Hooked On Hostas

from Garden, Deck & Landscape
One of the best plants for shade gardens, hostas are the perfect addition to your backyard perennial garden. Use these as partial-shade-garden perennials or deep-shade ground covers.

It’s easy to love hostas. In deep shade where grass and other plants struggle, these plants thrive.

They’re hardy, adding lush greenery to some of the chilliest gardens; some can
survive winter temperatures of minus 40°F. Plant them in bare spots under trees; group them in light-deprived side yards and corners; fill containers with them. Regardless of your shade dilemma, hostas are choice for transforming brown and barren to green and inviting.

More than 2,000 registered hosta varieties offer an incredible array of colors, shapes, growth habits, and variegation patterns. Though hosta collectors may go to great lengths to obtain rare specimens, garden centers increasingly carry nice selections of hostas at reasonable prices, making it easy for everyday gardeners to share in the amazing diversity of these shady charmers.

Putting Hostas to Work
With their bold, shapely leaves in calming hues of yellow, gold, white, green, and blue, hostas project an air of regal serenity that belies their true nature as tireless garden workhorses. Combine these versatile perennials with other hosta varieties or mix them in beds with other shade-tolerant plants. Hosta enthusiast Stanley “Steve” Pozaric, who currently has more than 450 hosta varieties in the gardens that encircle his St. Louis home, is a fan of both design strategies.

“I have a couple of mass plantings of different hostas right next to the house,” he says. “And then a little ways from my back door I have an east-facing azalea bed that is bordered by rows of miniature hostas like ‘Pandora’s Box’. The diminutive green hostas look beautiful against the bold colors of the azaleas, and they both like the afternoon shade and moist soil in that spot.”

Other areas in Steve’s garden boast similar juxtapositions of color, size, and texture. “I grow hostas for their color, form, and beauty,” he says. “I like to combine some of my favorite hostas like ‘Opal Sceptor’ and ‘On Stage’ with plants that offer different colors and textures, like ostrich fern (Matteuccia struthiopteris), spotted geranium (Geranium maculatum), coralbells (Heuchera spp.), and yellow daylilies.”

Mass plantings of hostas can be stunning when they include a range of cultivars with varying leaf sizes, colors, and shapes. Steve likes to blend tall varieties such as ‘Blue Angel’ with stouter favorites such as chartreuse ‘Sum and Substance’.

Hostas in the Tiara series are a particularly good choice for borders because their variegated leaves provide a strong visual effect. “They also make great groundcovers,” Steve says, “because they spread quickly and are easily divided and moved to cover large areas.” Short-stature ‘Golden Tiara’ is his choice for edging hosta beds to hide bare spots and lend a formal flair.

A Hardy Favorite
Hostas became a garden favorite because they’re easy to grow and look good even with minimal care. Though their pedigree touts shade, many hostas benefit from dappled shade or even a few hours of morning sun.

Plant hostas in spring or fall, in well-drained soil that’s slightly acidic and rich in organic matter. Steve likes cotton-bur compost, but any quality compost or composted manure will do. Use a timed-release fertilizer to supply additional nutrients. Keep beds damp but not wet, and cover the soil with a generous layer of mulch to preserve moisture.

Except for leaf-chewing slugs and snails, few pests plague hostas. Some gardeners put up with leaf damage, but it can become severe when snails and slugs are numerous. Snail and slug controls, available at most garden centers, are generally effective.

Common hosta varieties are inexpensive and sold at most garden centers in spring. Unusual or slow-growing types can be pricey and more difficult to find, however. Fortunately, hostas are easy to divide, so you can quickly add new varieties to your garden by trading with hosta-loving friends and neighbors. “I give them to all of my friends,” Steve says. “That’s part of what makes growing hostas fun.”

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