15 Tips For Planting Hostas in Pots or Containers
If you are struggling to properly plant hostas in pots or containers this season, you've come to the right place! Hostas are a shade garden favorite, and grow spectacularly in pots or containers. In this article, gardening expert Laura Elsner provides her top tips for growing beautiful container hostas this season!
Hostas are one of the most popular shade perennials. They are extremely versatile and add such a lush feeling to gardens, whether planted in the ground or in garden beds. But have you considered adding them to containers?
These leafy marvels look great in pots and containers of all sorts. The thing about hostas is that there are so many unique varieties that vary widely in shape, size, and color, that it is not a one size fits all approach to putting them in containers. They can look great by themselves, or with other container friendly companion plants.
So, when it comes to container planting your hostas, where do you start? I’ve put together a comprehensive list of my top tips for successfully planting your hostas in containers this season. Ready to learn more? Let’s dig in!
Start With Soil
Let’s begin with the basics. The right soil is key to getting hostas growing in containers. This one is actually fairly simple. When growing pretty much anything in containers, potting soil is the best bet. While hostas grow great with the black earth in a garden, once they get into a container, they prefer light potting mix. This is especially true if you are combining them with other plants.
I like potting soil for containers because it is light and fluffy and retains and drains moisture freely. This is important for container environments.
I would also mix in some compost, aged manure, or worm castings. I don’t generally fertilize pots with hostas, they don’t need it like flowering annuals do (I will fertilize mixed containers with flowers and hostas). By adding some organic matter, you give them a slow release boost.
Maintain a Balanced Watering Schedule
Water is the next important thing for any container plant. They do not like drying out, but they do not like being soggy. Proper potting soil will help keep this balance. But also, keep check of your container hostas. Stick a finger into the soil and see if it is evenly moist.
Or look for signs that it is under or over watered. Under watered plants will be droopy and crispy. Overwatered plants will have yellow leaves and feel mushy.
Choose The Right Variety
When it comes to choosing a variety, color matters. Different colored hostas can take different amounts of light. So depending where you are putting your container, you will want to choose a specific color of hosta.
If your container is in the full shade, a deep blue green hosta is your best bet. They have thicker leaves and a greyish blue hue. Abiqua drinking gourd, which is a blue color and features interesting upturned leaves, is a good choice for containers. Or hosta ‘mouse ears’ is a very sweet and small variety of blue hosta.
If your container is part shade/sun then most varieties will work in your containers. Choose any of the green varieties. ‘Francee’ is a classic green hosta with a thin white margin, perfect for part shade/sun conditions. ‘August Moon’ is an even green variety that will turn more golden yellow if it gets more sun.
If you have a sunny container, you can actually still have a hosta. Make sure you are watering your full sun varieties more than the ones in the shade. The best hostas for sun are the light limey green and chartreuse varieties. Sum and Substance is a large lime green variety sure to attract attention in a container. The light chartreuse colored ‘Dancing Queen’ features beautiful ruffled leaves.
Pick a Hosta-Friendly Container
You can play around with many types of containers for your potted hostas. The only feature your container must have is drainage. Make sure there are large enough drainage holes in the bottoms of the pot so excess water can drain out. Rocks in the bottom of the pot are not enough.
When it comes to the size of the container, the choice is yours. Just keep in mind that large pots will need to be watered less often than smaller ones.
I think the container you choose can really make all the difference. Pick colors that will play off the color of the hosta. Perhaps a deep burgundy pot with a dusty blue hosta. Or a navy blue pot with a Lime green hosta.
Pick The Right Planting Location
The location of your container is important. As you just read, the color of your hostas will determine how much sun they can take. Look for signs of crispy, bleached and curling leaves if they are in too much sun. Yellowing and limp leaves are a sign of not enough sun.
Hostas are large-leafed plants. When those leaves get damaged and destroyed it takes a long time for them to flush out new leaves. This depends on the variety, little leaf varieties will produce new leaves faster than those with large leaves.
Also, it depends on the time of year. They will push out lots of new foliage in the spring and it will taper off later in the season. This is why I like planting container hostas in sheltered locations. Especially the large leaf variety that can get shredded in wind and hail.
I am so lucky to live in the hail belt (not!) so planting under eaves or a covered porch will save them from the sometimes golf ball-sized chunks of ice (I always keep tarps on standby to cover my hostas planted in beds, hail ravaged hostas are a tragedy).
If you can’t keep your container hostas in a sheltered location, I recommend sticking to the smaller leaf varieties (mouse ears, Marrakech, tiny tears, etc). Or lower growing varieties (mini skirt, slim and trim, etc). They seem to fare better in harsh wind and weather than the upright large leaf varieties.
Find Your Transplants
You can purchase hostas as plants, or as a bare root ball. If you buy bags of bare root hostas in stores or in magazines you can save money and also find some of the more rare and exotic varieties you can transplant into pots.
