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Saturday, September 28, 2019

All About Hostas -- Hostas 101

Hostas (plantain lilies) are hardy herbaceous perennials that grow well in Zones 3 through 8, with some that can tolerate the heat of Zone 9. It's no surprise they continue to be one of the most popular perennials for shade gardens. Their beauty, toughness and ease of care make them well suited for a shady or partly shady area and they will quickly become even a new gardener's favorite plant! 


First, why ARE hostas so popular? Here are just a few reasons to start with.

Variety of Sizes

Mini Height -6"

Small Height 6-10"

Medium Height 10-18"                                    

Large Height 18-28"

Very Large Height +28"

Variety of Colors

Their leaf colors range from green, blue, gold, yellow to white and countless variegated varieties.

Variety of Leaf Shapes

Hostas are known mostly for their durable, colorful foliage. There is no shortage of leaf shapes including heart-shaped, narrow, smooth, puckered, elongated, oval, rounded and those adorable mouse ear shapes.

The Blooms

While hostas are basically known for their leaves, their lily-shaped blooms are nothing short of beautiful. Some hosta blooms are very fragrant, like in the above picture of H. The Shining, and they're a great choice for planting by a garden bench or on a deck or patio.

Other reasons hostas are so popular

  • They can be planted en masse for an attractive ground cover or hedge or to soften a fence line.
  • They can thrive in shady conditions where most other perennials suffer.
  • They're the perfect complement plant for other perennials. A hosta's earthy leaf color won't clash with a neighboring perennial's color or bloom which makes hostas the perfect foundation plant.
  • Once established, they're a great weed barrier and are tolerant of occasional droughts.


Location, Location, Location – Sun or Shade?

Contrary to what many people think, hostas DO need some sun. Morning sun with afternoon shade is generally recommended to encourage lush growth and proper color development.  

This kind of area will also give the hosta enough sun to thrive yet shield it from the afternoon sun, especially in the south where the summer sun can stress hosta plants and fade or burn their leaves.

  • As a rule, light-leaved hostas will thrive in areas getting four to six hours of morning sun, especially if adequately watered.
  • Blue hostas will keep their color longer if grown in no direct sun and open, dappled sun/shade.
  • Green hostas can take more light, morning or dappled sun and even limited afternoon sun.

Sun Tolerant Hostas

There are varieties of hostas that are bred to be more sun tolerant than their shade-loving cousins.  Some can take as much as six hours of direct morning sun a day.  

For sunnier spots, hostas like Honeybells and Sum and Substance from the Hosta Plantaginea group are perfect.

To read our detailed article about sun tolerant hostas and see a list of great ones that we sell, click here.

Heat and Mid-Season Dormancy

In hotter climates, the heat may cause a hosta to temporarily go dormant and stop growing. You may notice that the outer leaves dry up and wither. Once the temperatures have cooled as Fall approaches, though, the leaf growth will resume. Additional watering during the hottest summer temperatures will go a long way in keeping the hosta healthy.

Tips for Planting a New Hosta

  • Plant the root ball at the same depth as it was before with the crown even with the surrounding soil and the growing tips visible at the soil surface.

  • Plant with enough elbow room to allow for growth and air circulation.
  • Apply a 2" layer of mulch after the soil warms in late spring to early summer. Shredded bark, shredded leaves or pine needles are some of the best mulches for hostas.
  • Keep the mulch away from the center stem to prevent crown rot.

The Right Soil

Although hostas can grow well in nearly any soil, a soil with good drainage, a mix of organic material like peat compost or coir will hold in the moisture that hostas thrive on.   Hostas also prefer a slightly acidic soil. 

Here at Sunset Hosta Farm, we add leaf mold to our gardens and container hostas for just this reason.

For our detailed article on making leaf mold, click here.

For more detailed information on the best soil for hostas, click here.


Hostas thrive in moist conditions. In their native environment of Japan, China and Korea, they can get 60" of rainfall each year. Hostas require 1” of water per week, whether by rainfall or irrigation. Infrequent but deep waterings is better than short, frequent ones.

