How to Grow Series
See more pictures of the hostas I grow here.
Hosta are one of the easiest perennials to grow. They prefer mostly shady areas with moist, well-draining, compost rich soils. Once established, they can withstand short bouts of dry weather, though supplemental watering is recommended to keep the edges of the leaves from turning brown.
Hundreds, if not thousands of varieties are available from small miniature sized hostas to gigantic hostas that span more than 6 feet wide for a single plant. Leaves generally form from short stems and expand into large round to elongated leaves that come in a variety of textures and colors.
Though hostas are generally grown for their foliage, they will bloom in mid-late summer on tall stems that extend from the center of the plant. Hostas have either white or lavender flowers and some are even fragrant. Hummingbirds and the Hummingbird Moth love the hosta bloom, so I leave mine and then cut the stalks off after the blooms have shriveled and died.
As I mentioned above, hostas like moist, well draining, compost rich soil in mostly shady areas. As a rule of thumb, darker hostas like more shade than lighter colored hostas. If given enough water though, hostas can grow in full sun in the north, but need mostly shade in the south. As with any plant, there are varieties that grow better in the south than the north, so check the plant tag before purchasing.
Before planting, it is advised to add lots of compost and/or composted manure to the area you will be planting hostas. Hosta don't require a lot of fertilizer, so compost is really all you need. Mix the compost with the existing soil as much as possible.
Most hostas are grown in pots to be sold in local garden centers and nurseries, so planting is very easy. Simply dig a hole that is 1-1/2 times wider than the pot it was grown in. Plant the hosta at the same level in the ground as it was in the pot. You don't want to bury the crown of a hosta plant or it can rot. Backfill the hole with soil, water well and mulch to keep the soil evenly moist and to help keep the soil at an even temperature. Keep the mulch away from the crown, as with any plant, to prevent rot.
Bare root hostas can also be purchased in early spring from online sources and big box stores. You can plant these two ways: start them in pots, then transplant once leaves emerge, or plant them directly in the ground. Either way, I like to soak the roots in room temperature water first for one hour, before planting. This helps to rehydrate the roots, as they can dry out during shipping and storage. Spread the roots out in a shallow trench and cover with soil. If the roots have started to sprout, make sure the crown is not covered with soil and any foliage is above the soil line.
Hostas require 1-2 inches of water a week depending on how hot it is. The hotter it is the more water they will need. Hostas are fairly shallow rooted, which is the reason for the much needed water, but they can withstand some drought, especially if mulched well. The foliage may not look very good, but the roots should still be viable.
The main pest for hosta are snails and slugs. They love making little holes in the foliage. I control slugs by spreading snail and slug bait in the garden. You can read more about controlling slugs and snails here.
That being said, there are more slug resistant varieties being introduced every year. These varieties tend to have thicker leaves that are not as attractive to slugs and snails. You might see one on a leaf every now an then, but I've noticed very few holes on the leaves even after they leave.
Hostas do not require a lot of maintenance and they can be left alone for many years without needing dividing. In fact, most of my hostas have never been divided. In my book, the only reason to divide is either to get more plants or to rejuvenate the plant.
You will know a hosta needs dividing when the center starts to die out or it gets too big for the area it's in. If it's too big, you may want to consider putting a smaller hosta in it's place, so you don't have to keep diving it, but if that's not an option, then divide it and move on.
Dividing hosta is pretty simple, though it can be a bit labor intensive for large specimens. The best time to divide and still have the plants look good all season is in early spring when you first start to see the tips of the curled up leaves coming out of the ground. Simply take a shovel and dig around the plant until the roots are loose and you can pull the plant out. For smaller plants, you may be able to easily separate the "eyes" of the plant, but larger plants you may need to cut the roots apart with a root knife or even an ax. Either way, you won't hurt the plant.
Replant the divided hosta in the same manner as you did originally, water well for several weeks until the plant starts growing and unfurling it's leaves, and then resume your normal watering schedule.
You may also divide hosta in autumn, but the leaves will look droopy and torn, so that is why I prefer to divide in early spring. To read a more in depth article on dividing perennials, check out this article here.
When you start having regular frosts, the leaves will sort die back to the ground. If slugs and snails were a problem for you, you can rack off the foliage in the fall to help discourage any hiding places for them. You can also leave the foliage until Spring before cleaning it up. If you haven't cut off the flowering stems, you can do so at anytime. The garden looks tidier when the stems are cut in the Autumn.
The only other maintenance I perform on hostas is applying a thin layer of compost around the plants in the Spring and again in Autumn, if needed. This keeps improving the soil and adds the nutrients the hostas need to be happy.
See more pictures of the hostas I grow here.