They will take longer to grow large, but it’s a good place to start. Take your bare root from the bag and plant it into your container. You will see little ‘eyes’ on the tip of the plant where the roots come together. Plant those tips at the soil line. Water regularly and watch it grow.
You can also just go out and purchase them from pretty much any garden center or nursery. They usually have a large selection to choose from and you can get them in varying container sizes. You will tend to find more of the common varieties, you can find more exotic ones if you go to a specialty nursery.
Take your purchased plant and gently tip it out of its pot. If it is really root bound, tear apart the matted ball. Then plant into some nice fluffy potting mix. Plant it up to the crown, don’t leave the root ball exposed. Water well.
Take Leaf Size Into Account
Playing with texture in a garden is one of my favorite things to do. It is easy to play with foliage textures when it comes to hostas. They aren’t just green large leafed plants. There are some really unique varieties that you can play with.
Halycon has pointed blue leaves. Mouse ears have tiny little blue ear-shaped leaves. Dancing Queen features ruffled frilly edges. Praying hands has small narrow leaves that look like, well, praying hands. Curly fries’ foliage is long and wavy and almost looks like grass. Putting some of these different texture leaves into mixed pots has a stunning effect.
Consider Plant Size
The actual size of your plant will be important when creating a container. When you purchase plants make sure to note the height and width of the plant so you can gauge how much space it will take up in your pot. If you get a giant variety, like ‘Empress Wu‘, which can grow up to 6 feet wide, it might look best in a container all on its own.
A taller hosta, like ‘Sum and Substance’ makes a great feature plant in a container. The upright stems provide ample room to plant other things underneath, like lobelia, begonias, or pansies.
Small varieties make great filler plants in containers. In a mixed container with maybe a dracena in the center and some begonias, adding a little hosta adds some lushness.
Try ‘mouse ears’ which I mention frequently because it is relatively easy to find and so versatile. It features small little blue ear shaped leaves. Or ‘Pandora’s Box’ is a small sized variety with green margins and s white interior. It adds a pop of brightness to a container.
Get Creative With Colors
This is the fun part of container hostas, the colors! I find some of the really intricate and funky varieties can get lost in a garden bed. When I plant them in a bed I usually stick with larger varieties with just a bit of color variation. Varieties like ‘Frances Willams’ look great planted in a mass border.
I love intricate hostas, but they really need to be seen up close to be appreciated. Many of the more intricate varieties are smaller, making them the perfect things to add to containers.
‘Raspberry Sundae’ features red stems that really stand out. It almost looks like red rhubarb stalks. But the foliage is the classic pointed leaf shape and features a green border and white inside. Play with this hosta and red begonias to make an interesting container.
‘White Feather’ Hosta is a pure white variety. I have to say, I was very skeptical of this plant. I picked one up and it is lovely. But it is very small and slow growing. I think this makes it a good container plant. The pure white hosta is delicate as a feather. It will be pure white in deep shade and will get green veins if it is in more sun. It makes a great, unique, filler plant that is sure to be commented on.
‘June’ is one of my all time favorites. I love it in garden beds, but I think its intricate foliage would really stand out in containers. It has dark bluish green margins and a light green interior that looks like it has brush strokes of various shades of green. It is a work of art.
Do Plant With Companions
Hostas look great in a pot on their own, but they also play nice in mixed containers with other plants. Here are some of my favorite companions for planting with hostas.
If you are into foliage over flowers, this is the combination for you. Use a large coleus as the thriller plant in the center or back of the container and then layer some smaller hostas underneath.
Maybe ‘Big Red Judy’ coleus with a dusty blue ‘mouse ears’ underneath. There are so many combinations and possibilities with these two plants. I recommend going to the garden center and using your cart as your palette. Place various coleus and hostas together and see which ones pop together.
There are many varieties of begonias and they all love being beside hostas. It’s a match made in heaven. Try large tuberous begonias with them. The big bold flowers really pop against a hostas large green leaves.
Or plant a tall variety, like ‘Sum and Substance’ in the middle of a container and use small wax begonias underneath such as Olympic White. The hosta will appear to rise up from the fluffy mound of flowers.
If foliage is your thing, intersperse rex begonias in between hostas for a real pop. Hosta ‘June’ mixed in with ‘Painter’s Palette’ rex begonias would be stunning.
Ferns are a great option for mixing with hosta. The feathery fern fronds at a soft airy texture against the large solid round hosta leaves. There are many varieties of ferns to play with. Japanese painted ferns have silver foliage and add interest to green and blue hostas.
The delicate foliage of maiden hair fern really stands out against a hosta’s wide leaves. Or a tall ostrich fern can be a thriller in a pot, growing tall out the center with hostas all around.
Hostas With Themselves
I think one of the best companions is other hostas. Mixing and matching different varieties in a container creates a lovely tapestry of foliage. These are some of my favorite combinations.
‘Patriot’ and ‘Reverse Patriot’ hostas look great together. They are opposites and really make a statement. Patriots have green interiors with white margins, reverse patriot has white interior with a green margin. Putting these two varieties together creates a mesmerizing effect of white and green.
