong tropical-looking leaves, and astonishing 8- to 12-inch long pendulant flowers that come in a variety of colors and bloom all season long.
If that isn't enough to make you want one, once darkness falls, the flowers open their nectaries to flavor the air with wonderfully delicious fragrance.
In the Puget Sound region, Brugmansias prefer full sun, but strong wind tatters the leaves so plant it in a protected location.
Brugmansias are at home in the mixed border or grown in containers, but they prefer moist soil and plenty of nutrition. Before planting in the garden, work in a handful of bone meal and a cup of organic flower food. Then follow up with a mixture of organic fertilizer and alfalfa meal every six weeks throughout summer.
Brugmansias grown in pots do best fed with a balanced soluble fertilizer every two weeks. Brugmansias aren't reliably hardy, so it's best to overwinter them as a houseplant or in a heated greenhouse. They can be overwintered dormant in an unheated garage, but that delays bloom until mid-July or August.
I prefer to splurge and buy new ones that are already in bloom every June.
Ciscoe Morris: email@example.com; "Gardening with Ciscoe" airs at 10 a.m. Saturdays on KING 5.
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