Planting hosta in the shade garden is a no-brainer in my garden world. I love these plants and recommend them whenever somebody wants a tough plant to grow in almost any shade location.
With the full range of leaf colors and even some fragrant flowers, this is one of my favorite plants.
Gold Hosta and Japanese painted fern make a stunning garden color combination
- Height: A full range from 3-inches to 3-feet
- Hardiness: Right down into USDA 3 with no problems
- Planting Distance Apart: roughly the height as their spread approximates their height.
- Water Needs: Yes. While they’ll take a medium amount of dry conditions, this is a woodland plant and does best with even moisture.
- Flowering: Yes – in early summer with most varieties and fall with a few. Flowers are mostly white or purple. Not “showy” as some plants but in masses, this can be an attractive plant
- Propagation: Division in the early spring or fall is the common way to get new plants although they will self -sow in the garden. Note the seeds will not necessarily come true from seed as these are hybrid plants.
- Soil Needs; This is a woodland plant so giving it a deep rich soil in the shade will be best. It will survive clay soils although it may not be as happy there.
Hosta Propagation Details
Easy by division in the spring (see video below as to when) Simply get a shovel and dig up a chunk with a growing eye early in the spring for easiest and fastest results.
Seed germinates easily and if you allow the flowers to set seed and stay on the plant without deadheading, you’ll find a great many baby hosta plants around your mother plant in a year or two. They may or may not resemble the parent plant (hybrids don’t necessarily breed true) but you can dig and move them and who knows what wonderful plant you may find.
This video shows you how a hosta looks when it’s ready to be divided in the spring
Quick Hosta Garden Design Tip
The easiest way to get a good show in your hosta garden is to plant “blue” leafed varieties next to “gold” leafed varieties. The colour contrast will show up in the shade quite nicely. Look for plants of the same height.
Alternate them – blue-gold, blue-gold – through the garden.
Comments re Hosta Care
When planting hosta, do try to give them the best soil you can. They’ll thank you for it with superior growth rates.
But having said that, they will survive on clay soils (personal experience talking here) and sandier soils. You simply have to water more on sandy soils and try to avoid overwatering on the heavy clay.
It’s not the summer moisture level that does the damage on clay, it’s the freezing, thawing and soaking over the winter that may do damage.
Designing with Hosta:
Blue hosta are prized by gardeners because they contrast so nicely with other foliage in the perennial flower border.
They are grown exactly the same as other hosta although it should be noted that the colors will be more intense in the shade with a good rich organic soil than if you try to grow them out in the sunshine.
For maximum impact, plant blue hosta beside gold leaved hosta. ‘This blue-gold color combination is one of the highlights of the shade garden and both plants will benefit from this combination.
Hosta are usually hardy into USDA zone 3. This is one tough plant but it does not appreciate late frosts.
If your plant has thrown new leaves and these are frosted, it will be distinctly unhappy about producing more (if a brand new plant installed too early in the spring, you may lose the plant at this point).
If the plant is established and in good shape, it will unhappily produce more leaves but often not as thick as the first set. I note that most hosta only throw one set of leaves a season so if you damage them or allow them to be slug-food, what you see- is what you get and no amount of hosta care tips will help you out here.
Do Hosta Live in the Sun?
Yes. They’ll live in the sunshine just fine but along with other perennial flowers – and it’s a big but – their leaf colors will not be as good as if they were in the shade. Some varieties such as the common “medio-variegata” (the one with the pointy-leaves and white stripes up the middle you get for really cheap prices) have a thicker leaf and will survive better in sunshine than other thinner leaved varieties.
Gold leafed plants tend to “fade” if planted in too much sunshine.
Doug’s Biggest Pet Peeve With Hosta
Garden centers sell the old Hosta medio-variegata (the green and white striped one) because it’s cheap. There are so many other better varieties out there – this one should be consigned to the rubbish pile.
I’ve had people tell me they like it but when I show them better varieties, they somehow wind up switching and changing their mind.
So unless you want a hosta to grow out in the sun, (see above) get a better plant.
Something is eating the leaves on my hosta!
99% of the time, holes in hosta leaves mean slugs. A good organic slug bait containing iron phosphate or some combination of ferrous sulphate is the control of choice (it’s essentially iron filings from soil and too high a concentration of iron in the slug will kill it – but they love to eat it). Drink your beer yourself.
Are There Any Hosta That Slugs Don’t Eat?
Well, no. But the thicker leaved Hosta are more “resistant” to slugs. Look for plants named “Rhino” for the thickest leafs (you may have to find it online, it’s not one of the big retail sellers.) ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ is resistant in my garden and hasn’t been bothered – it’s a small rounded, blueish leaf. I am told the ‘Kiwi’ named plants are also good. If you see the hosta species name ‘Hosta plantaginea’ on the tag, there’s a good chance the plant will be “more or less” resistant as this species has thicker leaves.
Do I have to deadhead or cut the flowers off
The spent flowers can be deadheaded- the stems can be cut off as far down into the foliage as you can reach- immediately after they have finished blooming.
Or if you don’t like the flowers, deadhead them as soon as the stems have stopped growing.
If you leave the seeds to ripen, you may find yourself with a great many baby hosta the following summer.
Some of My Favorite Hosta
H. sieboldiana ‘Elegans’. The large ribbed leaves have a good blue tone to them. It is a slower grower than the common form but after a few years, it has an unmistakable presence in the garden.
Other good blue leaved Hosta would include ‘Big Mama’, ‘Blue Angel’ , ‘Blue Cadet’, ‘Blue Cadet’, ‘Blue Mammoth’ and even something like ‘Halcyon’.
To ensure your visitors get the point, plant some gold leaved forms amidst the blue leaved plants. The contrast between the blue and gold will be stunning in the shade garden.
Good gold leaved forms include ‘Golden Tiara’, ‘June’ ‘Paul’s Glory’, ‘Janet’, ‘Gold Edger’ (a dwarf), and ‘Gold Standard’.
Some of you might want to combine the green, gold and blue in the same plant. In that case, look for H. ventricosa ‘Aureo-marginata, ‘Wide Brim’, or ‘Todudama Aureo-nebulosa’ (one of my all time favourites) as well as the incomparable ‘Frances Williams’.
Two others that visitors to my garden always admire are the monster leaved ‘Sum and Substance’ and the more ground cover like gold leaved form ‘August Moon’.
Any or all of these plants (I’ve got them all and more in my own garden.) make a wonderful show of foliage all summer long. The golds highlight the shade better than any other colour and lighten up the garden. They all have flowers in July and while some gardeners cut them off, I enjoy the lily-like flowers.
Some New Hosta Varieties
What About Actually Planting Hosta?
This is pretty easy gardening – you’re going to see the roots of the plant and a narrow stem.
Plant hosta so the roots are all covered but the “stem” (where the leaves all meet) is only slightly buried.