Be careful NOT to water the hostas in early spring until the threat of frost has passed to prevent root rot. As the weather turns cold, hostas will be happier with less water. Once the days cool, you can rely on Mother Nature for rainfall. 

Once established, hostas are tolerant of an occasional drought but need to be watered when the top inch of soil has dried out.


A slow-release balanced fertilizer can be applied in the Spring as the hostas emerge. A second round can be applied in early summer, then no more. Stop fertilizing ground and container hostas two months before your expected first frost date. This will help the hostas get ready for their winter dormancy.


A side note about gold-leafed hostas. These will benefit from an annual fertilizer because these hostas contain fewer food-producing chloroplasts.


Pruning Hostas

Hosta leaves will usually look healthy until the summer months hit. This is the time that some hosta leaves begin to look worn, damaged or dried out.  This season is lovingly referred to as the “summer uglies.”

Simply snipping those leaves off at the base of the plant will not only make the hosta look better, but less leaves in the summer is less stress on the plant as a whole.

Here at Sunset Hosta Farm, we don't compost those damaged leaves. They are disposed of to avoid the spread of pests and disease. Hosta leaves are sometimes home to slug eggs, and leaving the foliage in place after snipping might allow time for the eggs to hatch.


Things to consider 

before dividing your hosta

Frequent divisions of a  hosta clump will restrict the plant's leaf size and keep it from developing to its mature features. Undivided, hostas can take up to four plus years to reach its full size.

Hostas grow at the root tip only. If you slice through many roots while dividing the hosta, those roots won't grow longer or branch at the cut.

Here at Sunset Hosta Farm, when we divide our larger hostas, there are always some smaller root pieces that are attached to the main roots.  We separate those pieces off the mother plant and plant them in three to four-inch pots.  We then baby them through their first year. If they are divided in the Spring, they mostly likely will be ready to plant in the ground by the Fall.

Other Tips for Dividing Hostas

  • Sterilize your tools with a 10% bleach to 90% water solution to prevent transferring any diseases from hosta to hosta. 
  • Divide them on a shady day. 
  • The leaves can be tied back gently with string at the base of the plant, or cut down to a few inches from the base. 
  • Water frequently for the first few weeks. 
  • If planted in a sunny location, it's a good idea to shade your new divisions from the sun for the first week using a folded piece of cardboard, umbrella, etc, anything that gives some respite from the direct sun as they adjust to their new location.

When should I divide my hostas?

Hostas can be divided any time the soil is workable. Here at Sunset Hosta Farm, we have divided our hostas in the Spring, Summer and Fall. Here are some pros and cons of each season.

hostas buds coming up in spring

Hosta coming up in the Spring


It is best to divide fast-growing hostas in the Spring as soon as the eyes are popping up but before the leaves unfurl. This is usually a two-week window. Fast-growing hostas recover quickly from division. 

It is advisable to only divide non fast-growing hostas in thirds or quarters if doing this in the spring.


Hostas can be divided in the summer months, but much more care needs to be taken to be sure you don't stress the plant or divisions. Water well and shade the planted divisions for at least a week until the divisions are well established. Keep a close eye on the divisions.  


Fall is a great time for division. The hostas need for water is not as great now. In northern climates, that is September, in the southern, October.

Hostas will frequently throw up a small flush of leaves as the temperatures moderate from the summer heat in July, especially if it has been rainy.

Dividing them at least 30 days before the first expected frost date takes advantage of this growth spurt as well as giving the hosta divisions time to settle into their new home before their winter sleep.

A Little or a Lot of Elbow Grease

Whether your prized hosta has become too large for an area or whether you just want to spread the hosta love and have more, the amount of elbow grease needed to divide a hosta depends on the type and size of the hosta.

For instance, mini and small hostas are much easier to divide. With some, after digging up the hosta from the ground, the roots will easily separate themselves with a light tug. Dividing them can actually help them to maintain their tiny, tidy size.

Larger ones, however, may take some real elbow grease to dig them out of the ground. They may also need a good hard split with a shovel to divide them. Not to worry, though. Hostas are tough and do actually benefit from being divided.

You can divide the hosta into several new plants as long as each division has a healthy root system. The smaller the division, however, the more care you need to give it until it's established in its new place.

