Growing Hostas

Growing Hostas

  The images show it all; Hostas are grown for their impressive foliage which is very varied both in size and colour. There are Hostas with bright green leaves, striped leaves, grey and blue leaves, gold and green and all different shades of green. Hostas also vary much in size, some are very small no more than a few centimeters across up to giant Hostas, which can grow up to a meter across and which make a dramatic statement in a border.

Generally, in terms of leaf colour, most Hosta grow best if they are planted in semi shade, although the yellow-leaved Hostas will endure more sun. Hostas mix well in borders, but also make a bold statement when planted on their own. When planting a Hosta, bear in mind it's possible eventual size and leaf shape which can mean, because some Hostas grow very large, there is no point in planting too close as when the leaves do emerge, they will shadow anything nearby, although if it's also a shade loving plant the combination may work. 

I have found common spotted orchid quietly growing in the shade under the leaves of a large Hosta. If you are planting Hosta in a shady spot bear some varieties will look better in shade than others. The blue leaved Hostas can look a bit dull in shade, and the yellow leaved will not do as well in shade. The best varieties for shade are those with green and yellow variegation on their leaves, such as Hosta fortunei var.aureomarginata (AGM)

Where to plant Hostas

  In many ways Hostas are easy to grow and come up reliably year after year. Hostas are a herbaceous perennial and fully hardy. Preferred growing conditions for Hosta include shade and soil which is moist, well drained and does not dry out. These are the ideal growing conditions, although Hostas are such tough plants I have grown them in tubs and in walls, both of which tend to be on the dry side, but do display the Hosta at it's very best. If the only spot in your garden for the Hosta has sun, avoid the midday /early afternoon, as in the event of  a hot summer the leaves can scorch if there is too much sun.  The Hosta in the image is mature, and fills a large part of a border spilling over a wall. Hostas planted in containers can look really eye catching.

Tatty Hosta flowers are still loved by bees

  Hostas are not grown for their flowers, but they do flower in the summer. The flowers are spikes of blue or white and not terribly attractive and can become quite ragged not long after flowering. There is a gardening school of thought which recommends pruning off the flowers, so that the plant puts it's energies into foliage, as Hostas do not repeat flower so once pruned it is thought to divert more growth to the leaves. 

The Hosta flowers may not look much to us, but they look good to the bees. Even though the flowers look quite spent and tired, as in the image right,  they are loved by the bees for weeks and for this reason I leave the flowers intact.

When planting a new Hosta, plant with it's crown at the same level as the existing soil, and if the planting area is a little on the dry side it is a good idea to make a slight depression around the plant to create a mini well which will help pool the water and to get the Hosta established.  

 Hostas can be divided in the spring to make new plants. This is best done to a mature plant when the Hosta is established. Hostas are really tough plants so just dig it up, best time is in the spring when the new shoots are showing, divide by either putting two spades in back to back and forcing apart, or cut a chunk off with a hacksaw or sharp knife. Hostas are fairly indestructible although the slugs and snails do a good job.

In terms of maintenance you can leave Hostas undisturbed for many years. They will welcome a mulch over winter/spring of organic material, but will soldier on fine without it if you just leave them alone.

Hostas look good planted in so many different settings. Below are two very traditional settings for hosta, grouped together in a woodland setting  so they have the benefit of dappled shade in the spring and summer. Hosta also look ideal planted alongside a pond or stream and team up well with ferns and Astilbes, which are also shade loving plants.

Hosta streamside

Growing Hostas how to deal with slugs and snails

  The is just one "but" when growing Hostas. which is that the slugs and slugs and snails can be ferocious in their attention. It is a sad fact of gardening that some gardens are troubled more by slugs and snails than some other gardens. If you have a lot of slugs and snails,  it maybe a struggle, but with reasonable protection (follow this link for beat the slugs) you can have a healthy looking plant for (at least part) of the summer. For snails, it is vigilance,  picking them off on a regular basis before they have time to munch away.

 The only reason Hostas are marked with amber wheelbarrow as a moderately difficult  plant to grow is because of the problems with slugs and snails. There are a number of steps you can take to reduce damage from slugs and snail. Most important always, from early spring when the leaves first emerge, utilise slug protection.

Slug resistant Hostas

Blue Hostas are more slug resistant
  If you are especially prone to slugs and snails,you can grow the varieties which are sold as more slug resistant. These are generally the blue leaved varieties, as in the image left, and larger Hosta some of which have tougher leaves. 

Those reputed to be more resistant to slugs are : the larger thicker leaved varieties such as Big Daddy, Gold Regal, Liberty, Halcyon, Silvery Slugproof. This does work; I have planted the large blue leaved varieties and suffered much less damage.  

Slug ravaged Hosta

  All plants will suffer some damage. If your Hosta gets badly damaged, as in this image, there is not much you can do, perhaps remove some of the really tattered leaves.   This type of Hosta has very little resistance to slugs and snails and has been devastated to an extent it is probably too late to improve it.  

minor slug damage
 If you catch the slug damage earlier, as in this image you can cut off the very damaged leaves and the plant will look much neater. You will also see when cutting away the damaged leaves, new growth at the base of the plant and cutting back will also give the new growth room to come through. You can tidy up Hostas in this way to remove the worst of the snail damage.  

Hosta are herbaceous

hosta in autumn

    Hostas are herbaceous which means at the end of the summer they die back  and can look a bit messy. 

 When the Hosta plants finally die back completely,  there is just bare earth until the spring. Hostas are one of the earliest herbaceous plants to die back and can look untidy, it does no harm to the plant to cut back to ground level.

Come the spring the new Hosta leaves push through the earth spiking upwards and look very attractive as they unfurl.