How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Hostas

Hostas Plants in Garden
Photo: James R. Salomon

It's easy to understand how so many people can fall in love with the hosta plant. Not only do they provide lush foliage in gardens, but they are also easy to care for. This makes them a preferred, low maintenance plant for both beginners and more seasoned gardeners. Hostas, also known as plantain lilies or gibōshi, are simply the best perennials for temperate shade. Long-lived and widely cultivated, they are winter hardy so you can enjoy their blooms for longer. The genus belongs to the family Asparagaceae, a subfamily of Agavoideae. Native to northeast Asia, there may be as many as 45 species of hostas. These species of hosta and their selections interbreed so readily that myriad forms abound in a mind-boggling array of sizes and shapes. Rounded, heart-shaped, lance-shaped, or oval leaves can be blue, green, chartreuse, or golden with stripes of yellow, cream, or white running down the centers or hugging the edges. Plus, many selections sport showy blue, purple, lavender, or white blossoms that may be highly fragrant.

You can nearly always find hostas in your local independent garden center or big-box store, and you should be able to look for the selections I recommend in this article right in your community. You can easily scarf up some nice, quart-size plants at reasonable prices. Even though hostas are considered easy-to-grow plants, it will be imperative to learn about the specifics of caring for them in order to get them to reach their full potential as a feature of your garden. So, here is a helpful guide to caring for the interesting hosta plant.

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How to Grow Hostas

Variegated Hostas and Bright Purple Irises surrounding a small pond
Mark Turner/Getty Images

Hostas thrive from Canada to the Gulf Coast (USDA Zones 3 through 9). Based on my observations, though, the plants enjoy a good, cold winter. They grow bigger from Zone 7 north, but you can plant heat-tolerant hostas like 'Royal Standard' as far south as northern Florida. Spring and fall are the best times to plant hostas, but summer is okay if you water regularly. Those with bluish foliage require shade. Those with yellowish leaves can take some sun. Good soil is key. Plant hostas in moist, fertile, well-draining soil that contains plenty of organic matter and isn't choked by any competing roots from nearby trees and shrubs. Fertilize them in the spring (just after new growth begins) using an organic product such as Espoma Plant-tone. Feed them again in the summer.

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Divide and Conquer

Hostas in Shaded Garden with Shed
Simone Augustin/Gap Photos

New, prizewinning hosta selections from mail-order specialists can be pricey, but don't sweat it. Within a couple of years, individual plants form nice-size clumps that you can divide into four or five plants, providing you with some freebies. Do this in the spring when plants send up clusters of spiky shoots. Lift the entire clump from the ground, and wash the soil from the roots. Use a sharp knife or spade to cut completely between the shoots so you're left with individual shoots with roots attached. Replant them all, and water them. Or wait until fall when the leaves have withered but are still visible. Lift and wash the clumps as before, cut between the dry leaves, separate the clumps into pieces, and replant.

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Hosta's Best Friends

Hostas Plants in Garden
James R. Salomon

Though a hosta plant can be beautiful by itself, it's even more stunning when accompanied by other plants that prefer similar growing conditions. Combine coarse, big-leaved hostas with perennials that offer narrow, long, or finely cut foliage, such as astilbes, ferns, wild columbines, and toad lilies. To create color echoes in your garden, marry hostas with other plants that display yellow, chartreuse, or cream in their leaves—like variegated Solomon's seal, golden Japanese forest grass, 'Ogon' sweet flag, 'Evergold' and 'Everillo' Japanese sedge, and 'Mrs. Moon' lungwort. Some of hosta's other best buds include heucheras, hellebores, wild ginger, and lily-of-the-valley.

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Hosta's Mortal Enemies

Hostas in Garden with gravel path
Nicholas Stocken/Gap Photos

Let's start with deer. Hosta leaves make a tasty salad for does. They will eat to the ground all that they can find. Regularly applyingdeer repellent is the only defense. The other archfoe is a mouselike critter called a vole. Voles munch through hosta stems at or just below the soil line, leaving wilted, dying leaves in their wake. I have tried chemical vole repellents and found their results so-so. Here's my best piece of advice: Because voles like to hide under mulch and leaves to avoid predators while they feast, pull away all of the mulch, leaves, and other debris from around your hosta plants. Then pray.

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June Hosta
John Richmond/Alamy

Golden leaves with blue-green edges; 12 inches tall, 24 to 30 inches wide.

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'Stained Glass'

Stained Glass Hostas
Rob Whitworth/Gap Photos

Shiny gold leaves with dark green margins; 18 inches high, three to four feet wide

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Guacamole Hostas
R. Ann Kautzky/Almay

Deeply veined, apple green leaves with blue-green edges; one to two feet tall, two to four feet wide

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'Grand Tiara"

Grand Tiara Hostas
Tommy Tonsberg/Gap Photos

Compact clumps of small, deep green leaves with bright yellow edges; 12 to 16 inches high, 24 to 30 inches wide.

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'First Frost'

First Frost Hostas
Visions/Gap Photos

Blue-green leaves with creamy edges; 16 inches tall, two to three feet wide.

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'Drinking Gourd'

Drinking Gourd Hostas
Matt Anker

Unique waxy, blue, quilted leaves shaped like cups; 18 to 24 inches high, two to three feet wide.

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'Blue Mouse Ears'

Blue Mouse Ears Hostas
Richard Wareham/Gap Photos

Miniature plant with leaves that look like its name; eight to 12 inches tall and wide.

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'August Moon'

August Moon Hostas
Nicola Stocken/Gap Photos

Large, bright yellow, heart-shaped leaves; grows one to three feet tall and wide.

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