There is no better
way to brighten up a shady spot than by planting hostas. Although the
plants bear tall spikes of white or lavender flowers in midsummer, hosta
are planted primarily for the season-long show of their striking foliage.
It takes more than good looks, however, to make a plant a world-class
winner. Few perennials are truly carefree, but hostas come close. They
never need dividing. Once established, they shade the ground so thoroughly
that they reliably crowd out most weeds. Hostas are not fussy about
soils, and many cultivars even do quite well with considerable sun.
It's no wonder gardeners are planting them in record numbers.
leaves come in a broad range of solid colors, from blue-gray to deep
green to light green or gold. Blue hostas often have a soft, waxy bloom
(a powdery-looking coating on the leaves, also found on grapes), especially
early in the season. Some green varieties have very shiny leaves; others
have a matte appearance. Variegation can be white, cream, or yellow
and can occur on the edges of the leaves, in the centers, or streaked
throughout the leaf. The most common leaf shape is heartlike, but some
cultivars have narrow, straplike leaves. The largest hostas are 3-4
feet tall; the smallest are under 8 inches. Mix all these factors together
and you get an idea of why plant breeders are having such fun with this
group of plants.
Typically, the plant you buy is a one- or two-eye division. The eye
is a piece of a stubby underground stem, called a rhizome, containing
a single squat, conical bud from which the leaves arise. The many roots
that grow from the rhizome are about as thick as heavy twine, something
like the roots of daylilies.
New rhizomes form
slowly, and a clump may take a few seasons to fill out. However, don't
be tempted to crowd the plants; follow spacing recommendations carefully.
You can fill in between the plants with daffodils, Virginia bluebells,
Hostas are among the most adaptable perennials. They do well from USDA
Hardiness Zone 3 (-40F minimum) southward as far as zone 9 (20F minimum).
Hostas need a period of cold weather, at the onset of which they turn
a pleasing yellow and then go dormant. Insufficient winter chill and
dry air, such as in western deserts, are the chief limiting factors.
Some hostas are
native to woodlands and others grow in moist meadows where tall grasses
provide some shade. In the garden, one-third shade is ideal. If soil
moisture is ample, most hostas can take direct sun, especially in cooler
climates and at the northern limit of their range. Gold varieties must
have some direct sun for their full color to develop; in shade they
become chartreuse. Blue varieties develop best color in shade. When
hostas get too much sun or not enough water, the leaf edges become papery
and brown. At the southern edge of their range, more shade is beneficial.
A little extra TLC
will get new hosta plantings off to a strong start. Be sure to water
the plants during dry spells, especially during their first growing
a 2-inch-thick mulch of compost or leaf mold each year to provide nutrients.
Hostas growing in the shade of large trees may need supplemental waterings
to help them compete with the tree roots.
mindful when working in the spring garden. Hostas emerge from
their winter slumber later in the spring than many perennials--the
hosta in the foreground has just sprouted, while the columbine
in back is up and growing strong.
The only major pests
of hostas are slugs, which thrive in the moist, cool, shady areas that
hostas love. Controls include handpicking, traps, and deterrents like
a layer of diatomaceous earth or crushed eggshells spread underneath
Unlike many perennials,
hostas do not need regular dividing to keep them growing strong. Established
hosta plantings have been in place for 30 years and longer with no need
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'Allen P. McConnell' Hosta
green oval leaves with irregular fine white to creamy margins form
a dense, symmetrical mound.
Lace', a midsummer bloomer, is a small Hosta with long, narrow medium-gray-green
leaves outlined in creamy white.
Ice' has intense blue-green heart-shaped leaves of a thick, heavily
'Climax' has heavily corrugated green leaves, each with a 1-inch wide
golden border. Each large 4 foot + clump has a vase-shaped habit
leaf is a dark blue-green with a wide cream margin that becomes pure
white as the season progresses.