Hassle-Free Hosta Care for an Effortless Shade Garden
Looking for an easy-care plant that flowers in the shade? Hostas are a beautiful addition to any garden. With their stunning foliage, adaptability to different garden conditions, low-maintenance nature, and long growing season, hostas can be a rewarding plant to grow. Learn how to enjoy these fuss-free plants with these simple tips.
I love hostas for their continual color throughout the growing season, the texture and dimension the foliage adds to garden beds, and you can get lots of free plants from one plantain lily.
While my love for hostas is strong, I hadn’t grown many of them until moving to our new home because we had mostly full sun around the entire property.
We’ve got lots of gardens with shade and there are SO MANY hostas here with gorgeous foliage.
I was so impressed with the grace and beauty of each plant. From larger hostas to smaller varieties, they seem to thrive here and it was like Christmas morning for the gardener with each new plant I discovered during our first year here.
We even have hostas growing in the pool garden around the roses. This struck me as odd because hostas prefer shadier spots, but they didn’t do as badly as I thought they would.
I’d like to move them at some point but haven’t gotten around to it just yet. Instead, I’ve been dividing them to grow more hostas around the property that lack plantings.
Are you growing hostas too? If not you should add a few to your garden this year.
Here’s what you need to know to grow these hassle-free perennial plants.
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Hostas (plantain lily) are a popular perennial plant, known for their striking foliage and ability to thrive in shady areas.
Hardy in zones 3-9, they range in size from small to giant hostas. Plantain lilies bloom in summer and are an asset to any perennial garden.
Here is some information on how to grow and care for hostas, types of hostas, when to plant hostas, whether they are deer-resistant, when to cut back hostas, whether they attract pollinators, and how to protect them from deer damage.
Where Do Hostas Grow Best?
Hostas are shade-loving plants that are native to wooded areas in East Asia where their natural habitat consists of moist, fertile soils with filtered or dappled sunlight.
Plantain lilies are easy to grow and require very little from gardeners to thrive. Here’s what you need to know.
- Plant in shade or partial shade as direct sunlight can scorch their leaves. Filtered or dappled sunlight, such as under trees or near tall shrubs, is ideal for most hosta varieties.
- Plant in moist, well-draining soils that are rich in organic matter. They prefer slightly acidic to neutral soil pH (around 6.5 to 7.5).
- They make great underplantings for tree canopies and woodland gardens.
- Give them room to grow as they grow into large clumps over time. Avoid overcrowding hostas and provide sufficient spacing according to the specific variety’s mature size so they get good air circulation between plants.
5 Reasons You Should Grow Hostas
There are several compelling reasons why you should consider growing hostas in your garden:
- Beautiful Foliage: Hostas are renowned for their stunning foliage, which comes in a wide range of colors, textures, and patterns. From lush greens to variegated leaves with streaks of white, yellow, or blue, hostas can add visual interest and create a lush, luxurious look in your garden. They can serve as excellent focal points or provide a contrasting backdrop for other plants.
- Flowers in Shade: Hostas produce beautiful tubular flowers in summer that attract pollinators.
- Low Maintenance: Hostas are easy-care, low-maintenance plants making them ideal for both experienced and novice gardeners. They are hardy perennials that can come back year after year with minimal effort.
- Attracts Pollinators: While the beautiful foliage can provide valuable habitat for wildlife in your garden, they also attract beneficial insects such as bees, hummingbirds, and butterflies.
- Long Growing Season: Hostas have a long growing season providing you with several months of beautiful foliage in your garden from spring through fall. In addition to the gorgeous foliage, they also flower in summer adding even more color and interest to beds and borders.
Growing and Caring for Hostas
Keep in mind that most hostas prefer well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter in shadier locations. While they can tolerate some morning sun, too much direct sun can scorch their leaves.
Hostas require regular watering, especially during dry periods. However, once they are well established can handle drier conditions.
They do not require fertilizing to thrive. Instead, focus on providing them with good-quality soil conditions. You can amend the soil yearly with good-quality compost, leaf mold, and mulch.
Slugs can be a problem for hostas but they are easy to remedy. I use an organic slug bait like this to keep them at bay.
Types of Hostas
There are thousands of varieties of hostas, each with unique leaf shapes, colors, and sizes. When selecting hosta varieties, consider factors such as the mature size, foliage color, texture, and flower characteristics to suit your gardening needs and aesthetic preferences.
Here are some of my favorite popular hosta varieties:
- ‘Sum and Substance’
- ‘Frances Williams’
- ‘Stained Glass’
- ‘First Frost’
- ‘Empress Wu’
- ‘Hadspen Blue’
- Proven Winners ‘Shadowland Diamond Lake’
- Proven Winners ‘Shadowland Echo the Sun’
- Proven Winners ‘Shadowland Voices in the Wind’
- Proven Winners ‘Shadowland Wheee!’
