15 Tips For Lush, Beautiful Hosta Plants This Season
Are you thinking about adding some hostas to your garden this season? While they can be a little picky about their growing conditions, these beautiful plants can make the perfect addition to any shade garden. In this article, certified master gardener Laura Elsner shares her top tips for lush, beautiful hostas this season.
Hostas are darlings of the shade garden. This popular shade perennial spreads its leafy green foliage everywhere it can as long as it’s grown in the right conditions.
While hostas are fairly low-maintenance, they can still run into a few problems if they aren’t provided with proper care. There are also a few different actions you can take as a gardener to ensure that their leaves flourish and their white flowers bloom.
So, if you’ve tried growing hostas in the past but haven’t had the success you’d like, here’s some of my top tips for lush, gorgeous hosta plants in your garden this season.
Provide Proper Light Conditions
Let’s start with the basics. The amount of sunlight your hostas are receiving. I know hostas are touted as shade perennials. But full shade will leave your hostas small and stunted.
The sweet spot for hostas is part-shade to part sun. In colder garden zones, where the summers aren’t as scorching hot, you can even plant your hostas in a full-sun location. Keep in mind more sun means more water.
Hostas that have thick leaves and are more of a dull blue-green color handle more shade than those with thinner, light chartreuse color leaves.
So, if you do have a shadier area, consider blue hostas like ‘Halcyon’ or ‘Abiqua Drinking Gourd’. Whereas ‘Guacamole’ and ‘Sum and Substance’ are more suited for sunnier areas.
Start With Nutrient Dense Soil
Your garden will only be as good as your soil. I’ve seen hostas planted in bad soil. The thing about hostas is they usually live. You can plant them in dry clay, and they hang on for dear life. But they never really thrive or reach their full potential. If your hostas aren’t looking lush, it’s time to examine your soil.
Hostas like moist, well-drained soil that is filled with organic matter. To test the clay content in your soil, just grab a handful and squeeze it in your hands. If it stays like a ball of putty, you have a high clay content. It should crumble and not hold its shape.
Add peat moss or coconut coir to loosen your soil. If your soil is grey and just falls through your fingers, it is sandy and devoid of nutrients. Amend the soil with lots of organic matter like compost, aged manure, sea soil, or worm castings.
The addition of organic matter is important for clay soil as well. Another option is to get a premixed bag of soil that has a combination of topsoil, compost, and peat.
Use The Right Amount of Water
Proper watering is important for those big, lush magazine-worthy hostas. Hostas do not like drying out. They will tolerate it. Hostas tolerate a lot of less-than-ideal conditions. But they will never get big and leafy and lush.
Keep your hostas evenly moist. I do this by snaking a drip hose through my garden. I then turn it on for a few hours a couple of times a week, depending on the weather. This will give your hostas a long slow deep watering.
While hostas love water, they do not tolerate standing water. Make sure your soil has adequate drainage. Do not plant hostas in soggy areas in your garden. Your hostas will rot and die.
Mulch For Moisture
To keep the moisture in and your hostas thriving, consider mulching your garden. Mulch helps keep the soil moist by absorbing and releasing water as the hosta needs it. There are lots of different options for mulch.
Wood chips are a common go-to for mulch. You can get chunky bark mulch or shredded mulch. These will absorb water and release it as your plant needs it. It also helps keep weeds down and gives your garden a neat appearance.
If you don’t like the look of bark mulch but still want the water-retaining benefits, try montane mulch. This is a super fine blend of pine and spruce that looks like garden soil.
Another option is using ground covers as natural mulch. Having other plants will help hold onto moisture in the garden. The extra greenery below your hostas will also contribute to an overall lusher appearance.
Try golden lysimachia (aka creeping Jenny) for a bright chartreuse contrast. I also like the small glossy leaves of sweet woodruff underneath hostas.
Plant Them Properly
How you plant your hostas is another thing to consider. Improper planting may not kill your hostas like it would some of the pickier perennials. But your hostas will not grow to their full potential if they are planted improperly.
It is best to do any planting or transplanting on a cool, cloudy day. If that is not possible, at least try and do it in the early morning or evening. Not in the heat of the afternoon. Keep the containers of hostas in a shady spot until you are ready to plant them. Do not allow them to dry out.
You can check out this comprehensive guide on growing hostas for a step-by-step walkthrough on how to plant them properly in your garden.
