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Growing Hostas (The Ultimate Guide)

Before I had shade gardens, I thought of hostas as boring shade garden plants. Now that I have lots of shade, I’m embracing growing hostas and all the beautiful varieties that are available. Yes, there are still many plain-Jane hostas, like Royal Standard, lancifolia and the common variegated green ones that other gardeners give away. If you have some of those plain-Jane varieties, I encourage you to look beyond those and start adding some different cultivars to your shade garden. In a few years, your hosta garden will be stunning.

My friend, Julie’s hosta garden.

Image of a Hosta Garden

Although hostas aren’t native to North America, when they flower, they will attract bees to your shade gardens. With the exception of a few varieties, I typically cut the flowers off my hostas. I’ve got plenty of other flowers for the bees to love on.

I can’t write a post about growing hostas without sharing lots of pictures of some of the hostas in my garden. And so, I will intersperse hosta images throughout the post. The variety names are under the pictures. Enjoy!

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Different Types of Hosta

There are literally thousands of cultivars available to home gardeners. And, I only have around 50 – 60 varieties in my gardens. Oh, wait a minute, I have around 15 new hostas to plant, so that bumps that number up. Since I’m a garden nerd, I really like to keep a list in my garden journal of the different hosta varieties I have in my gardens. If you’re a collector of hostas, do you keep track of the varieties you have?

Wolverine Hosta
Wolverine Hosta

Hosta plants are typically grown for their foliage, although they do flower in late summer. Some of the flowers are interesting and some are fragrant. The flowers make wonderful additions to bouquets and so do the leaves for that matter. The leave textures of hostas are amazing; there are veined leaves, some are puckered, many are smooth, some are wavy, and the list goes on and on. 

Hostas also come in about every shade of green you can imagine. There’s chartreuse green, blue green, very light green (almost white), lime green, variegated, etc. etc.

Image of a Hosta
Unknown – If you know what variety hosta this is, please leave a comment and let me know.

Different Sizes of Hosta

There are basically 5 different sizes of hosta. They are categorized based on their height when they are full grown.

  • Giant – Greater than 28 inches tall – Some popular examples of Giant Hostas are Sum and Substance and Empress Wu.
  • Large – 18 – 28 inches tall – Some examples of large hostas are Abiqua Drinking Gourd, Great Expectations and Paradigm.
  • Medium – 10 – 18 inches tall – A few examples of medium hostas are Golden Standard, Halcyon, Night Before Christmas, Rainbow’s End and Queen Josephine.
  • Small – 6 – 10 inches tall – Examples of small hostas include: Golden Tiara, Wrinkle in Time and Fantasy Island.
  • Miniature – Less than 6 inches – Some examples of miniature hostas are Pandora’s Box, Curly Fries and Blue Mouse Ears.
The Razor's Edge Hosta
The Razor’s Edge

Hosta of the Year List 

In 1996, the American Hosta Growers Association began awarding a Hosta of The Year. They came up with this award to help gardeners and nursery owners select the best hostas for their gardens and garden centers from the crazy number of hosta cultivars being introduced each year. The hostas that are selected to win the Hosta of the Year award work well in all gardening zones and are widely available. 

  • 2021 – Rainbow’s End
  • 2020 – Dancing Queen
  • 2019 – Lakeside Paisley Print
  • 2018 – World Cup
  • 2017 – Brother Stefan
  • 2016 – Curly Fries
  • 2015 – Victory
  • 2014 – Abiqua Drinking Gourd
  • 2013 – Rainforest Sunrise
  • 2012 – Liberty
  • 2011 – Praying Hands
  • 2010 – First Frost
  • 2009 – Earth Angel
  • 2008 – Blue Mouse Ears
  • 2007 – Paradigm
  • 2006 – Stained Glass
  • 2005 – Striptease
  • 2004 – Sum and Substance
  • 2003 – Regal Splendor
  • 2002 – Guacamole
  • 2001 – June
  • 2000 – Sagae
Rainbow's End Hosta
Rainbow’s End

Growing Hostas – Care and Maintenance

Hostas are a low maintenance perennial. That being said there are a few things you can do to keep your hostas looking great the entire season. First of all, hosta plants work much better as shade plants. Some hostas do okay with a bit of morning sun, but they are definitely not full sun plants. Yes, you can plant them in full sun, but by July (even here in zone 4) they will be fried and looking pretty awful. If you still want to try hostas in a sunny spot, the lighter colored varieties seem to handle the sun better.