When to Plant Hostas
The best time to plant hostas depends on your specific climate and growing conditions. In general, hostas are typically planted in the spring or fall when the weather is cooler and the soil is moist and workable.
Plant hostas in the spring, when the soil has thawed and the ground can be worked. It’s easiest to plant in early spring when the plant is still dormant because they are easier to establish.
You can plant hostas in fall up until the ground freezes. However, it’s best to get them in the ground weeks before so they have time to establish before the ground freezes.
Because I wait for nursery stock to go on sale in the fall, I have waited until late October and even early November to plant hostas and other perennials.
It’s important to note that hostas are not typically planted during the hottest part of the summer, as the stress of high temperatures and intense sunlight can be detrimental to their establishment. It can be done but it’s easier to plant them in spring or fall.
While some hosta varieties are more deer-resistant than others, they are generally a smorgasbord for deer. Deer damage is a drawback to growing them if you live in areas that have a heavy deer population.
But the good news is, you can still grow hostas. However, they will need protection from deer.
Protecting Hostas from Deer Damage
To protect hostas from deer damage, there are several methods you can try. One option is to install a physical barrier around the plant, such as a fence or netting.
Another option is to use deer-resistant plants to create a border around the hostas.
But you can also try using natural deer repellents. Lately, I have been using Plantskyyd deer repellent and LOVE IT because it is not only topical but also gets taken in by the plant.
For several years, I was using Deer Out and that works really well too. But you can also try using this granular called Deer Scram as a barrier to plants and full borders. I discussed how to use both of these simultaneously for extra protection from deer in this post.
The key to using repellents is to start spraying them as soon as they emerge from the ground. Deer need to know early on the plant is not palatable so they choose a different path.
I spray my hostas the moment they emerge from the ground, and then a few more times as they grow until they reach their mature size. After that, it’s more maintenance spraying depending on the product.
Since Plantskyyd is systemic, that spray schedule will be less than Deer Out. Try to find the best repellent situation that works for you and your schedule. But both of these options have worked very well for me.
Preventing Slug Damage
Slug damage can be a common problem for hostas, as these plants are known to be a favorite food for slugs.
Fortunately, there are several ways to protect your hostas from these critters putting holes in that gorgeous foliage.
- Handpicking: This is a simple but effective method of removing slugs from your hostas. Go out at night with a flashlight and pick off any slugs you find. You can dispose of them in a bucket of soapy water.
- Copper barriers: Copper is toxic to slugs, so you can create a barrier around your hostas using copper tape or wire. This will prevent the slugs from crawling over and reaching your plants.
- Mulching around your hostas with materials like crushed eggshells, diatomaceous earth, or coffee grounds can help deter slugs. These materials are abrasive to slugs and can also absorb moisture, making the environment less hospitable for them.
- Encouraging natural predators like birds, toads, and hedgehogs to frequent your garden can help control slug populations. You can provide a habitat for these creatures by creating a small pond or installing birdhouses and feeding stations.
- Try using slug bait. There are lots of organic ones available.
Remember to regularly inspect your hostas and take action as soon as you spot any signs of slug damage to prevent it from becoming a bigger problem.
Cutting Back Hostas
Hostas can be cut back in the fall after the first frost or in the spring before new growth appears.
To cut back hostas, remove any yellowing or dead foliage and cut the remaining leaves down to a few inches above the ground.
As an aside, it’s better to keep the gardens intact until spring. Pollinators may have laid eggs on the foliage, which offers protection for some wildlife, provides winter interest, and when left in in garden the garden helps feed the good microbes in the soil.
What happens if you don’t cut hostas back?
If you don’t cut back hostas, they will continue to grow and mature naturally. They are really tough and resilient plants that won’t get offended if don’t cut them back.
I actually love the look of them as they die back in fall because they add pretty autumnal color to the gardens as they go into dormancy.
Hostas attract pollinators such as bees, hummingbirds and butterflies when they bloom.
I know several home gardeners that don’t love the flowers and cut them back but leave them alone as pollinators love them
Do Hostas Grow Back Every Year?
Yes, hostas are perennial plants, which means they come back year after year when provided with suitable growing conditions.
Hostas are known for their lush foliage and are commonly grown for their attractive leaves. While the leaves may die back during the winter months, hostas typically go dormant and then re-emerge in the spring, producing new leaves from their underground rhizomes.
Hostas are hardy perennials that can survive winter temperatures in many regions, depending on the specific variety and climate.
