Whether you call them hosta, plantain lily or funkia, the hostas are the most adaptable and easy-to-grow plants for the shade garden. They have been around for centuries and new varieties are always being discovered and developed. In fact, sometimes there are so many from which to choose that it is overwhelming. Hostas are almost indestructible and grow under a wide variety of conditions, making them the perfect plant for the shade… well, almost. Hostas do have a few enemies, especially slugs and deer. Once you have learned to work around those problems, you are free to choose from a wide array of leaf shapes, sizes and colors. Hostas are hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 3-8.
Once you know how much room you have, simply choose the varieties that you enjoy. There is no right or wrong. Take a minute and browse through the available varieties and notice how much the leaves vary. Some plants will have a much more upright habit than others. Look at their tags or information posted near the plants to find out how large the hosta will grow and about its blooms.
Growing Hostas Hostas will prefer light shade, receiving direct sun only in the morning or filtered through the trees during the afternoon. They also grow well in areas that are high light (lots of light, but not direct sun). Some varieties are more tolerant of the sun, but they may begin to look ragged as the summer progresses, especially if we have many days with temperatures over 90º. For sunnier locations, try Sum and Substance or Francee. Gold leaves tend to tolerate more sun and blue leaves seem to tolerate the least. Keep in mind that plants kept moist and mulched will tolerate more sun than others. All hostas will survive even in deep shade; they just won’t be as lush and compact as they would have been when grown with more light. Most blue varieties develop their best color in the shade.
To Plant Hostas Work up the soil and amend it if needed. Hostas are tolerant of almost any type of soil; they will grow best in slightly acid soil high in organic matter. To get the most out of your plants, amend soils with lots of peat moss and manure. While they are tough plants and will survive almost anything, hostas will do amazing things given the proverbial $10 hole for a $2 plant. If your hosta is potted, plant it at the same level at which it was growing. If you are planting a hosta root, make sure the eyes (growing points) will be about an inch below the soil surface. Water thoroughly. To space out the hostas first check the tag for information on the ultimate height and width of the variety you are planting. Then decide what effect you want to achieve. Do you want your hostas to form a mass or a border (growing together) or would you prefer they remain individual specimen plants. Most plants will eventually grow at least as wide as they are tall. If the variety grows to 24 inches, space them about 18-20 inches apart to form a border or 24-28 inches apart to remain a specimen.
Hosta Care To water your hostas the ground should stay evenly moist. Under these conditions, hostas will grow faster, develop larger leaves and be much stronger and able to handle heat stress in the summer. They are relatively drought tolerant and can survive with what nature usually provides. Hostas will make best use of fertilizer when they are actively growing, in spring and early summer. An excellent fertilizer for hostas is an organic fertilizer such as Sustane or Milorganite. You don’t have to divide hostas, but most people do, either to keep the plant from outgrowing its space or to produce more plants. The best time to divide hostas is in early spring as they begin to emerge, but they can be successfully divided almost anytime, given a little extra care. Dividing in early spring is easier on the plant since there aren’t any leaves to damage.
Whenever you divide, the less you damage the plant, the more quickly it will recover and go on. The best way to dividing hostas is to use two garden forks; you can put them in the center of the clump and pry the two halves apart. You can also dig the clump and wash it off so you can see the root system and the fleshy eyes at the top, then take a sharp spade and divide it into pieces, making sure each piece has several eyes. Replant the divided hosta as soon as Hosta possible. While winter protection is optional for most hostas, newly planted, very young or prized plants should be mulched with leaves or straw for the winter. Mulches should not be applied before the ground is nearly frozen in fall and left in place several weeks after the ground thaws in spring, since its function is to prevent alternating freezing and thawing.
Hosta problems Slugs are the hosta’s worst enemy and, unfortunately, you need lots of different ways to try to control them, because no single way is the answer. Slugs are slimy gray soft-bodied creatures that rely on shady, moist places for protection. Pick up a copy of our information sheet on slugs for specific recommendations on how to control this enemy of the hosta. Slugs will make your hosta leaves look like lace, eating holes within the leaf, not just at the edges. Deer and rabbits chew from the edges.
The professionals at McShane’s Nursery and Landscape Supply can help you fight the problems that come with planting hosta. They will be more than happy to suggest ways in which to prevent attacks from slugs, dear, and rabbits.