How to Grow Hostas

My Garden Life
August 15, 2022
Table of Contents
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

a stone trough filled with miniature hosta plants set in a larger hosta garden
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.
close up of the beautiful green and white variegated foliage of Hosta 'Victory'
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.
green hosta in full bloom in a mixed perennial shade border
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

a shady border along a dirt path planted with an assortment of green and variegated hosta varieties

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

different varieties of green and variegated hostas growing in the shade of tall trees
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

young hosta plant emerging in spring surrounded by fresh bark mulch
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

ten different varieties of hosta plants neatly spaced to allow each plant room to grow
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

hands wearing gardening gloves planting young hosta plant in a spring garden
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

two bare-root variegated hosta seedlings on a rustic wooden table
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

metal watering can pouring water on a variegated hosta plant in a flower garden
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

variegated hosta plant in a large, decorative, ceramic pot on a wooden deck
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

hosta plant that has turned completely yellow as it dies back in the fall
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

close up of hosta leaves covered with holes created by slugs feeding on the leaves
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.

Propagating Hostas

hands using a hand trowel to divide a clump of hosta into multiple plants
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.

4 Comments

  1. kalyana Lakshmanan

    Thanks for the detailed description about hostas. I am planning to plant around 50 in front of my house on both sides of the entrance. My house is in Dallas Texas. Your article is very useful to understand. Will follow your recommendation to plant and maintain them.

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Kalyana,
      Because you live in Dallas, where the summers can be hot and sunny, you’ll want to be sure that your hostas will be shaded from the afternoon sun and that you can provide sufficient watering during dry spells. With the many hosta hybrids available on the market, you might also look for varieties that were developed to better handle sun. Some varieties to consider are: ‘Sum and Substance’, ‘Sundance’, ‘Sun Power’, ‘Guacamole’, ‘Invincible’, and hybrids of the fragrant hosta, Hosta plantaginea.

      By visiting a garden center with a knowledgeable staff you might be able to get specific tips on hosta varieties best suited to your region and specific garden situation. Don’t forget, hostas may take three years to reach their mature size, so keep this in mind when spacing plants. What a lovely, welcoming entrance you will have when you get your hosta planting project complete!

      Reply
  2. Mary

    I live in northeast Ohio. It is mid-September. Can I plant hostas seed directly in the ground in my yard now and have plants come up in Spring?

    Reply
    • My Garden Life

      Hi Mary,
      You should be fine planting the seeds in the ground now. There is evidence that hosta seed germination is improved by going through a cold period, so if you attempted to start them indoors, you would need to put the seeds through a cold treatment yourself. The easy route is to just work with nature. Note, however that hosta germination rates tend to be quite low. Plant as many seeds as you can to improve your odds. Also, since the majority of hosta being sold are hybrids, it’s unlikely you’ll get plants identical to the ones that emerge from the plant’s seeds. If you want more plants identical to the parent, you’ll have to divide the plant. We found some really detailed information on growing hosta from seed published by the Delaware Valley Hosta Society. You can view it by clicking HERE.

      Reply

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