How to Grow Hostas - Beautiful Shade Tolerant Plants
Hosta are the Perfect Plants for Shade Gardens
The Hosta or "Plantain Lily"
The hostas, also known as the "plantain lilies", are one of the most popular herbaceous shade tolerant perennials in the US. There are at least 2,500 different cultivated varieties of hostas today. Most hosta varieties are hardy in zones 2-10. Here is some information on how to grow, divide and care for your hostas.
Hostas are native to China, Japan and Korea. They were first introduced to England in the 1700's and came to the US in the mid 1800's. Hostas can be grown from seeds, but the germination rates are very low. Unless you are an expert grower, hostas are best purchased as potted plants and then transplanted. Most hostas today are hybrids that have been cultivated to better adapt to a wider range of temperature and soil conditions.
There are more than 2,500 different varieties of hostas today. The colors of the hosta include green, white, gold, blue and variegated. Their leaves can be round, oval, heart or lance shaped. They also come in a variety of textures such as smooth, cupped, glossy, rippled or seer-suckered. Some hostas stand upright, while others form beautiful mounds. Smaller hostas may be only 2 inches in height, while others can reach 36 inches or more.
There are literally thousands of hosta variations. Hostas are generally not purchased for their flowers, however they do bloom. The flowers are small, bell-shaped flowers that appear atop a spike emerging from the center of the plant. They vary in colors from white to lavender and even purple. There are also varieties that are fragrant, such as "Honeybells", "Summer Fragrance" and "Fragrant Bouquet". With such a wide variety to choose from, you will be able to find the perfect hosta for your landscaping needs, be it edging, background, or specimen planting.
Hostas prefer rich, loose, well drained soil that is slightly acidic. Loosen your soil to a depth of approximately 12 to 18 inches deep and as wide as the width that the plant should attain. This is because hosta's roots grow out more than down, so wider is better than deeper. Now amend the soil with compost or peat moss to keep it loose and draining well. Make sure the root clump is level with the ground. Mulch your hostas with at least 1 to 2 inches of mulch to help them retain the much needed moisture and reduce weed growth. Pine straw is probably the best as it helps keeps away slugs and snails, which tend to be a problem with hostas.
Hostas are considered to be shade tolerant plants, not shade loving. Your hostas will grow best with at least a couple of hours of morning sun, but need shade during the hot afternoons. Some hostas are more "sun tolerant" than others. Watch your plant's leaves, if the begin to looked scorched, you know they are getting to much sun and you will want to transplant them to an area with less afternoon sun. Some examples of "sun tolerant" hostas are "August Moon", "Guacamole" and "Fried Green Tomatoes".
Watering Your Hosta
Hostas do best with plenty of water. A good "rule of thumb" to remember is the larger the leaves of the hosta, the more water it will require. Keeping them moist will also help against leaf scorching. Most varieties can withstand drying out completely, but I suggest watering your hostas thoroughly every 2 to 3 days. Be sure they have good drainage or the roots can become soggy and rot. It is best to water your hostas early in the morning to prevent the water drops from possibly scorching the leaves.
The best time to divide your hostas is either in spring, just as the eyes are peeking up from the ground, or in fall, after their peak growing season. There are two ways to divide your hostas, depending on the size of your plants. First, dig around the plant as far out as the width of the plant. Remember, hosta's roots grow out more than down. If the plant is large and has a thick root system, lay the plant on the ground and using a sharp knife or a shovel, cut through the plant being sure that there is at least one stem growth point for each division. If you are dividing a smaller plant, you may be able to remove as much soil from the roots as possible, by either shaking the plant or rinsing the root ball with water and separate the plants by gently pulling them apart. Now you can replant one division in the original location and have a second plant to add beauty to another location.
Companion Plants for Hostas
As hostas are mainly planted for their beautiful gold, green or blue foliage, you may want to add a splash of color to your hosta bed. Hostas grow well with other "shade tolerant" plants. Some colorful companion perennial plants for hostas would be astilbe, bleeding hearts, hydrangeas and bell flowers. If you want to plant some annuals, which usually have a longer bloom time, impatiens, caladium and coleus work well. You may also want to plant some ferns for another interesting texture plant in your flower garden.
Slugs and snails are the most common hosta pests. There are several chemical applications you can use to control these pest, but if you prefer not to use toxic chemicals, here are a couple of suggestions. Try placing pennies around the outside perimiter of your hostas. Slugs and snails will not crawl across the pennies as the copper gives off a small electrical charge when they touch it. Place the pennies around the outside perimiter to keep these pest from crawling up any leaves that may be hanging down to the ground.
You can also pour your left over coffee grounds around the plants and this will even give them a little extra nutirents. Pine straw is an excellent choice for mulching your hostas with as the slugs and snails do not like the sharp needles.
To help keep away the deer and rabbits, try chopping or slicing up some Iris Spring bath soap. Don't be stingy with it, sprinkle it around your hosta plants. Deer and rabbits don't like the smell of the soap.
Hostas are wonderful plants and quite easy to grow with a little knowledge. They will add beauty and contrast to your yard, flower bed or any place you decide to plant them. One word of caution, hosta growing can become addictive!
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© 2013 Sheila Brown
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