Growing hostas: varieties, ideal conditions & care
The best feature of the beautiful leafy ornamental shrub called hosta is its simple elegance. Here you can learn how to grow hostas – from planting to how to care for hostas.
Not all places in the garden are spoiled by the sun and it can be hard to find shade-loving plants. Unlike many other plants, hostas (Hosta) thrive best in the shade. They can help you add some green into shady spots in the garden that would otherwise be left empty. With its impressive foliage, the hosta can turn otherwise neglected areas in the garden into lush leafy jungles. To make sure that you can succeed in growing hostas, we have summarised everything worth knowing about this popular leafy ornamental shrub in this article. Here you can learn about the origin of hostas, what varieties are available, what you should look out for when buying them, how to plant and care for them and how to propagate hostas yourself.
Hosta: origin & characteristics
Hostas are a part of the subfamily of the agave family (Agavoideae) and the asparagus family (Asparagaceae). All hosta species share the collective term Hosta. Another name for this stunning plant is plantain lily. In addition, hostas are sometimes referred to with their Japanese name giboshi.
Whether in the shady garden bed or in a Japan-inspired garden design: hosta is simply a must for every garden. What is more, hosta spoils us with its great variety of species, which means that gardeners can try out exciting new varieties of hosta in the garden whenever they desire. And the hardy types of hostas thrive well not just in garden beds but also in pots.
Originally, hostas come from Japan. In their homeland, they feel especially comfortable in shady and humid mountain forests. Because of their luxuriant leaves and beautiful leaf markings they have been cultivated as ornamental plants in Japan for centuries. Other hosta species are also native to China, Russia or Korea.
Hosta is a perennial, herbaceous plant that forms thick, branched rhizomes or sometimes runners. The plants come in a wide range of sizes, from dwarf to giant hostas. Depending on the species, the stems of these plants form leaves that differ in size and shape. Hostas have leaves that can be heart-shaped, spatula-shaped or lancet-shaped. The leaf colour also depends on the species and variety and can be grey-green, blue-green, light green, green-yellow or even white with or without pattern. The stems, which are leafy to bare on top, form clusters of inflorescences. The flowers are usually tubular or bell-shaped and can be white, violet or purple. From these, fruits develop, and they contain many black seeds.
Hosta species and varieties
It is estimated that there are 45 species of hosta and over 4000 hosta varieties in the world. An overview of the different species and interesting variety suggestions can be found in our special article, where some of the most popular Hosta varieties are listed.
- ‘Abby’: This variety has blue-green leaves with a narrow yellow-green leaf edge and is ideal for growing in pots.
- ‘Aurea’: This variety of the white-edged hosta species is also referred to as gold hosta because its leaves shine in a bright golden yellow.
- ‘Doubled Up’: This variety is famous for its’ fragrant flowers. The large, highly scented white flowers of this variety bloom from mid-July to August.
- ‘Elegans’: This popular hosta variety grows up to 70 cm tall and up to 100 cm wide. The leaves are a solid green. The flower colour is purple.
- ‘Empress Wu’: The most impressive thing about this giant hosta variety is its sheer size: it can grow up to 1.5 m tall and the dark green leaves can grow up to 60 cm long.
- ‘Feather Boa’: The leaves of this blue-leaf hosta are light green to yellow with a narrow white leaf edge. It flowers in a delicate purple.
- ‘Great Expectations’: The leaves of this variety are two-coloured with a green edge and a lighter centre.
- ‘June’: The leaves of this variety are elongated and heart-shaped. They are cream yellow with a green edge. The middle of the leaves is golden yellow and blue in spring. This variety also flowers in pale purple. Because of its small growth it is also well suited for growing in pots.
- ‘Mediovariegata’: The special feature of this snow feather-leaved hosta is the two-coloured, green and white striped leaves, which are wavy and twisted.
- ‘Remember Me’: The leaves of this grey-blue hosta are creamy white and turn light green and grey-green towards the leaf edge. It flowers purple.
You can read an overview of the best known hostas and their varieties in our special article on this topic.
Expert tip: Hostas are popular plants and therefore easy to find in specialist shops such as nurseries or garden centres, but also in DIY stores. Moreover, there is an almost infinite variety of Hosta species and varieties available online.
Planting hostas is actually very easy if you follow a few simple rules. First of all, let’s take the best time to plant: in general, hostas can be planted throughout the entire vegetation period as long as there is no frost. In extremely dry and hot weather you should refrain from planting. Planting in spring is ideal so that the hostas can develop early and are ready for the hot summer. Wait until no more frosts are to be expected, i.e. after the Ice Saints in mid-May.
When to plant hostas?
- From May to October possible
- Ideally in May after the last frost
Of course, planting hostas also includes the right location and the right procedure for planting. In the following sections, we will make you a hosta planting expert.
Where do hostas grow best
Moving on, let’s talk about the best hosta growing conditions. Hostas are for the most part considered to be shade-loving plants, but this does not always have to be the case. After all, the different species and varieties have very different requirements for the location, especially with regard to light conditions. When you buy a new hosta, you should therefore pay close attention to the choice of variety and consider in advance where in your garden you want to place the new plant. In this way, you can choose a hosta that fits the conditions in your garden.
In general, most hostas feel more comfortable in partial shade or full shade than in the blazing sun. The darker and more delicate the leaves, the shadier the location should be. Conversely, this means: hostas with thick and firm leaves, which tend to be light green or yellowish, tolerate direct sunlight better. As far as soil conditions are concerned, the different varieties are more similar. Fresh, permeable soils are ideal for all hostas. If they are also rich in nutrients and humus and are not susceptible to waterlogging, your hostas will feel very comfortable in their new home.
