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Wednesday, October 16, 2019

All About Those Beautiful Blue Hostas!




When it comes to the colors of perennial plants in the garden, blue is by far the most rare and is also one of the many reasons that blue hostas are so popular, and the bigger the better.  But how do blue-leafed hostas develop and keep that beautiful blue tint? 


In a nutshell, blue hostas develop a glacuous waxy layer that develops as they emerge which helps to protect the leaves from harmful weather, and that blue wax causes the light to reflect in such a way that gives the hosta leaves that bluish coloring. 


  




Blue hostas will get bluer and bluer throughout the years as they reach maturity, usually about four to five years.


There are several shades of blue and a lot of a hosta's final color depends on the specific hosta's characteristics.  Some of those characteristics include:




 Leaf Shape

  

Blueberry Muffins


The leaf shape of a blue hosta will also cast a different shade of blue on the leaves.


For instance, leaves that are twisted or heavily corrugated like the above Blueberry Muffins Hosta or that have deep veins will cast a deeper blue than hostas with smooth leaves.





Location, Location, Location



Blue hostas grown in warmer locations may only keep their blue hue until late June, while in the northern climates, the leaves will remain blue longer. 





How to Keep those Blue Hostas Blue!



To keep the best “blue” on your hosta, it is most important that you plant it in the right location. Morning sun and afternoon shade will give your blue hosta just enough sun to thrive and just enough shade to keep that blue color longer.


Most hostas perform well in such a location, but it is even more important with the blue ones. 


Direct sun or too much sun can fade or melt off the blue wax making the leaves look green for the rest of that season. Also without that waxy layer, the leaves can burn more easily.



The above picture of a Carolina Blue leaf shows how rain can wash off that blue waxy coating. It may surprise you to know that the blue wax on the leaf can also be rubbed off with your finger. 


You may notice the hosta leaves turning from blue to green all over or in spotty locations when there's much more rainfall than usual.




The Best Blues



There is much debate on which hostas are the “best” blue-leafed cultivars. While the answer to that is very subjective, here at Sunset Hosta Farm we have grown many types, and these are the blue hostas that we prefer to grow and sell.




Large/Very Large Hosta


Mature Size:  Large  Height 28”    Width up 40”Chalky blue cupped leaves which retain their blue color for most of the growing season. White to pale lavender flowers appear in mid summer.


  

Blue Angel Hosta


 Mature Size: Very Large Height 32”  Width to 70"

One of the bluest hostas. The blue leaves are heavily textured and heart-shaped. They form a nice-sized flowing mound. White to lavender flowers appear in mid summer. Blue Angel will also draw in the butterflies.





Blue Hawaii


Mature Size:Very Large Height 30”  Width to 42”These thick blue hosta leaves are upright, vase-shaped and slightly cupped and corrugated. Blue Hawaii holds its blue color well through the season. It is also slug resistant. White blooms are fragrant. Great as a specimen plant or in a container.


  

Blue Umbrellas



Mature Size: Very Large  Height 33” Width to 72”
It's not only a garden standout, it's also a vigorous grower and sun and slug tolerant. It will greet you in the spring with nice blue umbrella-shaped leaves and pale lavender flowers that appear in the summer.



Krossa Regal


Mature Size: Very Large  Height: 33" Width to 70"This hosta can't help but get noticed. Krossa Regal has frosty gray-blue leaves that are vase shaped with slightly wavy edges. Spikes of lavender bell-shaped flowers on top of 5' scapes appear in late summer. Krossa Regal will get wider as it matures, so give this one plenty of space. Great when used as a specimen plant or in a container. Pair this one with a creamy variegated hosta like H. June for a dramatic garden statement. The thick leaves makes it slug resistant, too.









Medium Sized Hostas 


Blue Cadet Hosta


Mature Size: Medium  Height 15” Width to 38"The blue heart-shaped leaves are heavily textured and have a nice mounding habit. They have a vigorous growth habit that will fill an area quickly. Tubular lavender flowers rise above the foliage mid summer. Great as a border plant or ground cover.



  

Carolina Blue Hosta


Mature Size:   Medium Height 18”   Width to 32”
This sport of 'Halcyon' and 'Riptide' makes a medium-sized mound of light blue rounded leaves that hold their color through most of the season even in warmer climates. Pale purple flowers shoot up in July and August. Tolerates morning sun very well.



