Georgia Gardener Newsletter Design Tip: June 12, 2008

Hostas in the Shade Garden

Need design help?
Check out our
Design Services.
Common variegated Hosta (Hosta undulata)

By no stretch of the imagination could I ever be acknowledged (or accused) of being an expert on hostas. This doesn't change my appreciation of them and the hundreds of different varieties that exist today. Although I'm blessed with an acre of land of which about 85% is in shade, it wasn't until I fenced my yard (from deer) that I was able to start planting these again. For years I had abandoned any hope of having a healthy hosta that was full of foliage. More often, they looked like this:

I'm happy to report that starting this past spring, I once again undertook the cultivation of hostas and a lot has changed since I last planted them. I had no idea of the explosion of so many new cultivars. There is no way that I could do justice to the vast number of hostas available today. I'll leave that to the real experts. What I am having fun with are the numerous ways to use the bold tropical texture of hostas not only with other hostas but with other shade-tolerant plants.

Frances Williams HostaSum and Substance Hosta

Even though I pride myself on my collection of native plants, I do feel that hostas have a place mixed in with the natives in almost any shade garden. By far, I think the prettiest combinations involve hostas mixed with ferns both native and non-native. The contrasting texture and colors can be stunning.

Below we see the use of similar colors by mixing the bluish/silver Halcyon hosta with the Silver Falls Japanese painted fern. Whereas the other image shows hostas of different colors being mixed with the deep green ferns along this path.

Halcyon Hosta/Silver Falls J. Painted FernMixed Hostas & Ferns

Besides mixing with ferns, hostas can complement a wide variety of different plants. The Dissectum Japanese maple below with its finely textured red foliage makes the perfect companion for bold chartruese leaves of the hostas planted below it. Likewise the yellow flowers of the yellow flag iris are mimicked in the slight golden color of the hostas in front. (Note: yellow flag iris can be very invasive.) The possibilities are almost endless.

Dissectum J. Maple & HostasYellow Flag Iris & Hostas

With so many varieties, hostas can be used solely to mix with other hostas to create a lush, almost tropical environment. (Hint: Because hostas disappear in the winter, you may want to plant some early blooming bulbs to fill the void. Use early blooming daffodils and/or English bluebells which will go dormant by the time the hostas are reaching their peak.)

Mixed HostasHostas Along a Path

Growing Requirements

Hostas like to be planted in soil that is loose and rich in organic material. They prefer moist soil and can handle damp but not constantly wet soil. Most hostas prefer to grow in partial to full shade with protection from the afternoon sun. Some varieties handle some sun better than others. From my experience, the variegated varieties (especially those with white or cream) can be easily singed in hot sunlight, even morning sun. Although hostas are shade plants, they don't like the competition from shallow tree roots and will often be stunted if there are too many roots nearby. You may have to remove surface tree roots for about 24 inches from around your hostas. Make sure to have mulch near but not touching the crown of your plants. Every few years, dig and divide hostas in the early spring. This will improve their overall health and provide you with more plants.

Once established in good soil, hostas are surprisingly drought-tolerant. I've never had to give supplemental water to a healthy established hosta.

Pests & Diseases

Hostas do have a few pests and diseases but none that would stop me from growing them. Aside from some viral and fungal problems, the most common pests at least in Georgia seem to be deer, rabbits, voles, snails and slugs. All of these can be dealt with. If you wish to learn more about the pests and diseases that can bother hostas, you can read or download this Iowa State Publication (4.0 mb pdf).

Copyright © 2008 by Theresa Schrum - All rights reserved
No part of this website may be reproduced without the expressed written permission of Theresa Schrum