The Hostas plant can be an excellent plant for many gardens. They are one of the best plants for damp shade, especially on heavier, more moisture-retentive soils. There are a wide range of different varieties of hosta plants to choose from, a few even thriving in very different conditions – even in full sun. So you may well find a hostas plant that is perfect for your garden – no matter what conditions are to be found there.
What Are Hostas?
Hostas are herbaceous perennials. They are a well-known ornamental foliage plant, though most also produce clusters of white, lavender or purple hosta flowers on tall stems. These plants come in a wide range of shapes and sizes, with a wide range of different leaf colors (including blue green leaf color, gold leaf color, variegated leaf color, green leaf color, creamy white leaves and more) and hosta shapes (heart shaped, bell shaped, and more). You can find larger varietals, variegated varietals, and, increasingly, a range of mini hostas.
Why Grow Hostas in Your Garden?
Hostas have varied foliage, and are attractive. But that is not the only reason to grow them.
Hostas are easy to grow, and so are right at home in a low-maintenance garden. They are also quite long-lived. They can, therefore, grace your garden for many years to come if positioned in a suitable place and cared for properly.
Hostas are usually grown for their ornamental appeal. They have attractive and varied foliage that can work particularly well in a mixed perennial growing area. They might help you create interest in a shady spot, or provide an excellent backdrop for more showy flowering plants. Since you can find plenty of options, large and small, they can find a place in many gardens, no matter how large or small they may be.
But their ornamental appeal is not the only reason to grow hostas in your garden. You might be surprised to learn that hostas can also be a useful edible plant. All hostas are edible, and many have been discovered to be truly delicious! We’ll discuss the edible potential of hostas a little later in this article.
Where to Plant Hostas
Hardy perennials, Hostas can work well in a number of different settings and soil types depending on the hosta varieties, but generally prefer moist soil in order to bloom.
Hostas grow best in Zones 3 to 9 and are perennials in those planting zones. Choose where to plant Hostas carefully. Hostas like fertile, moist, retentive soils, including heavy clay soil improved with the addition of organic material/ compost or well-rotted manure to the soil. They will generally do best in areas of partial or dappled shade. While usually grown in the ground in perennial growing areas, growing hostas in containers can also work for some types and can create the moist conditions needed. Some can even do fine in full sun, as long as their water needs are met.
Since most hostas are shade loving and do well in medium to light shade, they can thrive in a moist forest garden, or as part of a layered, perennial polyculture border. As an edible plant, they can be ideal for inclusion in an edible food forest scheme.
While hostas can find a place in many gardens, they will likely not be ideal for very free-draining soils, such as sandy soils. They do best in a sheltered spot, and will not tend to thrive in very exposed or windy parts of a garden.
Choosing Hostas for Your Garden
Hosta fortunei has a good reputation as an edible as well as an ornamental.
Which hosta variety you should choose will depend on your main reasons for growing hostas. If you are growing hostas to eat, the best-tasting edible hostas are said to be:
- Hosta fortunei
- Hosta sieboldiana
- Hosta sieboldii
- Hosta montana
- Hosta longipes
If you are growing hostas primarily for their ornamental foliage, then there are plenty of different options you could choose. Or course, you should also be sure to take into account the conditions where you live, and where you plan to grow them so they can grow best.
Generally speaking, when choosing a hosta plant, it is worth remembering that the amount of shade needed varies depending on the hosta leaves and foliage color. Darker hued green/ blue hostas with darker leaves and foliage are best for shade, while the hostas with variegated or yellow leaves and foliage do best with a little more sun. Those with leaves and foliage with white and gold stripes should be kept away from the shade, and need more sun to keep their colors.
The more yellow on the beautiful hosta leaves, the more sun tolerant the hosta is likely to be. Keep those away from the shade.
If you are looking for a sun-tolerant hosta that does not need to be in the shade, some hosta options to consider are:
- Hosta ‘Honeybells’
- ‘Dixie Chick’
- Hosta plantaginea
- ‘Blue Umbrellas’
- & ‘Sum and Substance’.
If you want a miniature type if space is tight or potential for shade, or you want to grow hostas in containers, then ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ with blue leaves and foliage and ‘Pandoras Box’ are two options to consider.
If you are trying to grow hostas varieties in an area with drier soils, consider choosing varieties with thicker, variegated (with shades of white, blue, green and yellow) and waxier hosta leaves as these are more tolerant of drier conditions.
Small beautiful hosta plants on gravel for drainage.