Plant in the Right Location
Location is an important consideration for your hostas. Asides from a location in regard to the amount of sunlight, you should also think of an area of the garden that is protected from the elements.
Hostas don’t like the wind. Too much wind blowing on them will cause their leaves to curl and/or turn brown. Plant in a protected area. Near the house, or a fenced backyard is great.
Or in a garden that is full of other perennials, shrubs, and trees. This is what gives a garden an overall appearance of lushness anyways.
Hail can also ravage your hostas. This is a heartbreaking event. Try and plant your hostas near fences or under a large tree canopy to offer some protection if that is an option.
I live in an area that can be pelted with golf ball size hail regularly. I keep tarps on hand and watch the weather. I’ve been known to run around like a crazy person tarping my favorite perennials, which include hostas.
Catch Pests Early
Pests can get your hostas. The best way to deal with most pests is by growing your hostas in their ideal conditions, as outlined above. If you have sun, soil, water, planting, and location nailed down, you will have fewer problems with your hostas in the long run.
I think the most problematic pests when it comes to hosts are slugs/snails and critters like deer and rabbits.
Slugs and snails will chew holes through your hostas. You will notice trails of slime nearby. There are multiple solutions for slugs and snails. You can hand-pick them off your plants. This is best done in the early morning or at night.
You can have shallow dishes of beer out, and they will be drawn to it, then just throw them out. Or you can use slug bait. This works great, and they just disappear. Beware, though, if you have curious pets in the garden. The bait is toxic to pets if ingested.
Big critters like deer and rabbits can be a big problem. You can grow hostas in an ideal location, and a deer will come and mow it to the ground in a few bites. Hostas will never grow lush with them around munching.
There are numerous ways to deter rabbits and deer. You can use a deterrent spray; this will need to be resprayed after rainy periods.
Blood meal sprinkled through your hosts will help deter rabbits and deer. This will also need to be reapplied. Fencing is another good option, so they can’t get into your hostas in the first place.
Prevent Powdery Mildew
Powdery mildew is a disease that can affect hostas and other shade-loving perennials. It is a thin powdery film that will cover your hosta leaves and stunt their growth. The best way to deal with mildew is by preventing it in the first place.
Watering your hostas is very important as they do not like to dry out. But watering in a way that prevents powdery mildew is also important. Using a drip hose that waters the base of your hostas will prevent the leaves from getting wet, which is a breeding ground for powdery mildew.
If this is not an option for you, it is best to water in the morning. This way, the water doesn’t evaporate in the sun as it would if you water during the day. But it also doesn’t sit on the leaves all night as it will if you water in the evening. Wet leaves are powdery mildew’s best friend.
If you do have problems with mildew, spray with a fungicide formulated for powdery mildew (it will say on the bottle). In the fall, be sure to cut down affected plants and clean up the leave littler to avoid recontamination.
Deal With Disaster When it Strikes
So, you had a huge hailstorm. The bunnies got in and munched your hostas. Or they’ve been ravaged by slugs and snails. Now what? Hostas are an investment. It’s worth putting in some work to help heal them. If it’s early in the season, you’ll be rewarded with new growth. If it’s almost the end of the season, you will be strengthening them for next year.
Right after a hailstorm, the best thing to do is wait. As tempting as it is to get out there and start assessing damage, just let everything settle. It always looks worse right after. Within the next day or two, things should be perked up a little.
Make sure to keep your hostas watered. You can also go ahead and apply a fertilizer containing nitrogen to stimulate new leafy growth. If it is early in the season, go ahead and snip off the damaged leaves, and a new flush will come up.
If it’s late season, you should leave the damaged leaves. Just let the hosta get enough energy for next year. Do not fertilize at this time.
This is the same process for slug/snail damage and animals munching them. Deer and rabbits can munch your plant back to mere stalks. Make sure you keep them watered and apply a nitrogen-rich fertilizer if it’s early in the season.
Pick The Right Hosta Variety
I find when I purchase hostas from some garden centers, they often don’t have tags that tell you their specific variety.
You have to go to a specialty garden store or nursery for named varieties. There are over 3000 varieties of hostas. Not all varieties grow full and lush. Some are small in size, and some have small leaves. If you want big, lush hostas, you need to pay attention to the variety.
