How To Grow And Care For Hosta Plants

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Hosta (HOSS-tuh)is a plant genus made up of seventy species and more than three thousand registered varieties.

The genus name honors Nicolaus Thomas Host, a botanist who was also the physician of the Austrian emperor in the 19th Century.

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You may also hear this perennial member of the Asparagaceae family of plants referred to as:

  • White Daylily
  • Blue Daylily
  • Plantain Lily
  • Giboshi
  • Funkia

For the most part, all of the many members of this genre can be casually referred to as Hostas. Each individual species and cultivar will have its own formal name and may also have a specific nickname.

Hostas originally came from Korea, Japan, and China by way of Europe during the 1800s. The impressive number and variety of cultivars developed since that time make this hardy, easy-to-grow, shade-loving plant a garden favorite.

Hostas Care

Hosta Plants Care

Hostas are low-maintenance plants, making them an excellent choice to grow in your garden. Here are the things you need to keep in mind when growing one.

Size and Growth

Hosta plants vary tremendously in size from one species to the next. Some miniature hostas like Mouse Ears are low-growing ground that covers 3″ to 6″ inches tall.

Other species like Empress Wu can grow to a mature size of up to 4′ feet tall.

Hostas have a clumping growth habit. For the smaller varieties, individual clumps may only be 2″ or 3′ inches wide. Tall varieties may attain a clump spread of 5′ or 6′ feet.

Foliage

Hosta plants’ leaves range from half-dollar-sized to saucer-sized. Leaf shapes are also varied and may present as:

  • Deeply Veined
  • Heart-Shaped
  • Lance-Shaped
  • Vase-Shaped
  • Corrugated
  • Glaucous
  • Rippled
  • Twisted
  • Cupped
  • Folded
  • Flat

…and more!

Depending upon the hosta variety, leaves may be bright green, lime green, bluish green, gold, white, variegated, or even red. However, most varieties have green leaves with cream margins.

Flowering and Fragrance

Hostas produce pretty, sometimes fragrant, bell-shaped flowers in clusters on stalks (racemes) that stand above the foliage. 

The beautiful flowers that bloom from mid to late summer may be white, pink, light blue, or lavender.

A wide range of hosta varieties also has open fragrant flowers.

Bloom time lasts from early summer until early autumn. Moreover, Hosta flowers are enjoyed by hummingbirds and other pollinators.

Light and Temperature

Generally speaking, Hostas do well in shady settings. The amount of sunlight desired and tolerated varies from species to species, so it’s best to check the ideal temperature for each hosta variety.

However, for the most part, Hostas will do well in settings that receive all-day dappled sun or full morning sun and partial shade.

The amount of sunlight your plants receive will affect growth rate and coloration. More sun typically leads to a faster rate of growth and more intense leaf colors. Likewise, variegated varieties need more sunlight to maintain their variegation. 

Some varieties are not sun tolerant at all, though. When this is the case, overexposure to direct sunlight, especially when planted in a place with warm weather, can lead to leaf scorch. Be sure to check the specific requirements of any plant you consider.

Watering and Feeding

Once established, Hostas can usually do quite well with ambient rainfall. During drought, provide soak and dry watering on a weekly (or so) basis, as they’re not drought-tolerant plants.

When the top few inches of soil are quite dry, soak deeply at the ground level. Avoid overhead watering.

Note that Hostas planted under thirsty trees (e.g. Spruce or Maple) may need to be watered more often, but generally speaking, an inch of water a week should be plenty.

Don’t overwater them because they cannot tolerate soggy soil.

Water hostas only during the growing season. When the plants have died back in mid-to-late autumn, stop watering.

Hostas are not heavy feeders. Regular application of organic mulch (e.g. pine needles, shredded leaves, or shredded bark) should provide all the nourishment they need. 

Soil testing conducted once every three to five years should help you determine whether or not you need to amend the soil further.

If you do decide to apply fertilizer late, a balanced slow-release fertilizer with an NPK ratio of 10-10-10 applied early in the springtime should suffice. Water deeply immediately after applying fertilizer.

Feeding your hostas in early or late summer will help encourage growth.

Soil and Transplanting

These understory plants like rich, loamy, moist soil that is well amended with organic matter, such as leaves, composted manure, or peat.

Strive to create a light, airy mix that is well-draining while simultaneously keeping just the right amount of moisture near the plants’ roots. Avoid heavy clay soil, as these plants don’t do well there.

Adding compost will help improve moisture and soil nutrition to encourage healthy plant growth.

You can plant Hosta rhizomes or potted plants any time during the growing season; however, you’ll get the best results if you plant early in the springtime. This will give your new bulbs and young plants plenty of time to establish themselves before winter sets in.

When determining how far apart to plant your Hostas, consider the ultimate spread of the mature plant. Be sure to provide ample room for individual plants to grow, clump and spread.