Hostas are usually purchased as pot-grown plants. They can be planted at any time of the year. However, it is generally best to avoid planting in mid summer to late summer. This is because the lower rainfall and higher temperatures can put more stress on the transplanted plants especially if there is limited shade in the garden.
You plant hostas in the garden the same way as you would plant other herbaceous perennials. Size carefully – Plant hostas at a spacing that will accommodate their eventual size. Generally, you will space them around 3ft apart. Dig your planting hole or holes to the same depth as the root ball and twice as wide. Loosen the roots with your fingers and place the plant in the hole. Then simply draw back the soil around the roots and firm it into place. Water the plant to settle the soil and mulch well around your plant with organic matter to conserve moisture and add fertility.
If you are growing hostas in containers, choose containers with drainage holes that are around 1ft in diameter and size. Choose a peat free compost. It is best of all if you can use your own home-made compost as a growing medium. Make sure that the top of the rootball sits at the same level as it was in the previous container.
The smaller size, miniature hostas need good drainage, so it can be a good idea to add grit to heavier soils. These can also be planted up in containers. They can also look good in rock gardens or containers. Mulching with gravel will stop soil from splashing up and spoiling the leaves.
How To Care for Hostas
Slug damage can be a common problem with hostas varieties.
Hostas will have to be watered well during dry periods, especially those that are less shaded or in the sun. Container plants will obviously have higher water needs and you will have to water them more frequently.
Maintain fertility by mulching annually. On poorer soils, or for hostas varieties in containers, you may also want to use organic, general-purpose liquid plant feeds. A liquid feed once a month during the growing season will be beneficial for plants in pots.
You do not need to deadhead flower stalks. These can simply be left in place to die back naturally. However, if you wish, you can remove them once blooms fade so the plants do not waste energy on seed production.
Though they are fully hardy, the variegated foliage (with shades of white, blue, green and yellow) on your hostas varieties will die back in late autumn. Plants will then remain dormant until the early spring. In early spring, new ‘hostons’ – curled up leaves – will begin to emerge. Spring and summer are where you can see the most active growth. Water frequently through the summer so they can survive the summer heat.
One of the main challenges for hosta plants tends to be slugs. They seem to love tender young hosta leaves. One solution is to eat your hostas before the pests get the chance too! But overall, the best way to combat slugs organically is by ensuring a good balance in the ecosystem. Encourage birds, amphibians and other wildlife that will help to keep slug numbers down.
Over time, hostas will spread to form large clumps. Every four years or five years, it is a good idea to divide your plants. Division is also the main means of propagation. Dividing the clump by chopping through it with a blade will provide you with new hostas varieties to plant elsewhere in your garden. Each piece to form a new plant should have 1-3 good buds.
Harvesting Hostas For Edible Use
Hostons emerging from the ground.
If you want to harvest your hostas for edible use, the main harvest time will be the spring. The most delicious part of these plants are the ‘hostons’. Simply cut or snap these off at ground level when they emerge. Eating hostas is more than just a novelty. These plants have potential to be a major productive vegetable. You can take the whole first flush of leaves from an established plant without destroying on the plant. It should simply produce a second flush of fresh leaves.
The smaller hostons are crisp and mild-tasting – excellent raw in a salad, or when stir fried lightly – perhaps with soy sauce and sesame oil. Larger ones are better boiled briefly and used as a vegetable. You can use them wherever you might usually have a brassica, for example.
However, the hostons are not the only edible yield from hostas. Open leaves can also be eaten, stir fried or as a spinach substitute in a wide range of recipes. The older the leaves, the more bitter they are. But even larger leaves can be cooked and eaten in a range of recipes. You can also eat the flower buds and the hosta flowers too.
Hostas are widely cultivated and eaten in Japan, both commercially and by home growers. But in other parts of the world, this healthy and tasty vegetable is often only grown as an ornamental. It is definitely worthwhile considering the edible potential of this useful plant.
If you grow hostas in your garden, you will soon discover just what wonderful plants they can be – both in the ground and in the kitchen. So why not seek out some of the more interesting varieties and give these plants a go?
Elizabeth Waddington is a smallholder, permaculture designer and environmental consultant. When not designing food producing systems or advising growers around the world, she is to be found in her own garden. On her 1/3 of an acre patch of land she has a walled forest garden orchard (home to rescue chickens), a polyculture vegetable plot, a polytunnel, wildlife pond, wild woodland garden and more and is working every day towards greater self-sufficiency. She is passionate about sustainability and loves to inspire others about the wonderful things home gardeners can do for people and planet.