Halcyon


Mature Size:  Medium  Height 18” Width to 36”
A very popular steel blue hosta with heart-shaped leaves and heavy ribbing. Very sturdy, compact and reliable grower. Looks great in containers, too. Holds that beautiful blue color well through the season. One of the bluest, and this one's been used to create many sports.



Mini and Small Hostas


Blue Mouse Ears Hosta


Mature Size: Mini     Height 8”   Width Up to 19”Hosta of the Year 2008 for good reason. The medium blue/green mouse ear shaped leaves are nothing short of adorable. Outstanding lavender to white lily-like flowers atop graceful stalks. Great for rock gardens. Also slug resistant. 


  

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Hostas are such a forgiving perennial, they can easily be moved to a more suitable location until it's in just the right spot. If the leaves do turn green for a season, not to worry. The blue waxy coating will return as the hosta emerges the next season.


The blue colors of hostas have been described in many ways, including deep blue, powdery blue, intense blue, icy blue, silvery blue and chalky blue. But no matter which term you use, with the right care and placement, blue hostas will add a peaceful, cooling feeling to your perennial shade garden.


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Where to go next!


  

Love hostas or know someone who does?
Visit our website for great hostas at an affordable price!



Sunday, October 13, 2019

Hypertufa 101 For Beginner Success!

  


It's easy, it's fun, and you can look like an expert even on your first project! Once you know the basics of making hypertufa projects, you will only be limited by your own creativity!


It is recommended that you read through the entire article before beginning your first Hypertufa project. A good basic understanding of the entire process will help ensure first time success.






What is Hypertufa?



Hypertufa is a light-weight substitute for heavy concrete or cement projects.


When certain ingredients are mixed together and bonded with Portland Cement, the mixture can be molded into nearly any shape or size. The final result is a natural, rock-like garden project that is much lighter than concrete. Creating garden art with Hypertufa is just like making mud pies -- for adults!


Advantages of Hypertufa

  • It's light weight - easier to move than heavy cement.
  • It can safely remain outside.
  • It's porous which is great for plants.
  • It's fun and easy to make.
  • You can look like a pro on your first project!

  


Hypertufa face made with shoebox mold


What can I make with Hypertufa?



The short answer is, if you can shape it, you can make it. Some of the garden accessories you can make with Hypertufa recipes include faces, birdbaths, millstones, toadstools, troughs, leaf castings, grogs, garden spheres and stepping stones.


Garden planters are the most popular items to make so this tutorial will focus on creating garden planters, but the process is basically the same for other projects.


  


The Three Main Ingredients


1. Portland Cement (NOT Concrete)

Here's why using Portland Cement as the bonding agent in your recipe is so important.

Concrete (Like Quikrete Concrete) is a mixture of cement and sand and fillers. If you use this in place of Portland Cement in the following recipes, you are basically doubling the amount of sand and fillers and lessening the much needed cement to bond the project together strongly. The result would be a project that will be much heavier and not as strong.

Portland Cement, on the other hand, is NOT concrete. It's an ingredient OF concrete and is the binder.

There is sometimes confusion because Quikrete also makes Portland Cement. You want the bag to clearly state "Portland Cement."


It's available in white and grey. I find grey to be a more natural choice to use for garden projects. White Portland Cement is recommended if you intend to paint the project as it takes on dyes and stains well.


Portland Cement mostly comes in 90-pound bags, but the cost isn't bad at $15 to $18.



2. Peat Moss (or Coir - coconut fiber)

Peat Moss is one of the ingredients that make the final mix lighter in weight than concrete as well as making the final project porous. Big squares of Peat Moss are available at most home goods stores for about $14.


  


3. Perlite or Vermiculite

Both are added to further lighten and aerate the mix.

Perlite is the white styrofoam-looking pieces contained in most potting soils. Perlite is more expensive than Vermiculite at $37 for a 4 cubic foot bag.


Vermiculite has a sparkly appearance that gives the project a little bit of a shine and will make the project look more natural in an outdoor setting. Larger bags of Vermiculite can be purchased at local garden stores or swimming pool supply stores for about $22 for a 4 cubic foot bag.



Hypertufa Recipes



There are a multitude of hypertufa recipes on the internet that you can try. Whatever recipe you choose, remember that the Portland Cement is the necessary bonding agent. I use at least 30% Portland Cement in all of my recipes.