Orange Marmalade Hosta
Orange Marmalade

Of course, as with most perennials, hostas like to grow in rich, fertile soil that drains well. The soil in my shade areas is not great, but I’m working on it with leaf mulch and compost. The hostas in my gardens are still flourishing and I don’t fertilize my hostas at all. 

What About Dividing Hosta Plants

It isn’t necessary to divide hosta plants at all, but if you want to control the size, share the goodness, or spread them to other areas of your yard, it’s very easy to divide them. It works best to divide hostas in the spring or fall (at least six weeks before the first frost).

I usually divide them in the spring right when they are emerging from the ground, before the leaves unfurl. Dividing in the spring means less damage to the leaves and they aren’t as likely to show signs of transplant shock.

Lakeside Little Tuft Hosta
Lakeside Little Tuft

It also works well to divide and transplant hosta plants in the fall too. That way they are ready to go the next spring.  Just be sure to do so at least six weeks before your first frost so they have a chance to settle in and the roots get established. If you need more information on transplanting and dividing perennials in general, you’ll learn everything you need in the post.

Hosta Pest Problems

Although they are super easy to grow and maintain, many varieties of hosta are susceptible to slug damage. I’ve tried all kinds of remedies like crushed egg shells and beer traps, but the thing that works best is a product called Sluggo. Sluggo is an organic granular product that is safe for use around wildlife and pets. I sprinkle Sluggo around the base of each hosta plant in the spring when the plants are first emerging and again around the middle to the end of June. I find I have much less slug damage when I repeat the application.

Golden Tiara Hosta
Golden Tiara

Unfortunately, hosta gardens are quite appetizing to deer and rabbits. There’s nothing more aggravating to go out to the gardens and see that a rabbit has passed through and had a snack out of several hostas. I don’t have deer in my gardens now, but I have in the past.

Here’s the combination that has worked the best for me – Milorganite (actually an organic fertilizer), Liquid Fence and Deer Out. Sprinkle a border of Milorganite around your shade garden in the early spring, and then again every 2 – 3 weeks (depending on rain fall). I also spray Liquid Fence around the gardens in early spring and every 2-3 weeks thereafter. If I have a really bad problem, I alternate Liquid Fence and Deer Out. 

Frosty Ribbons Hosta
Frosty Ribbons

I know that sounds like a lot of work for a low maintenance plant, but it doesn’t take much time at all and protecting your beautiful perennials is worth it to not have a garden full of munched on plants.

Tips for Purchasing Hostas Online

I recommend supporting your local garden centers before shopping online. However, I have found that there are so many varieties of hosta available that if I want something different, I need to look online. Here are some tips for online shopping:

  • Purchase from a reputable grower and read reviews.
  • I don’t recommend buying seeds online. Especially if you see a picture of purple hostas or some other off color.
  • Look for online sellers in your gardening zone. 
  • Be aware that when shopping online, you will not get a full sized plant. A hosta plant sold online will likely come as a bare root plant, or a small potted plant.
  • It takes about 3 years for a bare root or small division plant to reach its full size.
Fantasy Island Hosta
Fantasy Island

There are many hosta sellers on Etsy. Yes, I have purchased plants on Etsy and have very good success with them. This seller has lots of beautiful hostas at reasonable prices, plus free shipping and gets 5 star reviews.

This is another hosta seller on Etsy that has beautiful plants with excellent reviews. His shipping rates seem a little high, but he’s great to work with and will refund shipping costs to you once the order is packed and he knows the true cost of shipping.

Willard and May sells a bare root mix of hostas on Amazon and they get great reviews. I also like to order online from Gilbert H. Wild and Bluestone Perennials. Although the plants are small, they always take off once planted in my gardens.

