Hostas (Hosta spp.) are America's most popular perennial garden plant for very simple reasons: Hostas are one of the few plants that thrive in shade, and they are extremely easy to care for and propagate. Unlike many perennials that must be laboriously lifted and divided every few years, hostas are content to simply grow in place without much interference at all. If you do want to propagate them, hostas are among the very easiest of plants to split up and share with others. A very small piece of root is all it takes to create a new plant.
Hostas are low-growing, clump-forming perennial plants grown mostly for their lovely foliage, but beyond this, a single description is almost impossible, since there are hundreds of varieties available in a wide range of sizes. The foliage colors can vary from pale yellow to the deepest of blue-greens, with many variegated forms also available. Leaf shapes can be anything from long and sword-like to huge and round with corrugated textures. Growers generally categorize hostas by size:
- Miniature: plants that mature to less than 9 inches tall
- Small: plants that mature to 9 to 15 inches tall
- Medium: plant that mature to 16 to 21 inches tall
- Large: plants that mature to 22 to 29 inches tall
- Giant: plants that mature to 30-plus inches tall. Some currently grow as much as 48 inches in height.
Hostas produce blooms on long stalks that extend well above the clumping foliage in late spring or summer, but the foliage is the main attraction. Some gardeners clip off the flower stalks when they appear, although more savvy growers recognize the value of the white or purple flowers to bees and other pollinators.
|Botanical Name||Hosta spp.|
|Common Name||Hosta, plantain lily|
|Plant Type||Herbaceous perennial|
|Mature Size||6 to 48 inches tall, 10 inches to 6 feet wide|
|Sun Exposure||Full shade to part sun|
|Soil Type||Rich, fertile, well-drained|
|Soil pH||6.0 to 6.5|
|Flower Color||White, lavender, pink|
|Hardiness Zones||3 to 9 (USDA)|
|Native Area||China, Japan, Korea, Russia|
How to Grow Hostas
Hostas are normally planted as potted transplants or bare root divisions. They generally prefer rich, well-drained soil with consistent moisture. They are most often used in shade gardens, where the ornamental foliage brightens dim areas. They work very well in groups or in masses and are also good as background plants or specimens in shady borders or woodland gardens. Yellow-leaved varieties are somewhat more tolerant of sun, but no hostas will thrive in perpetually hot, sunny areas.
Hostas are edible and are grown as food in parts of Asia. However, they are somewhat poisonous to dogs, cats, and horses. If these animals eat the plant's leaves or flowers, they can suffer from diarrhea, vomiting, or depression.
Hostas are true shade garden plants that can survive in full shade. However, many varieties grow best when they receive dappled sun for a few hours each day. When plants have green and yellow variegated leaves, exposure to morning sun helps enhance the yellow coloring.
Hostas are tolerant of most soil types, provided it is well-drained. They do not do well in clay soil, which holds too much moisture. They also like their soil rich and fertile, full of organic matter.
Water hostas as needed to keep the soil moist but not wet. Once established, hostas will tolerate occasional dry soil, but they will not survive long periods of drought unless they are regularly watered. Watering is best done near the base of the plant, beneath the leaves, rather than overhead watering, which tends to attract slugs and snails.
Temperature and Humidity
Hostas are not fussy about temperature or humidity and can grow in a wide range of climates. It's best to plant them in a location that is protected from strong winds.
Often the best and easiest way to feed hostas is by adding a healthy layer of compost to the soil in the spring. This feeds nutrients to the soil and helps promote the soil food web. You can also feed hostas with a well-balanced organic fertilizer, applied after planting or when plants begin to come up in spring. Be careful not to get fertilizer granules trapped in the leaves, which can burn them.
When desired, you can divide the plants in early spring or in the fall by digging up the root ball, dividing it into small clumps of roots and leaves, and replanting. The plant propagates very easily, though it can take some hard work to divide the tough root clumps.
Varieties of Hosta
Some of the favorite hosta varieties include:
- H. 'Blue Mouse Ears': A tiny hosta growing only 6 to 12 inches high with round, heart-shaped blue-green leaves
- H. 'Golden Tiara': Light green leaves with yellow edging; grows about 16 inches tall and 38 inches wide
- H. tardiana 'Halcyon': Pale, spade-shaped leaves, gray-blue in color; grows 18 to 24 inches tall in clumps up to 3 feet wide
- H. sieboldiana 'Frances Williams': Large, puckered leaves 12 inches wide, dark green with light-green veining; grows 2 feet tall and up to 5 feet in spread
- H. 'Patriot': Medium-size green leaves with white margins; grows up to 18 inches tall with a 30-inch spread
- H. 'Sum and Substance': A huge hosta growing to 30 inches tall and 5 feet in spread; large leaves (15 by 20 inches) are heart-shaped, starting glossy yellow and gradually turning golden
- Hosta sieboldiana 'Elegans': Grows 30 inches tall with a 4-foot spread; large leaves (10 by 13 inches) are heart-shaped and have a corrugated texture and blue-green color
Common Pests and Diseases
Foliar nematodes can cause the leaves to brown between the veins. Leaf spots and crown rot also occasionally are seen. Several viruses are known to attack hostas; when stricken, afflicted plants must be removed and destroyed.
Hail storms can severely damage hosta leaves, leading to disease problems. Affected leaves should be removed; the plant will soon recover.