Where to plant hostas?
- Location depends strongly on the species and variety
- Generally, hostas prefer shade or partial shade instead of full sun
- The thicker, firmer and more yellow the leaves, the more sun the hosta can tolerate
- Nutrient-rich and humus-rich soil
- Permeable and fresh soil
- No waterlogging
Tip: We recommend growing hostas alongside ferns or other leafy perennials. Hostas also look good next to rhododendrons or other low-competition shrubs.
How to plant hostas: hosta planting guide
Planting out hostas is quite easy. First, prepare the planting site by loosening the soil well. In compact, less permeable soils, incorporating gravel can help to loosen the soil even more. Add compost or a long-term organic fertiliser to the soil to provide it with nutrients and support soil life.
Once all preparations have been made, a planting hole is dug out into which the hosta is placed. The plant should not stand deeper in the hole than it did before in the pot. Then fill up the planting hole with the excavated material and water the hosta well. If several hostas are placed next to each other or near other plants, you should keep a planting distance of at least 50 centimetres. Bear in mind that some hosta varieties can grow very large.
Planting hostas: step-by-step instructions
- Break up the soil well
- Add some gravel if necessary
- Supply soil with compost or a fertiliser with a long-term organic effect
- Dig a planting hole
- Put the hosta in the middle of the hole
- Only place the plant as deep into the earth as it was in the pot
- Fill the hole with the enriched soil
- Water the plant well
- Planting distance: 50 – 70 cm
Tip: After planting, apply a thin layer of bark mulch or cuttings around the plant. In this way, moisture is retained in the soil and weeds are suppressed.
Hostas can also grow very well in flower pots and thus embellish the balcony, front garden or terrace. To plant hostas in a pot choose a sufficiently large pot and apply a drainage layer of expanded clay or clay fragments. You can use potting soil to grow hostas in pots. You can enrich the potting soil with some compost or a fertiliser with a long-term organic effect. Fill the pot to one-third full with the substrate and place the hosta in the centre of the pot. Then fill the pot with substrate and water the plant.
Planting hostas in pots in summary:
- Select a pot
- Add an extra layer to drain water (gravel, stones or clay fragments)
- Enrich the substrate with compost or a fertiliser with a long-term organic effect
- Fill the pot to one third with the enriched substrate
- Insert the hosta in the middle
- Fill the pot with substrate
- Water thoroughly
In this section, we will discuss everything about hosta plant care. Once your hostas are planted, most of the work is done and you can sit back in your garden chair, relax and simply watch your hosta grow. Hostas will live for many years and grow into large and beautiful plants if you let them grow in peace. Just pay attention to the correct supply of water and fertiliser and your hosta will practically grow by itself.
Since it originally comes from the humid mountain forests of Japan, the hosta thrives most in a humid and moist environment. This is especially important for potted plants. However, stagnant moisture must be avoided. Just as dangerous are prolonged periods of droughts. Make sure that your potted plant is sufficiently moist by watering it regularly. Especially on hot days, you might even have to water in the morning and evening. Hostas require a lot of water due to their abundance of foliage. Just like their indoor potted counterparts, young hostas in the garden also depend on regular watering. Only when the plants grow older do the roots reach into deeper soil layers and watering is only necessary on particularly hot and dry days in summer.
Watering hostas in summary:
- Avoid prolonged periods of droughts and waterlogging at all costs
- It is better to keep the hostas damp than too dry
- Water potted plants regularly
- Older hostas in the garden only need to be watered on particularly hot days
Hostas do not require excessive amounts of nutrients. We recommend fertilising your hosta plant once a year. In the first year, it is sufficient to apply a basic fertiliser when planting. Every year thereafter, the health of your hosta will be ideally supported with an organic fertiliser in the spring. Organic fertilisers have the following advantage: the nutrients are not directly available to the plant but must first be converted by microorganisms and made available to the plant. This prevents nutrients from being washed out into the groundwater and the plant is provided with all valuable nutrients evenly and gradually over a long time. Alternatively, a portion of compost will do well, too.
This is the right way to fertilise plants:
- Fertilise the hosta when you plant it
- Afterwards, fertilise once a year in spring
- Organic fertilisers such as compost or a fertiliser with a long-term organic effect are ideal
- Compost can work too
How to propagate hostas
Hostas are best multiplied by division. The process is simple, but not always successful. The ideal time for propagation is on frost-free days in spring. Using a digging fork, carefully dig out the hosta that you want to divide. By carefully tapping it, you can remove the soil from the rootstock. Now, divide the root ball with a spade right in the middle. Both parts can then be replanted in a suitable location – either in the garden or in a pot. Over the next few weeks, you should regularly water the divided plants so that they can grow well.
How to propagate hostas by division:
- Best done in spring before budding
- Dig up the root ball and remove soil from it
- Divide the root ball with a spade in the middle
- Replant the divided plants in a location of your choice
- Water regularly
Are hostas poisonous?
There is a persistent rumour that hostas are poisonous. However, let us reassure you: no part of the plant is poisonous to neither humans nor animals. Hostas come from the asparagus family, which points at the harmlessness of the plants.
Moreover, in some areas of the world hostas are even considered edible. Even though this practice has not yet found its way into Western culture: in Japan, leaf buds are eaten and prepared in many ways in the kitchen. The Japanese hostas buds are candied, fried, pickled in vinegar and oil or even steamed as a vegetable. So, who knows? Maybe you will see your hosta in a different light and try tasting the delicate buds of your plant yourself!