Hostas are known for their long lifespan, and with proper care and maintenance, they can persist and thrive in the same location for many years. I planted hostas when we first moved to our family home over 23 years ago and they still thrive today!
Can Hostas Take Full Sun?
In general, plantain lilies are shade-loving plants by nature and are typically best suited for partial to full shade conditions. However, some hosta varieties can tolerate a little more sun depending on the specific climate, location, and variety. So you’ll need to do some research before planting.
Some believe that hostas with lighter-colored or variegated leaves, as well as those with thicker foliage, tend to be more sun-tolerant compared to those with darker green leaves and thinner foliage. Additionally, hostas that are grown in cooler climates or regions with mild summers may be able tolerate more sun than those in hot and sunny regions.
I don’t recommend planting them in full sun, particularly where the afternoon sun in the summer can scorch the foliage. But it’s your garden, so feel free to experiment to learn your microclimate. If they don’t do well, you can always dig them up and relocate them.
If you choose to plant in full sun or partial sun, aim for the morning sun as it’s generally milder and provides them with adequate moisture. But mulch well around hostas to help retain moisture and regulate soil temperature.
After planting in sun, keep an eye on your hostas for signs of stress. If you notice wilting or leaf burn, it would be a good idea to relocate them to a shadier location if you want them to thrive.
How to Split a Hosta Plant
The best method to propagate is to split hostas. It’s very easy to do, helps improve overall plant health, and can grow your garden in under an hour.
Follow these steps to divide hostas:
- Choose a cool, overcast day to divide hostas. This will help prevent the roots from drying out. The easiest way to do this is after lots of rain because the ground will be easier to dig and the plant will have been watered well making the process a little easier for you.
- Dig up the entire root clump with a spade shovel, being careful not to damage the roots. It’s easier to go around the perimeter of the plant first, and then slice through to create sections so you can remove a hosta clump with ease. Oftentimes I like to use a garden fork after the spade to help gently lift the large clump out of the ground.
- Gently shake off the excess soil from the roots, and then use a clean garden knife or sharp spade to divide the plant into smaller clumps. I don’t use a sharp knife for this, but I know some gardeners that do.
- Each clump should have several healthy new shoots and a good root system.
- Replant the smaller sections in their new home at the same depth they were originally growing, and water them thoroughly.
- Mulch around the base of the plants to help retain moisture.
- And give them lots of water after transplanting. They need it!
The best time of year to divide hostas is in the early spring, just as new growth begins to emerge. This will give the plants time to establish themselves before the heat of summer arrives.
But hostas can also be divided just as easily in the fall. As long as the ground can be worked, you can divide them. Just be sure to do it before the ground freezes so the plant has time to establish itself before winter.
As an aside, an ideal time to divide hostas is after and before a good rain is expected. The plants are easier to divide and lift out of the ground. Plus, the new divisions will take and establish easier with little to no work from you.
Divide hostas regularly, so you can keep the plants healthy and vigorous, and create new plants to share with friends and family.
Can Hostas Be Grown in Containers?
Yes! I love the look of hostas in containers. They look really pretty and graceful as the foliage spills over the edges of the pot.
A word of advice though about growing them in containers. If you want to grow them for more than a year or two, you’ll need to either plant them in the ground or repot them with fresh potting soil.
And if you choose the latter, gently remove as much soil off the roots as you can and then repot in fresh potting soil. You can either repot in the same container or go one size up.
To successfully overwinter hostas in containers where winters are cold, choose varieties that are two times your hardiness zone.
More About Hostas
Do you have a favorite hosta variety you love to grow? I would love to know more in the comments below.
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Garden Supplies I Use
I’m often asked about the garden supplies and tools that I use most. From pruners to deer repellents, here are some of my favorites in no particular order.
- I like to use good-quality garden soil, compost, and perlite when planting.
- I have used this deer repellent with great success. But now, I’m all about this deer repellent that is systemic instead of topical. This means the plant takes it in as opposed to it just smelling bad.
- Hands down this is my favorite hand-weeding tool. You can use to get underneath roots, loosen soil, and it cuts down on the weeding time because you work much faster.
- But I also love this long, stand-up weeding tool to really get around roses from afar.
- I like to use THIS ORGANIC FERTILIZER for roses because the blooms are more prolific and it’s organic.
- You’ll need a sharp set of pruners when working with plants and flowers. I buy a few so I can stash them around.
- Where pest and disease problems are concerned, I generally use this insecticidal soap or neem oil to help control infestations depending on the issue.
- This is my favorite set-and-forget slow-release fertilizer for houseplants, annuals, and container gardens.
- Whenever I stake my peonies or other plants, I generally use these grow through garden supports because they work really well and keep the blooms upright.
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