While some folks may these plants are boring or common – just green and white striped leaves – let us introduce you to the incredible range of sizes, growth habits, and foliage colors that make up this species of over 8000 cultivars. Growing best in the shade and very easy to care for, hostas are native to northeast Asia – Japan, Korea, and China.
It’s the foliage that gives these plants their strong appeal. Heart-shaped or oval leaves in shades of green, blue, yellow, and cream form a tidy mound that can range in size from just a few inches to over 6 feet across. They provide a calm and elegant look to the shade garden and blend well with other perennials and with spring bulbs.
These perennials are also known as funkia and plantain lilies. They are hardy in USDA Zones 3 through 9. They grow best in rich, well-drained soil in the shade, although some cultivars can take morning sun.
The wide range of sizes allows them to be used in all kinds of gardening situations. They can be used as tiny gems in shady rock gardens, containers, and as borders. You can plant them in mass or as a single, breathtaking specimen. They can be the star of a zen garden or a workhorse for that spot where every other plant has failed. Regardless of the situation, there’s a hosta for that!
Hosta can take several years to reach their mature size. Flower scapes are held high above the plant – sometimes 2 feet tall – depending on the variety.
Hostas prefer a rich, well-drained soil that is high in organic matter with a pH between 6.5 and 7.5, but they can be grown in average garden soil conditions. Avoid very wet or waterlogged soils and heavy clay soils as these soils can rot the roots. Thin, dry, rocky soil will benefit from the addition of compost before you plant hosta in it.
Hostas prefer a shady location. Some varieties can take a little morning sun. In fact, highly variegated varieties often prefer a bit of morning sun and show their colors best in light or dappled shade. ‘Royal Standard’ is one cultivar that can take full sun.
In deeply shaded areas of the garden, plant the dark green varieties.
If a hosta is receiving too much sunlight, the leaves will scorch and turn brown along the edges.
Hosta will only need supplemental water in periods of drought. If you are growing a variety that can take full sun, it will probably need extra water. Don’t water from overhead if you can avoid it, especially late in the day. This simple action can help prevent fungal diseases.
If grown in rich soil, hostas can thrive without any fertilizer at all. If you’d like to give your hosta a boost, apply a granular, balanced, slow-release fertilizer in the spring when the leaves are first emerging.
Insect and Disease Problems
Hostas are relatively trouble-free, but they can develop a few problems that you will want to watch for. Some issues are not easily remedied, and many involve damage to the foliage. You can remove a badly damaged leaf all the way to the ground without harming the plant.
Check out the link above to learn how to deal with some of the pests and diseases.
Hostas bloom in late spring to late summer, depending on the variety. The flowers are held above the plants, with many blooms arranged along the tall stems, called scapes. Flower colors are either pale purple or white, and many varieties are fragrant. Bees find them very attractive. After the blooms fade, you can cut the stems down as far as you can for a tidy appearance.
For many gardeners, flowers are secondary to the gorgeous foliage. Some even remove the scapes as they emerge!
Cutting Hostas Down in Fall
Wait as long as possible to cut your hosta plants down in the fall. Some varieties develop a beautiful golden fall color that can be enjoyed late into the season. Waiting until there have been a few light frosts also makes the job easier as the plants die back and the leaves wither.
Some gardeners let the foliage die back naturally and don’t cut hostas down at all! This method works well for the smaller varieties, but with the large varieties, especially those with thick leaves, giant dead leaves persisting through the winter might not appeal to some. Each gardener has to decide their own aesthetic threshold.
You can also check our more in-depth article about hostas care in the fall.
Hostas do not need winter protection. If you have shredded leaves on hand, you can topdress your plants in the fall. This helps keep your soil rich and alive as the leaves decompose.
Dividing and Transplanting
Hosta can be left alone for years and rarely need to be divided. But if you are expanding your shade garden and want more plants, or you want to share them with your friends, division is the best way to propagate them.
Wait until your plant is at least three years old. Many hosta grow very slowly, and trying to divide a young plant can reduce its vigor. If you want to divide the giant varieties, you may need to wait five years or more.
Hostas can be divided in the spring or fall. In the spring, dig out the plant in its entirety when the leaves are beginning to emerge and the soil temperature has reached 55°F (13°C). In the fall, dig them about 4-6 weeks before the first frost. This gives the plants time to grow roots before the ground freezes.
Once the plant is out of the ground, lay it on its side. It is easy to see natural breaks in the clump where it will divide easily. Use a sharp flat-edged spade (not a pointed shovel), a garden knife, or, for large varieties, a small pruning saw to make divisions.
Plant the divisions at the same depth as they were originally, and gently spread the roots out in the planting hole. A little bit of leaf-mold mulch around the new planting can help keep the soil moist and cool as the plant gets established, but it is not necessary. These plants are tough enough to spend a few days out of the soil if you can’t get around to planting them right away. Place them in a shady spot and keep the roots moist.
Water well to remove air pockets and keep an eye on moisture levels through the rest of the growing season. You will find that hostas settle in quickly and are very forgiving.
Hostas are the backbone of the shade garden and planting a few different varieties together can have a dramatic effect. Be sure the sizes, leaf texture, and colors blend well together and keep in mind that the color may vary depending on the amount of light your plant receives. This is why photos in catalogs and online can look so different. One of our favorite combinations is the giant blue H. ‘Sieboldiana Elegans’ combined with yellow H. ‘August Moon’ and the variegated H. ‘June.’
Blend these beautiful plants with other shade-loving perennials such as bleeding heart (dicentra), heucheras, ferns, astilbe, and lady’s mantle (alchemilla). Of course, shade-loving annuals can also be planted with hostas – impatiens, coleus, caladiums, begonias, torenia, and browallia all make great companions.
Plant hostas with spring bulbs. As the hosta leaves emerge, they help hide the dying foliage of daffodils and tulips.
Hostas make a great border on the north side of the house and city dwellers will find that hostas thrive in that dark, narrow spot between two houses.
A great way to showcase a new and beautiful specimen is to grow it in a container with shade-loving annuals like impatiens, begonias, and coleus. Plant your hosta in the garden right after the annuals are hit by frost and, since it’s being planted late, be sure to mulch the new addition.