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Hosta: Queen of the Shade Garden

By Teo Spengler ; Updated June 13, 2019
Hosta: Queen of the Shade Garden

Think of hosta plants as building blocks for the shade garden. These hardy perennials offer gorgeous mounds of leaves as well as hosta flowers, and they come in many sizes, heights, textures and colors. If you are thinking of inviting hostas into your backyard, first learn the basic growing tips about these long-lived foliage plants.

The Allure of Hostas

Hostas are plants in the genus of the same name, mostly clump-forming perennials native to open woodlands in Asia and Russia. They are beloved by gardeners in this country for their ornamental foliage.

The dense basal leaves of hostas have conspicuous veins. They grow from a central crown to form an impressive mound of truly lovely foliage. Hostas thrive in cool or mild areas in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 8 or 9.

The leaves of hosta plants vary among the species and cultivars, and you can find them in commerce in a wide variety of shapes, sizes, colors and textures. Hosta flowers – white, lilac or pink – appear in late spring or summer on scapes rising above the mound of foliage. The blossoms are fragrant and shaped like bells or funnels, attracting hummingbirds.

How to Plant Hostas

Spring is the time to transplant dormant, bare-root or potted hostas. Choose a part-shade to full-shade location for these perennials, ideally a spot protected from wind with some morning sun or dappled sunlight during the day. The soil should drain well. Moisten the soil and enrich it with organic compost before you transplant.

If you are using dormant or bare-root plants, set them into the earth so that the crown is at the level of the surrounding soil surface. If you are transplanting potted hostas, they should be set into the soil at the same soil level that they had in the pot.

How to Care for Hostas

Hosta plants are easy-care garden residents. You will need to keep the soil evenly moist (mulch helps with this) and apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer after planting. Reapply the fertilizer in spring each year.

Snipping off hosta flower stalks when the blooms fade encourages new growth and keeps the plants looking nice. You can divide hostas in spring, but it isn't necessary for the health of the plant.

Your biggest job will be to protect your plants from pests, like slugs and snails as well as rabbits and deer. Cleaning up debris in the garden beds helps with the crawlers, while fencing may be your best bet with mammals.

Exceptional Hosta Varieties

Hosta plants range from 4-inch miniatures to giant plants that grow wider than you are tall. That means there is likely a hosta variety to suit your situation. Here are a few cool hostas to consider:

  • 'Patriot': This cultivar forms a 12 to 20-inch mound of 7-inch leaves with deep green centers and wide irregular white margins, and racemes of lavender bell-shaped blossoms. 
  • ‘Blue Cadet’: A very popular hosta, this cultivar has 16-inch-tall mounds of heart-shaped, bluish leaves and lavender flowers in summer.
  • Shadowland® Coast to Coast: The solid, gold large leaves make this hosta exceptional, plus those pale violet flowers in summer.
  • Ventricosa: This hosta variety grows to 22 inches tall by 36 inches wide, with shiny, dark green leaves (9 by 8 inches) and purple flowers in late summer. 
  • Blue Mouse Ears: This miniature hosta grows a tight cluster of round leaves (mounding at 8 inches tall) and lavender flowers up to 12 inches tall.
 

About the Author

 

Teo Spengler is a docent with the San Francisco Botanical Garden and a staff writer with Gardening Know How. She has written hundreds of gardening and plant articles for sites like eHow Gardening, Gardening Know How and Hunker. She holds a JD in law from U.C. Berkeley, an MA in English and an MFA in Creative Writing.