‘Strip Tease’ and ‘Frances Williams’ together have a similar effect as the patriot combo. ‘Strip Tease’ has green margins and a single yellowish stripe through the middle, ‘Frances Williams’ has yellowish margins and a bluish green margin.
I also love a mixed bag of hostas together, they create a patchwork of colors. I see this done in garden beds, but it can be a huge task that requires a lot of plants to create the effect. But in the close confines of a container, you can achieve this patchwork using only 3-5 varieties.
A blue hosta, such as ‘Halycon’, mixed with a green and white variety ‘Fire and Ice. Then add a variegated yellow with green margin variety like ‘Great Expectations’. I wouldn’t get too caught up in finding specific varieties for this combination. Just go to the garden center and play with the combinations in your cart. Your eye will tell you what combinations are appealing.
Keep up With Routine Maintenance
Thankfully hostas are pretty low maintenance. They are not the deadheading nightmare of some fussy container flowers. All they need is any broken or damaged leaves snipped off.
I also like to snip off the flowers. This is totally optional. I prefer to focus on the lovely foliage, but some people really enjoy the lavender flower that rises out. If you do choose to trim them cut them down to the base of the plant.
Monitor Daily For Pests & Diseases
I think the number one pest for hostas is the icky sticky slug and snail. You can prevent them from getting into your pots in the first place by using large tall pots that they can’t climb up to. If they do become a bother in your lower containers I sprinkle them with slug and snail bait.
I’ve tried all the other methods with beer and salt rings and have found this stuff works the best. You can purchase it from your local garden center and sprinkle the pellets on. It’s easy, no mess, and it works.
Deer and rabbit are also big pests. Tall pots will deter the rabbits, but deer will happily munch a big pot of hostas. Try spraying a deer deterrent on your container hostas. This is much easier to keep up with in a container setting, rather than an entire garden bed.
For disease, the main one hostas will get is powdery mildew. This is a sign the conditions are too damp. Mildew thrives in dark wet stagnant areas. So to avoid this make sure you are not overwatering. When you do water it is also best to avoid spraying the foliage as much as possible.
Make sure your hostas are getting adequate light. Also, make sure there is adequate airflow between plants. I will remove the soggy and crammed leaves. But if you already have powdery mildew, prevention isn’t on your mind. Use a copper fungicide spray to deal with mildew.
Plan to Overwinter
The general rule for overwintering plants in containers is they have to be two zones above your zone. Hostas are zone 3, so they should overwinter in a container in zones 5 and up. Using larger containers will have better success in the border line zones.
Like a large half barrel planter. Make sure they are well watered when going into winter. The hosta will die back completely. Cut or gently pull the dead leaves in spring.
I live in zone 3. So for me, I will dig out my hostas and other perennials from their container and sink them into the ground. The next year I will either buy a new hosta for a container, or dig up the one I sunk into the ground and put it back in the pot.
If you dig it up early enough in the season, as it’s just starting to emerge, the hosta doesn’t even seem to notice it’s been moved and will grow large and beautiful. The other option for container hostas in cold zones is to dig the entire container into the ground.
Do this with plastic containers, ceramic and terracotta will break. Dig a hole and sink the whole pot into the ground. Pull up again in the spring. This is a great trick to use of you are using a plastic liner that can be plopped back into a more decorative container every spring.
Some Tips For Design Inspiration
To finish off this list I wanted to share some of my ideas for incorporating hostas into container arrangements. Here are a few ideas to try, expand on, and/or play with this gardening season.
Try planting a container with a hosta ‘Curly Fries’ as the main feature. Then plant small flowers underneath such as lobelia or bacopa. Finish the look off with some ivy spilling out.
‘Sum and Substance’ hostas are my favorite because of their impact and versatility. They have tall stems and large even chartreuse leaves. The tall stems make it perfect to use as the thriller or feature plant.
Then layer tuberous begonias and creeping Jenny underneath for an easy shade look. It’s a great alternative to a palm or other annual plant. Enjoy the hosta all summer and then sink it into your perennial bed at the end of the season.
I remember creating a summer pot one year that featured a large lemon cypress as the thriller. Then below was a large deep purple heuchera and a bright yellow and green ‘Whirlwind’ hosta and some bacopa and ivy spilling out. The hosta was large and made an impact as a filler plant. Alongside the deep purple heuchera and bright green cypress, it really popped.
Another simple combo I like is a big blue hosta, like ‘Big Daddy‘ in a large container, like a half barrel. Then spilling out from underneath is deep purple bugleweed. It’s a perfectly simple shade combination.
It’s so nice to be able to bring a perennial favorite into containers. Whether you’re short on space, or a full fledged foliage fanatic like me, bringing hostas into containers is a no brainer. They are a tidy perennial that stays in their place, it has a bold presence, and is readily available to purchase. Consider adding a hosta or two (or more!) into your container arrangement this season.