Hostas are a mainstay for woodland gardens


Made for the shade, hostas are a mainstay for woodland gardens across much of the country. More than 40 species (most native to Japan) and their numerous cultivars and hybrids offer a continuum of size from thumbnail small to almost umbrella; hues from apple green to dark spruce, sunny yellow and glaucous blue; a diversity of variegations with white or golden edges or centers; and leaf shapes from long and narrow to wide and heart shaped. Attractive spikes of purple or white bell-like flowers, sometimes fragrant, add the crowning touch to this variable genus.

Hosta Basics

Appeal: Call it funkia or plantain lily—the name may have changed over the years, but the popularity of the plant now called hosta remains unchanged. The antithesis of fussy, hostas are attractive, easy-to-please plants providing garden interest from spring to fall. Their diversity of size inspires a variety of uses, from striking specimen or focal point to edging or ground cover. Hostas contribute the all-important element of texture to a garden, and a collection with varying foliage colors and shapes is visually interesting even without flowers.

Zones: Hostas thrive from cold-hardiness Zones 8 or 9, where frost is mild and does not linger, to chilly Zone 3.

Exposure: Dappled to partial shade is preferable, though they will tolerate moderately heavy shade. Hostas with more substantial foliage will accept full sun in cooler zones, provided they are given ample and constant moisture.

Soil: Hostas grown in a good loamy soil enriched with organic matter such as compost produce the most luxuriant foliage. Even levels of moisture are preferred, and mulch helps reduce fluctuations. Avoid dry conditions.

Care: Spring, as new shoots appear, is the best time to plant hostas or divide and transplant established clumps. It often takes four to five years for hostas to mature and division is usually not necessary before this time. Deer devour hostas; regular use of different repellents can help, or install deer fencing. Deter slugs and snails by using diatomaceous earth or slug bait; the best preventive maintenance is the removal of weeds and decaying leaves around hostas to keep the area clean.

Designing with Hostas

  • Bold-leaved hostas provide contrast to lacy plants such as ferns and astilbe or linear foliage such as sedges or liriope. Keep things in proportion—supersized ‘Sum and Substance’ will overshadow a small fern.
  • The hostas continue to provide interest after the bluebells have died back.Pair hostas with summer-dormant plants such as Virginia bluebells (Mertensia virginica).
  • Hosta leaves are great additions to a bouquet or foliage arrangements. Use larger hosta leaves as placemats for alfresco meals.
  • Hostas with white-variegated leaves or white flowers make great additions to a modern moonlight plants garden.