There are many great reasons why hostas are so widely grown in domestic gardens. They take very little care and attention, thrive in the shade and return year after year with attractive leaves. But while hostas are very forgiving plants, they do have some preferences. Here’s how to grow hostas successfully in both containers and open soil.
Choosing Hosta Varieties
Hostas come in a wide range of varieties, with many hundreds to choose from to suit your garden. Individual varieties can grow as low as 6 inches (15 cm) or as high as 48 inches (120 cm), and can spread in width anywhere from 10 inches (25 cm) to 72 inches (180cm). In general, smaller varieties grow the fastest and provide quicker ground cover, reaching maturity in as little as three years, while larger ones may take up to seven.
Sculpted foliage is the key attraction with hostas. Colors are available in a dizzying array of greens, gold, blue-green and variegated types. The leaves can be heart-shaped, spade-shaped, or sword-like, ranging in size from tiny up to 20 inches (50 cm) across. Smaller varieties can be grown in larger pots, where their foliage can provide an attractive background for mixing with flowering annuals.
Hostas also produce summer flowers on long stalks that rise above the leaves. The blooms are usually shades of purple, but varieties such as Fragrant Hosta have been bred to develop large, white, honeysuckle-scented blooms. Hosta flowers are great for attracting bees and hummingbirds to your garden!
And lastly, while most hostas prefer shady conditions, a few hybrids have been developed that tolerate greater amounts of sunshine, allowing hostas to be grown in a wider range of conditions.
Hostas Planting Guide
When to Plant Hostas
You can plant hostas any time from spring to fall. But the best time is in the early spring or before the ground freezes in late fall. The cooler seasons allow the hosta roots time to grow without the stress of heat. If you plant hostas in summer, check the plants each day to see if they need water until they start showing new growth.
Where to Plant Hostas
Hostas are unusual for their preference for shade. Most varieties can handle full shade but will thrive best with a little dappled light, particularly in the mornings. Some varieties are more tolerant of the sun than others, but most will lose their color, develop leaf burn or even die back if exposed to too much direct sunlight.
Hosta Soil Requirements
Hostas prefer rich, well-draining soil. They struggle to thrive in heavy clay soils which are easily waterlogged. Before planting, work plenty of compost into the soil to give both drainage and fertility. If growing in pots, use any general-purpose potting mix.
How Far Apart to Plant Hostas
Hostas can range in size from miniature to huge, growing 10 to 72 inches (15-120 cm) wide. How far apart you plant hostas depends on which variety you’re growing. Check the plant label or look up the hosta variety for the recommended spacing.
How Deep to Plant Hostas and How to Plant Bare Root Hostas
Plant hosta at the same depth it was in the pot or in the ground before. If you’re planting bare root hostas, dig a hole large enough for the roots to lay straight, not circling. Where the stem meets roots, this is called the crown, should be at the soil level.
Planting Hosta Bulbs
Actually, hostas don’t have bulbs. They have a rhizome, which is a stem that grows horizontally. Small plants that are divided from a larger hosta plant are often called a “hosta bulb” because the thick underground stem looks like a bulb. While it’s not true to call them hosta bulbs, it’s a common way for people to refer to new hosta plants.
1. Dig a hole for the hosta that’s as deep as the root ball and two times as wide.
2. Put the hosta in the hole with the top of the root ball at soil level.
3. Fill the hole with soil around the hosta’s roots, until it’s even with the surrounding soil surface. Gently tamp the soil around the plant to remove air pockets.
4. Water the hosta well and add a two-inch layer of mulch around the planting area. Until the hosta starts to grow new leaves, continue to water whenever the top inch of soil is dry to the touch.
Watering Hosta Plants
Hostas need consistent moisture without waterlogging. Water as needed to prevent the soil from fully drying out. Occasional deep watering is better than a slow, continual drip. For hostas grown in containers, water more lightly and frequently to ensure the soil always remains moist.
Ongoing Hosta Maintenance
Hostas need very little maintenance beyond removing fading flower stalks to keep the plants looking tidy. Plants grown in the open ground don’t ask for heavy feeding, although they’ll benefit from a top dressing of compost in the spring.
Hostas in planters will need more regular feeding, as the frequent watering can leech nutrients out of the soil over a season. Adding a slow-release fertilizer in spring will give the plants a good start. Another option is a liquid fertilizer for flowering plants. Apply according to the package directions until flowering is over.
Getting Hosta Ready for Winter
Hostas die back to the ground in late fall. In the harshest winter climates, it can be helpful to protect the dormant crown with a mulch of leaves, straw or other dry organic material. Winter mulching helps insulate plant roots. It’s a good way to protect all your garden perennials from freezing temperatures.
If your hostas are in containers, freezing in winter is more of a risk. Before the first frost, either move the pots to a sheltered, unheated space such as a garage, or provide a little protective insulation by burying the planters up to their rims and then applying a mulch.
Whether in pots or outdoors, you can prepare hostas for their winter sleep by stopping feeding after flowering. Once the leaves die back to the ground they can easily be removed. This will prevent pests and fungus from overwintering on the decaying remnants, waiting to attack the young shoots in spring.
Hosta Pests and Problems
Slugs are a notorious problem for hostas, likely because they share the same preference for shady and moist conditions. Keep the problem under control with regular inspections and removal, or by using your preferred type of bait or trap.
Hostas can also suffer from several fungal and viral diseases. If the plants start to brown and wilt, and you can rule out problems with too much sun or water, it’s best to remove and destroy the affected plants to prevent any disease from spreading.
Once your hostas are established it’s very easy to create new plants by propagation. Read our article on dividing hostas. Learn how simple it is to fill your garden with your favorite varieties, while also giving existing plants more space to thrive.