Hosta Plant Profile

Hosta Garden

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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. Their 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.

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 28 inches tall and 10 inches to 12 feet wide
Sun Exposure Full shade to part sun
Soil Type Rich, fertile, well-drained
Soil pH 6.0 to 6.5
Bloom Time Summer
Flower Color White, lavender, pink
Hardiness Zones 3 to 9
Native Area China, Japan, Korea, Russia

How to Grow Hostas

Hostas are normally planted as potted transplants or bare root divisions. 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.

Light

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.

Soil

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

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.

Fertilizer

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.

Propagating Hostas

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

  • 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
Hosta blue mouse ears
Hosta blue mouse ears. skymoon13 / Getty Images  
Hosta - Golden Tiara
Hosta - Golden Tiara. ZoomTravels / Getty Images
Hosta Frances Williams
Hosta Frances Williams.  James Guilliam​ / Getty Images
Hosta patriot
Hosta Patriot.  Liudmyla Liudmyla / Getty Images
Hosta Elegans
Hosta Elegans.  SvetlanaKlaise / Getty Images

Common Pests and Diseases

Hostas can fall prey to slugs and snails that chew ragged holes in the leaves and can kill the plants if left untreated. Deer are also voracious feeders on hosta leaves.

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 and the plant will soon recover.