‘Sum and Substance’ is my go-to large variety. It features large chartreuse leaves on long elegant stems. It really fills an area in your garden.
‘Blue Angel’ is a blue-hued variety with thick ridged leaves. This variety can handle more shade and is more resistant to slugs and critters. It grows large and lush.
‘Frances Williams’ has large, ridged leaves with a yellow margin. The foliage grows dense and lush and makes a statement in the garden.
‘Empress Wu’ is the ultimate in large and lush hostas. This variety is a plain green color, but it can grow up to 6′ tall if grown in its ideal conditions.
Mix and Match Varieties
Great gardens are an equal amount of science, growing conditions, etc., and art. The art of a garden has to do with finding ways to make our eyes perceive things differently. A garden full of big green hostas, for instance, won’t look as lush as a garden filled with hostas that have different leaf shapes and patterns.
Something about how our eye and brains sort things by having mixed and matched colors gives an illusion of depth and interest. So, consider mixing varieties of hostas to create a really lush feel.
There are a few ways to mix hostas. I like mixing colors. I like opposites. Pair a dark green/blue hosta with a yellow margin like ‘Autumn Frost’ with a pure blue hosta like ‘Blue Angel’ to highlight the bright yellow center.
‘Patriot’ and ‘Reverse Patriot’ were practically designed for this. One has white and green margins, the other green with white margins. This creates a mesmerizing effect.
I also like to play with using fairly neutral hostas and then adding a few really special varieties that pop. ‘August Moon’ is a nice neutral hosta with large chartreuse leaves.
Use that as the background hosta and place a few more intricate hostas in front, like ‘June’, ‘Dancing Queen’, and/or ‘Brother Stefan”. This will create a lush tapestry of colors and patterns.
Another option is to play with height and leaf size. The narrow ruffled chartreuse leaves of ‘curly fries’ would pair great with the large, ridged blue and yellow leaves of ‘Great Expectations’.
All of these combinations can be mixed and matched together. Use large leaves and pointed leaves with neutral leaves and colored leaves. This will create the lush tapestry of hostas found in magazines.
Adding height or a focal point of a garden is an easy way to draw attention. A container that rises out of the garden and is filled with a big, lush hosta will stand out.
Or, add three pots with different hostas in a shady seating area. This is an easy, low-maintenance way to add a touch of lush to your garden.
Deadhead Their Flowers
Hostas usually flower stalks of lavender purple (sometimes white) flowers in the mid-late summer. It is common practice to prune off these flowers before they bloom. I usually do.
If you let the flowers bloom, I think it takes away from the foliage. But this is a personal preference. If you do decide to keep them, deadhead them before they become seed pods.
This way, the plant isn’t wasting its energy on producing seed and will return that energy back into the roots. This will make bigger, lusher hostas in the long run.
Mix With Other Perennials
Adding other perennials will help in the overall lush appearance of your garden. Adding other foliage shapes, sizes, colors, and with flowers, is what creates interesting and lush gardens. Make sure to pair your hostas with other plants that like the same growing conditions for garden harmony.
Ferns and hostas are great garden friends. The feathery texture of ferns is just the thing to pair with wide round hosta leaves. There is also something so lush about a shade garden filled with ferns and hostas.
Coral bells also pair beautifully with hostas. Both are renowned for their foliage. Coral bells have rich colored leaves that come in a range of colors, such as dark purple, red, orange, yellow, and green.
These leaves play off hostas perfectly. Then the sprays of flowers of the coral bells add an extra layer of color and texture to the garden scape.
Brunnera is another leafy marvel that pairs perfectly with hostas. The large round frosted leaves of varieties such as ‘Jack Frost’ add extra interest to a foliage tapestry.
The great thing about hostas is that they are everywhere in garden centers and nurseries. There are tons of options in variety and size. If you want instant fullness, buy as big of a hosta as you can afford. Then you can layer in small ones if you want.
This will give instant gratification in your garden instead of waiting at least three seasons for a hosta to grow to a substantial size.
Shade gardens filled with big, lush hostas are a timeless look. For good reason, too. Hostas are fairly low maintenance, they don’t spread, and they come in so many different shapes, sizes, and colors.
They are also widely available for purchase and span a wide variety of garden zones (USDA zones 2-9). Follow these tips, and you will be growing big, leafy, lush hostas in your garden.