When modern gardeners plant hostas it’s not about the flowers, although hosta flowers can be spectacular. Fifty years ago hostas were called Plantain Lilies or Funkia, ( now there’s an odd name), and they were grown for their late summer flowers. Today, while hostas are the most popular perennial sold in the world, most buyers are not looking for flowers. Hostas are grown for their wonderful range of foliage color, shape and texture, and for their ability to glamorize those shady spots in the garden. Hostas are easy to grow and thrive across the United States, from zone 3-8.
Hostas are good plants to combine with spring flowering bulbs under deciduous trees. When the bulbs finish blooming the trees will leaf out and shade the hostas, which will cover the dying bulb foliage. Hostas also mix well with ferns, astilbe, heuchera, goatsbeard, tiarella, and woodland wildflowers.
While hostas are known as shade plants, they will not do well if the location is very dark, such as under evergreens with low branches. Dry shade is also not a good location. Hostas do best in moist soil rich in organic matter, which is in light shade or dappled shade. Many hosta varieties can take some sun if they are kept moist, especially in northern zones.
Spring is the best time to plant hostas. Gardeners should start with plants. If the hosta is potted wait until after the last frost in your area to transplant it into the garden. Dormant root clumps can be planted outside a few weeks before the last frost is expected. Plant the hosta crown just at soil level. Keep the soil moist around hostas but don’t plant them where they will sit in waterlogged soil as they will rot.
Hostas can be grown by seed and sometimes seedlings come up in the garden if the seed pods were left on the plant. But they don’t come true to variety by seed so most hostas are propagated by dividing clumps or by tissue culture. Some gardeners enjoy collecting hosta seed and planting it just to see what form and color they get.
Hostas are slow to emerge in the spring so be sure to mark where you plant them so you won’t disturb the clumps when planting or working in the garden. As hostas begin to emerge, you can work a slow release fertilizer, or a few inches of quality compost, into the soil around them. This is helpful in areas where the hostas compete with tree roots. Hostas in deep, rich soil may do well without any fertilizer. Be patient with hostas. Hostas may take several years of growth in a location before the adult form and color of the variety is evident.
Hostas flower in mid to late summer. Some hosta varieties are actually grown for their large fragrant flowers; most varieties have less spectacular flowers. When hosta finish flowering, the old flower and its long stem should be removed. This concentrates the hosta energy to the foliage and not to producing seeds. Remove dead or yellowed leaves from hosta during the growing season and after they are killed by frost in the fall. In zones 5 and above it is helpful to provide a layer of mulch to hosta crowns after the ground freezes. Straw, pine needles, oak leaves or other mulch that doesn’t matt down is best.
Hostas have few disease or pest problems when grown in the right location. If the edges of hosta leaves turn brown and crisp, the plant is probably in too much sun or it is too dry. Slugs are a major problem of hostas in some areas. Slugs feed at night and eat holes in the leaves. If you have slug problems you should remove all mulch and debris around the hostas. Remove the leaves on each hosta where the leaf blade touches the ground. This allows the soil surface to dry and removes hiding places for slugs. You can also try mulching with a sharp, small gravel such as baby chick grit or use diatomaceous earth around the hosta plants. Hostas in pots can be protected with a thin copper band around the pot rim. There are slug poisons on the market but be very careful using them around children and pets. Hosta varieties with thick, wrinkled leaves are said to be less appealing to slugs.
Some varieties of hosta and how to choose them
There are literally thousands of hosta varieties on the market. When new varieties come on the market they are usually quite expensive. If you see a hosta that you like but can’t afford, look around, chances are that there is an older variety that is very similar and much less expensive.
Hostas range in color from golden green to deep green, from light blue gray to deep blue-green, white, and with leaf variegations combining those colors. There are some hostas with red or purplish stems. Hostas flower color ranges from white to shades of lavender and blue. The shape of hosta leaves range from small and almost round, to heart shaped, oval, long and strap like, ruffled, wrinkled and smooth. The size of hosta varies from plants that mature at only a few inches high to those that become 3’ or 4’ high.
The name of the hosta variety is not as important as it having growing characteristics that suit your garden space. A mixture of leaf texture, color and plant size is usually best if the area is to be planted only in hostas. If other plants are in the garden you must consider whether the hosta you select will be hidden under them or crowd them out, and whether the foliage color and texture complements what is already planted there. If you are going to plant hostas where they will be in sun for some part of the day, look for varieties that are marked sun tolerant.
If you are looking for fragrant, large flowering hosta consider these varieties, ‘Venus’, ‘Diana Remembered’, ‘Guacamole’ and ‘Fragrant Bouquet’ .
For spectacular sized hostas try ‘Blue Angel’, ‘Devil’s Advocate’, ‘Sum and Substance’, and ‘Empress Wu’
For tiny hostas try ‘Frosted Mouse Ears’, ‘Ripple Effect’, or ‘Raspberry Sundae’.
There are too many varieties to list when it comes to hostas and most people choose by selecting the ones that attract their eye in the garden shop. Just make sure to check the tag for size and other considerations to make sure that variety is a good fit for your garden. Buying assorted, unnamed mixtures of hostas that many places offer can be a good way to get a lot of hosta inexpensively if you are not concerned with knowing variety names.
Almost every garden has a spot for hostas and these reliable plants are loved around the world. Don’t hesitate to plant some in your garden.
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