Elegans Hosta
Elegans

 

A Few Other Tips for Growing Hostas

Because I’m a garden geek, I love to use plant tags so I know the names of all my hostas. Since I collect hostas, I like to have fancy plant tags like these. I love these plant tags even though they are a bit spendy. They will last forever and look really great too. Always use a good paint marker on your plant tags and not a permanent marker. The paint markers will last, but permanent markers do not last outdoors.

The New Encyclopedia of Hostas looks amazing and just the perfect book for hosta lovers. It’s going on my wish list!

More Hosta Images

Dream Weaver Hosta
Dream Weaver

 

Cool as a Cucumber Hosta
Cool as a Cucumber

 

Christmas Tree Hosta
Christmas Tree

 

Blueberry Muffin Hosta
Blueberry Muffin

Here are some other posts I think you’ll enjoy:

20 Perennials for Shade to Jazz Up Your Gardens (shade plants other than hostas)
Made in the Shade Gardens

The American Hosta Society is an amazing resource for growing hostas, as well as lots and lots of hosta images.

Thanks so much for stopping by Gingham Gardens today. I hope you enjoyed the pictures and tips on growing hostas. If you have questions, or comments, please feel free to complete the comment form at the end of the post. I love hearing from and helping my readers with their gardening questions.

Happy gardening,
Joanna

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Image of a Hosta Garden with text overlay - Growing Hostas (The Ultimate Guide)

Image of a Hosta Garden with text overlay - The Ultimate Guide for Growing Hostas

10 Comments

  1. Thanks for including me in your article, Joanna. Here’s a couple of growing tips your readers may not know:

    In their native environments, hostas are actually full sun plants. However, their native environments are wet meadows. Our summers, especially here in the Midwest, tend to be hot and dry, which will burn the edges of hosta leaves, if not the entire leaf, especially in varieties with thin leaves. Almost any hosta can be grown in full sun “IF” the ground is not allowed to dry out, but as soon as it does, you’ll start to get sunburn. Blue hostas will turn green, as the sun melts off the waxy coating that gives them that blue color. You can often make a hosta look like three completely different hostas just by how much light you give it…full shade, dappled light, full sun.

    Professional growers will often grow their hostas in full sun deliberately. In July and August it may burn them right down to the ground and you think you murdered your wonderful plant. But underneath the ground, that hosta is creating a huge root system to compensate. In the fall, your hosta comes back looking fuller and better than ever.

    Another professional hosta growers trick. If you lose a tree and your shade-loving plants are suddenly exposed to full sun, plant Mammoth Sunflowers surrounding the bed. They will grow quickly and provide temporary shade until you can relocate your bed.

    1. Hi Tony – thanks for the info and the tips. I’ve loving my Fifty Nifty hosta I got from you. I’ll leave a review when it settles in. Happy gardening, Joanna

  2. I read often about a growth treatment for Hosta with a combo of Ebson Salt & water solution. Is this a valid concept?

    1. Hi Rebecca – I’ve never used epsom salts in the garden at all. I like them better in my bath. Epsom salts are magnesium sulfate and while they might make your plants grow bigger and better, I’m just not sure what the long term effect of pouring salt on your plants is doing to the soil. Here’s a really good, practical article that I’m going to add to the post. Happy gardening, Joanna

  3. A friend was moving last spring and invited me to come take what I would like. I ended up with a hosta called praying hands. Love it. Just starting to develop my shade garden. Really enjoy your newsletter, lots of info. Thank you.

    1. Hi Marlene – I had “Praying Hands” in my last garden. Now that you mentioned it, I think I need to add that one too. Thanks so much for stopping by Gingham Gardens and taking the time to leave a comment. Happy gardening, Joanna

  4. I love hostas! I dug a new flowerbed in a shady part of my yard and got lots of different sized hostas to fill it in! I got some lemon lime, blue mouse ears, and two big ones (not sure the type) that look so cute! I’m even fine with common variegated ones! I got some from a friend and even though they are common, I always think of her when I transplant or see how big they’ve grown. I divided some this year and gave to a friend that was looking to fill out her yard.

    1. Hi Tiffany – I have lots more shade at my current home, so I’m planting lots and lots of hostas. I love all the color and texture variations too. I enjoyed reading your comment. Come back soon! Happy gardening, Joanna

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