Hostas are among the oldest and most popular perennials in the world. Native to Japan, Korea, and China, they are easy to grow and their foliage adds interest and color to any garden. Some types have fragrant flowers, which is a bonus.
But the question many people new to hostas ask is where they can plant them in their garden. Hostas really are tough and versatile but site selection is also important. Even though they are known to be shade-loving plants, some varieties will thrive in partial to full sun.
Where do I put hostas in my garden?
While hostas are commonly described as being shade tolerant, and grow in areas with low light, most types prefer shade. In some areas, including Kansas, they are the No 1 shade plant. They don’t just tolerate shade, they love the shade!
But, they also like dappled light and/or some morning sunshine. As the horticulturists at PennState Extension point out, if hostas don’t get any sunlight, they aren’t going to thrive.
So, ideally, choose a spot that gets a bit of sun, but is mostly shady. If you don’t have any shade, they aren’t a good choice for your garden.
It is also important to avoid planting hostas in an exposed location or where they will get battered by the wind. Additionally, too much sunlight will result in the green-leafed species that thrive in the shade getting yellowed leaves.
How Location Affects Different Varieties of Hosta
While most types of hosta do best in dappled or filtered shade, many do particularly well in deep shade, with less than four hours of sun a day. But if the location is too dark, just about every type of hosta will grow more slowly.
Generally, the deeper green-leafed varieties are the most shade tolerant hosta species. Blue hostas, in particular, need heavy shade to keep their color.
If you are growing more colorful varieties, particularly the gold and green types, the filtered sun is a better bet. The University of Minnesota Extension experts say that yellow and gold hosta varieties benefit from two or three hours of the morning sun that develops a much richer leaf color.
As an example, the gold-leafed Sum and Substance, a giant hosta variety that has a mature size of about 60 inches in diameter and 30 inches in height, prefers a bit of sunlight and thrives if there are up to six hours of sun.
Where do hostas grow best?
Hostas are regarded as the mainstays of the shade garden. You can plant them in the shade of large trees, on the north side of your house, or the shaded side of a thriving shrub border.
They are hardy in USDA Hardiness Zones 3 through 8, but site selection and proper cultural practices are important.
Hostas prefer moist but well-drained, humus-rich, fertile soil that contains high levels of organic matter. You can improve soils with high levels of clay or sand by incorporating organic matter like compost, peat, rotted oak leaves, and so on.
In poorly drained sites, the best solution is usually to construct a raised bed. But also be sure to add organic materials and to keep the soil moist.
How to Choose the Best Spot to Grow Hostas
We’ve talked about how some hosta varieties prefer more sun than others. So, when you choose a spot to grow your hostas, you will need to take this into account.
But you should also consider basic landscaping guidelines. This includes function – and the primary reason for growing hostas in the first place.
Most people grow them for their varied foliage, which can create a striking background for other plants. Hosta leaves of different varieties range from green and gold to blue, and there are many variegated hostas.
Green hosta leaves contrast beautifully with blooming perennials, while yellow and gold-leafed varieties will brighten up areas in the garden. Blue and blue green-leaved hostas blend with other garden colors and have a restful effect.
Some hosta varieties produce attractive fragrant flowers in a range of colors from white and pink to violet-blue and lavender and will bloom from early summer until the fall. The size of their heart-shaped leaves also varies.
So, when choosing the best spot to grow your hostas, take all this into account.
How Size Affects Where You Grow Hostas
Additionally, the plants themselves vary tremendously in mature size. The American Hosta Society classifies them into six sizes based on height:
- Dwarf – less than 4 inches (10 cm)
- Miniature – 4 to 6 inches (10-15 cm)
- Small – 6 to 10 inches (15-25 cm)
- Medium – 10 to 18 inches (25-46 cm)
- Large – 18 to 28 inches (46-70 cm)
- Giant – taller than 28 inches (70 cm)
The smallest dwarf and miniature species are fantastic in rock gardens and in small garden spaces. The large and giant variety makes great background plants.
Small and medium-size hostas can be planted as a groundcover and can be very useful for stabilizing shaded slopes in the garden.
Is Hosta an Easy Plant to Grow?
Hostas are very easy plants to grow. They live a long time and, if you plant them in a good place and give them reasonable care (see Tips on Caring for Hostas below), there’s a good chance that they will outlive you!
Too much heat and/or freezing conditions can be a challenge.
For instance, in areas that experience hot dry summers, it’s important to maintain moisture in the soil. If hosta leaves dry out the leaf margins can scorch and turn brown.
If the plants have been in the ground for at least one full growing season, they won’t need winter protection. But in areas where the soil freezes in winter, it’s a good idea to mulch around the plants with pine needles or weed-free straw.
Common Hosta Problems
Hostas are generally pest-free but cutworms, slugs, and snails can be a problem. According to horticulturists, slugs and cutworms feed at night and, as long as there aren’t too many of these baddies, you can handpick them at night using a flashlight to see.
If you have a major infestation, you can set a trap to catch slugs. It’s simple.
All you do is to place a shingle or piece of wood where they have been feeding. They will tend to move under the trap and after a couple of days, you just lift it and kill the slugs nesting under it.
Although not common, hostas are also prone to a few diseases including petiole rot which is caused by various types of fungus including hosta virus X. If you start with healthy plants, you shouldn’t have a problem. If you get transplants from friends, inspect them carefully to make sure they are not diseased in any way.
The good news is that most of the diseases you will spot on hosta leaves won’t kill them. The bad news is that if deer can get into your garden, and you don’t have fencing, this will be a problem. Deer love hosta foliage more than we do!
Tips on How to Grow Hostas
Plant your hostas in early spring or early fall. Then, as they say in the classics, lie back and think of England. You honestly don’t have to do much more than lie back and enjoy the hostas you plant.
But here are a few tips that will help you make your hostas the best in your neighborhood.
Tips on Caring for Hostas
Hostas need to be watered regularly throughout the growing season so that the soil stays moist. Even though they don’t need much feeding, it’s a good idea to use a good, all-purpose fertilizer like 10-10-10 in spring, when you spot the first spurts of growth.
Tips on Transplanting and Dividing Hostas
If you’ve been growing hostas for a while, and they are 3-5 years old, you can divide them and transplant some of them into other parts of your garden. The best time to do this is in early spring, although gardeners have success right through summer.
When you see the little bullet-shaped points of new growth emerging, dig up a clump. When dividing the clump, do it carefully, cutting it into sections using a sharp knife.
As a guide, each section you divide should have about three new budding leaves, a good bit of crown, and a root ball. Then get down to business digging a hole or two so you can transplant your divided hostas.
When you plant your divided hostas, take the expected mature size of the plants into account so that they don’t crowd each other out too quickly. Also be sure to plant them at the same soil level as they were, with the crown below the soil.
Many people who know how easy hostas are to grow think that they can plant them anywhere. That’s not true.
Hostas like to be shaded by the sun, but they also enjoy a bit of sun. It’s not complicated, but it is important.
Our 2023 garden tips will help you do the right thing. And once you’ve got them established, you’ll have a forever hosta shade garden you can enjoy.