These are my two basic go-to recipes.


For small to medium-sized projects (i.e. garden planters under 12")

1 part Portland Cement
1 part Peat Moss
1 part Perlite or Vermiculite


For larger projects and ones that I feel will need extra strength (stepping stones, for example), here's a stronger recipe.

2 parts Portland Cement
1 part Peat Moss
1 part Vermiculite
1 part Sand (added strength, but also added weight)



Useful Tip
A handful of either nylon fiber mesh or acrylic fibers add strength to the piece.


  


Setting up your work space


The best place to work on your hypertufa project is, if course, outdoors as long as the temperatures are above 60 degrees. Hypertufa is messy to work with and you don't want to breathe the ingredient dust that will be stirred up while you're mixing your ingredients. An area in part shade part sun with protection from rain and where you won't need to move it for a week is perfect.

September and October are my go-to months as most of my garden chores are finished for the season and I find that the cool air is wonderful to work in.


  


Choosing your Mold


A fun part of Hypertufa projects for me is selecting the molds to work with. Any firm object can be used as a mold, including plastic bowls or cups, old nursery pots, baking rounds, wicker baskets or designs, sturdy shoe boxes, large cookie cutters, plastic tubs, boxes (reinforced with tape), styrofoam coolers. The possibilities are endless!


 


Materials to Have Ready


You don't want your mix to dry out while you're hunting for supplies, so have these items ready to hand before you start to mix.


  • Old clothes to work in
  • Plastic for work table
  • Recipe ingredients
  • Large, sturdy mixing container
  • Spray bottle of water for spritzing
  • Jug of clean water
  • Your choice of an item to measure ingredient parts
  • Your chosen mold
  • Dust mask
  • Thick, plastic kitchen gloves (the flimsy ones break!)
  • Paper Towels for clean up
  • Plastic to cover table top
  • Plastic to drape over finished project
  • Small ruler for measuring thickness
  • Sturdy sticks for making drainage holes
  • Wire brush for smoothing jagged edges

   


Making the Hypertufa Mix

Put on your dust mask and rubber gloves. According to the recipe you've chosen, add the number of parts of each DRY ingredient into the mixing container. If there are any clumps in any of the ingredients, break them down or toss them out as you mix.


You can use any object to measure your "parts." I use red Solo cups that everyone is familiar with.


 

Before Dry Mixing


DRY MIX THOROUGHLY. Do not add water until the dry ingredients are mixed to the point that you cannot distinguish one ingredient from another. Dry mixing before you add the water will ensure that there won't be any weak spots in the project that could break later
.


  


After the ingredients are thoroughly dry mixed, add water slowly and mix until your mix is the consistency, when fisted and released, of a large meatball. If the mix is too dry and falls apart when the fist is released, add more water slowly. If it's too wet and water drips when you fist, add more mix, again slowly. The mix should hold together but not drip when fisted.


This is an important but not an exacting step. As long as you can make large Hypertufa meatballs that don't fall apart upon release, you're good to start building!


You can remove your mask at this time if you choose to. There isn't near as much dust-up when the mix is not dry. Keep the gloves on, though.



A side note

Some people swear by spraying their mold with a non-stick spray so the finished piece can easily slide out. I find that the spray makes the mix slide around too much while I'm building, and since I use objects that I intend to throw away after using, I never use any spray or oil. Your choice.


Same Sized Bowls Used for Inside, Outside and Flaired Building


Building/Shaping Your Project

Set your mold on the table giving yourself plenty of elbow room on all sides. If you're going to be doing several projects (I never do just one!) consider this when setting up your table.

There are two ways to use your mold. Building on the inside and building on the outside.



Building on the Inside of the Mold

The only disadvantage in building your mold on the inside is that you are restricted to building a project of that same size and shape, whereas you will have more options building on the outside of the mold.

  
Building Inside the Mold
This project took 3 parts each of Portland Cement, Peat Moss and Vermiculite

Let's Build!

Shape a fistful of ingredients into that large meatball shape. Starting at the bottom, firmly press your fistfuls of mix into the bottom and bottom corners. You want to keep the thickness of the mix at 1 to 1 and 1/2" thick at all parts of the planter to prevent breakage. I personally prefer the look of 1 and 1/2" thickness.


