Hostas prove that variety is the spice of life, at least when it comes to their role in the landscape. Their large leaves come in a range of colors, shapes and textures and last for years. With thousands of hosta species to choose from, there’s sure to be something that will work in the shady spots of your garden.
Hostas aren’t without their issues, though. They can be ravaged by persistent deer, rabbits, snails and slugs and damaged by sun and hail. They’re also not for native gardens. Fortunately, there are alternatives available.
Botanical name: Hosta spp., including H. fortunei, H. montana, H. plantaginea, H. sieboldiana and H. tokudama flavocircinalis and H. hybrids
Common names: Hosta, plantain lily
Origin: East Asia
Where it will grow: Hardy to minus 40 degrees Fahrenheit, or minus 40 degrees Celsius (USDA zones 3 to 9)
Water requirement: Regular
Light requirement: Shade to partial shade
Mature size: 2 inches to 4 feet tall and 4 inches to 5 feet wide
Benefits and tolerances: Hostas attract hummingbirds, are frost-hardy and rarely need dividing; the big leaves help shade out weeds.
Seasonal interest: Spring to fall, thanks to the variety of colors and textures of their leaves. Tubular-shaped flowers in shades of white, blue and purple bloom in spring and summer.
When to plant: Set out plants in spring.
Distinguishing traits. Hostas are known for their large leaves. The leaf colors range from plain gold or greenish yellow to light to dark green to chartreuse, along with gray and blue; there are also variegated varieties with a glossy or more matte finish. The shapes can be anything from oval to swordlike to heart-shaped with straight or wavy edges. Even the textures vary, from smooth to tucked, quilted or puckered.
H. sieboldiana is known for its heart-shaped puckered and veined leaves. The fragrant plantain lily (H. plantaginea) is often grown for its quilted leaves and sweet-scented white flowers in late summer. Fragrant hosta hybrids have also become more available.
How to use it. Hostas are equally at home in tropical-inspired and woodland-inspired gardens, but they are also a welcome addition to more traditional gardens, cottage-style gardens, Asian-inspired gardens and moist and not-too-sunny meadow gardens.
Use hostas as understory plants below trees or with taller shrubs. Line a pathway or driveway or nestle them in with other shade-loving perennials in a garden. The more unusually colored hostas make great accents. You can also use them to create a backdrop for a garden focal point, such as a bench or fountain.
Hostas can be grown in containers, and the new miniature hybrids can be a surprising addition to a container garden.
Planting notes. Plant in full or partial shade in well-draining, slightly acidic soil. Darker-foliaged plants do best in full shade. Lighter-foliaged plants can handle less shade, and some can even handle sunny spots. Add a balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer at planting time.
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Provide regular water. While hostas can take some drought, they won’t do as well. Feed the soil about once a month with a 10-10-10 fertilizer to encourage growth. Remove faded flower stalks and any decayed leaves. The plants will die back to dormancy in winter.
Deer, rabbits, slugs and snails all find hostas tasty, so protect plants, especially newly planted ones, from them. The most common diseases that affect hostas are crown and root rot, usually the result of poorly draining soil. Nematodes and a mosaic virus are also occasionally problems. In these cases, get rid of the infected plants.
Hostas spread naturally by stems and usually don’t require division. If you do want to add more plants, either take cuttings from the outer edges of the plant or cut out a wedge-shaped piece. It’s best to do this in spring or late summer; the plant will fill in any holes naturally.