Keep Hostas Healthy And Happy
Image courtesy of Longfield Gardens
You could easily overlook plants that grow tucked away in shady nooks in the garden—unless we’re talking about hostas. These herbaceous perennials seldom have showy flowers, and they’re usually grown for their foliage—but what striking foliage it is.
Like Ireland, where the landscape is said to grow in “forty shades of green,” hostas come in many different colors of green, too, from emerald to chartreuse, blue-green to avocado, and artichoke to olive. Not all hostas are green, though. Some lean toward butter-yellow or gold, powder blue, cream, or white. Others are variegated or bordered or striped in various hues.
Leaf textures, shapes and sizes also vary from plant to plant, making it possible—and fun—to collect dozens of different species or selections. Look for leaf surfaces that are crinkled, smooth, wavy, puckered or concave.
The leaves themselves can be heart-shaped or elongated, oval or rounded. In general, hosta leaves grow symmetrically, forming mounds of foliage that can range from just 3 inches high, for dwarf varieties, to 5 feet tall, for giant types.
Great Hostas to Grow
- ‘Patriot’ – This long-time favorite has large, oval leaves that look puckered on the surface. White margins surround the deep green foliage. Give it full shade and expect vigorous growth. ‘Patriot’ is considered a medium-sized hosta and bears lavender blooms in the summer.
- ‘Sum and Substance’ – Use this giant hosta, which averages 30 inches tall and 60 inches across, in beds and borders or as a specimen plant. It prefers full morning sun but takes some shade. The pale lilac-to-white blooms open in late summer on 3-inch-long stems. The leaves may turn gold if these drought-tolerant plants get lots of sun.
- ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ – Award-winning ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ is a diminutive beauty, growing just 8 inches tall and 18 inches wide. The thick leaves look rather rubbery and are an attractive blue-green to gray-green. Give it light to full shade and average water. Its bell-shaped, lavender flowers open in midsummer.
- ‘Autumn Frost’ – This medium-sized hosta has frosty-blue leaves with bright yellow borders that age to creamy white. The plants grow 10 to 12 high and spread to 2 feet in part sun to full shade. Watch for pale lavender flowers in summer.
- ‘Earth Angel’ – Named Hosta of the Year in 2009 by the American Hosta Growers Association, this pretty plant reaches 30 inches high with a spread of 40 inches. It's hardy in zones 4 to 7. The big, heart-shaped leaves are blue-green with broad, creamy-white margins. Give ‘Earth Angel’ part sun to full shade.
- ‘Francee’ – Shade-loving ‘Francee’ has glossy green leaves with white margins. It likes moist soil and grows about 2 feet high and 4 feet wide. It’s a great plant for containers, making a good companion for spring-flowering bulbs and annuals in beds and borders.
How to Grow Hostas
Most hostas need shade, but some will take sun, so read plant labels and choose varieties that like the growing conditions you can offer. In general, blue hostas have richer color in shady spots, while gold ones need more sun to show their brightest hues.
The majority of these undemanding plants grow in average soils and are hardy in zones 3 to 9. Hostas need average water, but most benefit from watering during dry spells. Also water more often if they’re planted underneath trees that may compete for water and nutrients. Some mulch will help hold moisture in the soil and keep down weeds; once hostas become established, they usually crowd out competing grass and weeds.
Hostas are typically grown divisions with one or two eyes. A division consists of a short underground stem, or rhizome, and a bud. Space your hostas according to the instructions for that variety. It’s not usually necessary to divide the plants.
Watch for slugs and snails on hostas; they make their homes in the same moist, shady conditions that hostas like. Trap them by burying a small cat food or tuna can filled with beer up to its rim in the ground. The slugs will be drawn to the beer instead of your plants. If you prefer, make a circle of crushed eggshells or diatomaceous earth around the hostas to deter the pests.
Few diseases bother hostas, although anthracnose can show up in warm, humid weather. You’ll recognize it by the big, irregular spots with dark borders that form on the leaves; later, the middle of the leaves may look torn. Try to avoid the problem by spacing your plants as recommended and watering with soaker hoses or drip irrigation rather than sprinkling the foliage from overhead. If you use a fungicide, choose one that targets this disease and follow label directions.
Be careful not to overwater, which can cause the plants to rot. Suspect crown rot if you see yellow foliage and stunted growth.
How to Grow Hostas in Containers
Many hostas are great container plants. For best results, use a pot with drainage holes, or drill some in the bottom. Fill the pot with potting soil mixed with slow-release fertilizer.
Take your hosta out of nursery pot and gently loosen the root ball. Put it in its new container and add some soil, burying it no deeper than it was in its original pot. Water thoroughly and make sure any excess drains away. Container grown plants often dry out faster than those in the garden, so water again as needed, especially in hot weather.