Established, potted Hostas should be set into the soil at the same level as the soil in the pot. Just ensure the container has drainage holes.

Adding some sphagnum and rice hulls to your hostas in pots is also recommended to improve aeration and water retention. 

When determining how deeply to plant the root ball of plants, be sure that the crown of the rhizome (where the shoot connects with the root) is even with the soil surface. You should be able to see the tips of the shoots just above the surface of the soil.

When planting rhizomes, dig a hole that is twice as deep and wide as the depth and width of the rhizome.

Grooming and Maintenance

Hostas need very little maintenance. Unlike other sorts of bulbs and rhizomes, you don’t have to divide them unless you just want to tidy them up or wish to propagate them.

Late in the springtime, apply a 2-4″ layer of organic mulch to help nourish the plants and retain moisture in the soil. Take care not to allow the mulch to touch the plant’s crown.

If you are more interested in leaf development than blooms, cut back the racemes before they have a chance to bud and bloom.

If you want the blooms, cut the stalks off at crown level after bloom time is complete. Don’t let the flowers go to seed because this will rob the roots and leaves of energy needed for the next growing season.

Throughout the growing season, trim off dead, damaged, or diseased leaves. Late in the autumn, remove, rake up, and dispose of dead leaves to avoid providing a habitat for pests and diseases.

If you live in an area where the ground freezes in winter, apply a 3-inch layer of mulch after the first freeze.

When the weather begins to warm in early springtime, rake away excess mulch to give the plants more access to sunlight for a good start.

Related: What Are Some Good Companion Plants For Hostas?

How To Propagate Hosta Plants

The best way to propagate Hostas is by division, and the best time to do this is early or late spring.

Start by identifying an established, crowded clump and dig the whole thing up.

Use a clean, sharp cutting implement using a sharp knife to separate individual plants within the clump or parent plant. Take care that each division has as many roots as possible.

Replant the divisions into containers or into the landscape, making sure that they are planted at the same depth as they were original.

Water deeply, and keep the soil slightly moist (not soggy) until the plants are well established in their new setting.

Hosta Plants Pest Or Diseases

Hostas are attractive to deer, so you may need to take steps to keep them out of your Hosta patch, or provide them with appropriate forage far away from your Hostas.

Snails and slugs also like Hostas. Use of an appropriate repellent or natural remedies, such as crushed eggshells or diatomaceous earth scattered around the healthy plants can help deter them.

You can also plant hosta varieties that naturally repel them. Some hosta varieties with thicker leaves, such as Liberty, Thunderbolt, and Rhino Hide, tend to have better resistance to slug.

Occasionally, Hostas may be bothered by mice and voles, earwigs, cutworms, and nematodes. For the most part, consistent care will help prevent this.

Consistent, correct care will also help prevent viral and fungal problems that may be caused by overwatering or failure to clean up dead hosta foliage around the plants.

Remember it’s also best to water using soaker hoses or drip irrigation rather than overhead spraying to prevent these diseases.

However, if there is a severe infestation, it’s best to remove and discard the entire plants infected. 

Is the plant considered toxic or poisonous to people, kids, and pets?

Hostas are edible and are a common ingredient in many types of Asian cuisine. Deer love to eat them raw; however, the raw leaves are toxic to cats and dogs.

It would be unusual for a cat or dog to want to eat Hosta leaves, but if your particular pet is very inquisitive or destructive, you’d be wise to take steps to keep him or her out of the Hostas.

Hostas are Edible!

Is the plant considered invasive?

Hostas do not tend to have aggressive spreading tendencies and are not listed as invasive.

Suggested Hosta Plants Uses

Hostas are popular garden plants that come in so many different textures, colors, heights, and sizes that you will surely be able to find just the right plant (or combination of plants) to suit your needs.

A shady spot in a garden consisting entirely of Hostas could easily present an ongoing array of color and interest throughout the growing season.

Here are other excellent uses for this plant:

  • Using Hostas as container plants makes beautiful specimen plants, and they add a rich, tropical look to porches, patios, and poolside settings.
  • The lush foliage of Hosta makes the perfect cover for the fading foliage of early spring bloomers, such as daffodils.
  • Both the pale lavender flowers and the green leaves of Hostas are long-lasting and attractive in cut flower arrangements.
  • Variegated, gold, or red Hostas can bring a spot of brightness to a shady garden setting.
  • Rich, leafy Hostas provide interest between bloom times for other perennial plants like wild columbines.
  • Small Hostas make pretty borders along walkways and surrounding flowerbeds.
  • Fragrant Hostas are pleasant and welcome surrounding outdoor seating areas.
  • Cream or white Hostas make a beautiful addition to a moonlight garden.

In addition to their ornamental appeal, Hostas’ thick, vigorous growth and sturdy rhizomes can be useful in soil retention and weed suppression on shady slopes.

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