The hosta, Paul’s Glory, is shown after a rainfall in Cedar Rapids. The shade-loving plants grow in a wide variety of colors, textures, shapes and sizes, far beyond the traditional “green” hosta. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

By Cindy Hadish/for the Radish Magazine

Hosta plants are perfectly suited for Midwestern shade gardens, but need to be divided every few years; an endeavor that may seem like a Herculean task.

Master gardeners from Iowa State University Scott County Extension are here to help.

A team of master gardeners will be on hand at the Healthy Living Fair to demonstrate a variety of techniques to divide hostas, as well as answer questions about gardening, lawn care and more.

Related: Iowa’s Hosta Heaven

The fair is scheduled for 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, June 17, 2017, next to the Freight House, 421 W. River Drive, Davenport.  The nearby Freight House Farmers’ Market will be open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. Admission to both is free.

Sharp spades and serrated chef knives are among the tools used to separate the roots of the hardy plants, said Peggy Dykes, who has been a master gardener for 11 years and will be among those at the ISU Scott County Extension booth at the Healthy Living Fair.

“I try to dig up as much (of the root systems) as I can,” Dykes said of hostas, considered the top perennial plant in the United States. “Then you can saw right through those roots.”

Master Gardeners will demonstrate how to divide hosta at the upcoming Healthy Living Fair in Davenport, Iowa. (photo/Cindy Hadish)

Related: Hooked on Hostas

Hostas tend to need dividing when they become crowded or if the center begins to die back; generally every three to four years, depending on the variety. While spring is a prime time to divide hostas, “I’ve divided in the spring and in the fall and it works either way,” Dykes said.

The demonstrations come with a bonus, as the divided hostas will be potted up and given away to attendees at the event. Master gardeners also will offer tips on the best location and care for hostas.

Scott County Extension Director Becky Bray noted that the county has 115 active master gardeners, who have completed training and an internship in the program and volunteer throughout the community.

Among their tasks, master gardeners teach horticultural classes, offer an annual plant sale in May, help plan community gardens and staff the “Hort Clinic” at the ISU Scott County Extension office to provide research-based answers to horticultural questions posed by Scott County residents.

Dykes said common questions tend to be seasonal; for example, inquiries about grubs or Japanese beetles during the weeks when the invasive pests are active. Master gardeners will answer questions like those and whatever topics attendees at the Healthy Living Fair would like addressed regarding gardening, plants, insects and wildlife.

Other common questions master gardeners often hear include how to identify and control insects and what to do about moles in yards and gardens.

“Traps are a good thing,” Dykes said of coping with moles. “As soon as you see a tunnel or a mound, you need to be vigilant. You just have to stay with it and keep up with the method you’re using.”

Another common topic concerns Emerald Ash Borer, which has decimated ash trees in numerous states and has made its way to Iowa in recent years. Dykes said treatment options are available, “but sometimes you have to take down the trees.”

Issues with plants that don’t thrive – another common question – often are related to buying plants that are not suited to Scott County’s plant hardiness zone, she said.

“We’re in Zone 5, so anything higher, we can’t grow,” Dykes said. “They won’t live through the winter.”

While Dykes and her fellow master gardeners could definitely be considered gardening enthusiasts, she said beginning gardeners should not feel overwhelmed.

She advises starting small, such as growing tomatoes in a large planter or wine barrel or helping children plant carrot seeds in a pot.

Seed packets offer important information on where and when to plant, Dykes noted, as well as how deep the seeds should be planted. Early vegetables, such as radishes and certain varieties of lettuce, should be planted in early spring, while tender plants, including tomatoes and zucchini, need warmer temperatures and gardeners have to wait until after the last frost before adding to their gardens.

Beginning gardeners need to look for the best location for their garden plots, which should be in full sun for highest production, she said.

They should also keep in mind the spacing of plants and how much of each crop the gardener’s family will eat.

Dykes said master gardeners offer an excellent resource for those questions and more.

“If we can’t handle it at the fair, we can get back to them with the information,” she said.

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