Continue building up along the sides of the mold until you reach the top. It's better to smooth out the top edges now rather than to let the project dry and have to use a wire brush and a lot of elbow grease later.


If at any point you run low on Hypertufa mix, make more the same way and continue on. If the project ever looks like it's beginning to dry out in places, lightly spray with water. You don't want the project is start to dry out until it's finished and wrapped.


When you're finished building inside the mold, stand back and double check the thickness, especially at the corners, bottom and top edges. Make sure the bottom is level. If you're making a planter, shove some sturdy sticks through the bottom for drainage holes.


When you're satisfied with the finished project, wrap the project with a piece of plastic and go to the curing page of this article for next instructions.


Building Outside the Mold
This project took 4 parts each of Portland Cement, Peat Moss and Vermiculite

Building on the Outside of your Mold


Place the mold upside down on your table. Following the same steps, start building the mix from the top (which will be the bottom of the planter) and build downwards.


When you get to the bottom where the project meets the table, you have the choice to stop there and shape the edges, or further flair out the edges as much as you want. Flairing the edges is simply a matter of extending the mix further onto the table as shown in the furthest right project above.

  
Building Outside the Mold and Extended or Flaired Further
This project took 8 parts each of Portland Cement, Peat Moss and Vermiculite


Don't take too much time trying to make the flaired edges perfect. The most beautiful Hypertufa projects mock nature, and nature is more haphazard than precise and symmetrical.


  

Hypertufa with Bottom Edges Flaired


When you're satisfied with the project, wrap the project in plastic.


Have extra mix left over? It's a lot like biscuits and gravy - it never evens out. Use the extra mix for a small bowl planter. They're great for planting a single sedum or mini hosta!


The Clean Up


Important: You are dealing with a cement-like mix so don't let any mix, even very watery, go down the drain! It will clog your pipes. For the same reason, don't put any Hypertufa stained clothing in the washer. Extra mix can be easily scraped into a plastic bag and discarded.

  


Curing your Project


This is an important step! You don't want your hard work to break before it has cured.

There are may opinions about the "correct" way to cure hypertufa planters. The general consensus is that your project will do most of its curing in the first seven days, reaching a full cure in a month. 


 Factors that come into play here are the temperature and humidity of the area where it's curing and the size and thickness of the project.


This is the three-stage process that I have used successfully.



Step One

You have finished the planter and wrapped it in plastic to hold in the moisture that will help the project dry evenly and slowly which will make it stronger. Leave in place for 24 hours.



Step Two

After 24 hours, remove the plastic. This is a great time to do any carving into the planter, sanding of rough edges, etc. It is still pliable enough to work with to get it just the way you want. A little dusting of medium may come off when you work with it, but that's fine. Rewrap when satisfied.


The final cure can last anywhere from two weeks to a month or longer.  Check the project weekly and lightly spritz it with water until you feel it is cured or a month has passed.



Step Three

Since this example is for planters and Portland Cement has high alkaline levels, leaching the planter before putting plants in it is important for good plant health.

Soak the planter in fresh water changing the water every three days. Simple enough.

For  large planters, you can hose the planter down twice a day for three to five days.

I mostly make my hypertufa planters in the Fall and don't plan to plant them until the next spring, so I simply leave them outdoors for nature to naturally leach them from the rain and wintery mix.

      
Blue Mouse Ears in Hypertufa Planter

Planting your new Planter

Hypertufa planters are great for plants. They do not heat up in the sun and they are porous which will allow the plant's roots to breathe.



Tick Tock Hosta In Hypertufa Planter


Great Plants for Hypertufa Planters

My favorite plants for Hypertufa planters are hostas! Hostas look great in containers in general, and they're one of the most care-free perennials you can have.


There are many mini and small hostas that are perfect for small Hypertufa planters. Use the shop button below.


Other plants that will happily grow in Hypertufa planters include alpines, succulents, sedum, tiny evergreens, any plant that's at home in a rock or alpine garden.

  


If you're interested in adding hostas to your Hypertufa planters or your garden in general, we'd love for you to visit us at SunsetHostaFarm.com. We also invite you to email us with any questions or comments or pictures of your projects. I'd love to see them!


I hope you've enjoyed learning how to make great Hypertufa planters. You're on your way to becoming a true Hypertufa-holic!


Susan Minshall

   

Where to go next!


 

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