The Year of Jumbo Hostas

Here at the nursery we have been flooded with inquiries about many of the jumbo hosta’s that have been introduced in the last couple of years.  Unfortunately, we missed the boat on the gaining popularity of these mammoth cultivars.  The only real true giant we grow is the variety known as H. ‘Sum and Substance’.  The giants that we are getting the most attention include varieties called Vim and Vigor, Big John, T Rex and the most requested variety is a huge hosta called Empress Wu.

Empress Wu is so large there is no possible way not to notice it.  The plants form clumps that are 4 feet tall and 6 feet wide!  The leaves can get 1 and half feet wide and are heavily rippled with great substance.   This giant was developed by Brian and Virginia Skaggs of Indiana. The originally name the plant ‘Xanadu Empress Wu’ but for marketing purposes they shortened the name to ‘Empress Wu’.  The name was selected to honor the only female empress to ever reign in China.  Now if you are wondering why in the world a couple from Indiana would name their new hosta after a Chinese Empress I can only guess that it has to do with the origins of the entire genus of hostas.  Hostas are native only to China, Japan and Korea where they thrive in the moist cool conditions of the mountainous regions of these countries.  Word has it that  Brian and Virgina are  currently working on another monster they have named H. Amos which has enormous blue green rippled leaves with very nice puckering.  Amos and Empress Wu are both the seedlings of H. Big John pictured above.

There is no doubt that  these super-sized hostas are outstanding additions to the garden but I think the catalogs and nurseries should be a bit more truthful about what it takes to get the plants to reach their incredible sizes.  As I stated above hostas are native in areas where rainfall is abundant and soil conditioins are both rich and slightly acidic.  While hostas are very rugged plants and will tolerate poor soils, drought, and a full range of sun exposures, you are not going to grow beautiful hostas buy punishing them with such awful growing conditions.   These new Giants will require your attention if you want the plants to reach their mature sizes.  This means a moist, well drained soil that is slightly acidic and rich in organic matter. Don’t think about planting in the sun,   the leaves will scald just as soon as the sun intensifies in late spring.  Below are a few tips for growing a gigantic hosta specimen.

  • Soil must remain consistently moist but not soggy – the large leaves will require more water than other hostas.
  • Soil needs be very rich and fertile – work in a good amount of compost and manure before planting
  • Feed at least three times per year with a top dressing of composted manure and blood meal – the giant leaves and sheer size of the plants require  more nutrients than other hostas
  • Water regularly during dry spells – if the plants are left to suffer drought conditions they will quickly adjust the will instinctively adjust their growth rate to survive dry conditions rather than continuing to produce growth — kind of like rationing during a famine.

As I read up on jumbo hostas I stumbled across a site that is letting gardeners post pictures of their own giants.  If you have some whoppers in your garden hop over to www.EmpressWuHosta.com and send them your photos.

I have ordered a couple of the big ones to try this summer – Empress Wu and T-Rex.  I will let you know how it turns out.

Happy Gardening

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