If you just want a second plant, it is possible to use your shovel to cut off a corner, third or half of the plant without lifting the whole plant out of the ground. Simply dig out the portion you need and plant the new division at the same depth.

Battling the Slugs - They Love Hostas, too!

Another benefit of hostas is that they're pretty disease resistant. The most frequent problem hostas have is slug damage which appears as irregular holes along the leaf's edges.  Sometimes slugs will chew the entire plant off at the stem.  Look for shiny slime trails on the leaves on or about the ground and around the plants.

Breeders today are trying to tackle the slug problem by developing hostas with leaves of a thicker texture which are less hospitable to slugs.

To see our selection of slug-resistant hostas, click here.

Since slugs produce eggs in the Fall, that is a good time to apply any chemical slug killer.

We also have an article on organic ways to get rid of the little buggers.  To read it, click here.

Other Hosta Invaders

Deer.  It's true that deer love hosta.  To discourage them from eating your hostas, use fencing or motion sensitive sprinklers.

Rabbits.  Rabbits will leave clear-cut chew marks on young hosta stems and leaves.  Look for dropped leaves and rabbit droppings on the ground and around plants.


The benefit of moving container hostas from place to place during the gardening season cannot be overstated. Moving them out of the summer heat or direct sun will add many weeks of the hosta looking great.

The key to gorgeous container hostas is to let the hosta be the show. The container size should be no more than 3" wider than the hosta's root ball. Hostas can have root length ranging from 6" to 18", depending on the variety.



Tips for Hostas in Pots

  • Add a layer of gravel to the bottom of the container to help with drainage. 
  • Plant the hosta with the top third of the crown an inch below the top of the container. The compacted soil should level out to be one half to one inch below the container rim. 
  • Slow-growing hostas can be left in the same container for three to four years.  Fast-growing hostas may need to be repotted every second or third year.  To see our selection of fast-growing hosta varieties, click here.
  • Hosta containers raised at eye level can be an eye-catching focal point, especially hostas with beautiful petioles like Fire Island, Cherry Tart, Prairie Moon and Blueberry Muffins. 
  • Water potted hostas every two days and soak through. 
  • Fertilize once every two weeks with 20% strength balanced fertilizer or once in early spring with a slow-release granular fertilizer and then again in mid summer if the leaves begin to yellow.  An addition of an Epsom salt solution will give your hostas the magnesium they need.  To read our article on using Epsom Salt on Hostas, click here.
  • The mini and small hostas are great choices for rock gardens and fairy gardens. 
  • The larger hostas are ideal for a garden focal point. 

Hosta Flowers

Generally, hosta flowers form on long scapes that usually tower above the hosta leaf mound. Their bell or funnel shaped flowers hang down from the scapes.

Although hostas are basically grown for those beautiful leaves, there are some hosta varieties have quite beautiful flowers. Whether you choose to cut the flower spikes off as they appear or before the plant flowers is a matter of personal choice, but here are some things to consider.

Quality of the Flower Bloom

Not all hostas have showy flowers. Some hostas are bred for the beautiful leaf colors and their flowers are small or unattractive. Many gardeners prefer to remove the stalks as soon as they appear simply for aesthetic purposes.

Hosta Seeds

If you're not interested in harvesting the seeds of your hostas, it's just as well to remove the flower stems. Letting a hosta go to flower diverts the hosta's energy and nutrients away from the plant leaves and directs it to the flower.

Cutting off the flower stems will allow more energy towards the healthy parts of the plant.

Just remember, though, that if you remove the flower stems on a hosta, it will usually not flower again that season.

Use sharp shears to remove the stalk at the base.  Disinfect your shears in between plants with a solution of 10% bleach to 90% water to avoid the spread of any disease.

Reasons to let the Hostas Flower

Beautiful Flowers

Hostas of the Hosta Plantaginea variety grow larger flowers, up to 6” long. They bloom in August, later than most other hostas types, hence the name August Lily.  The strongly scented white blooms open up about 4 p.m.

Flower arrangements

Since  hostas leaves are long lasting when in water and are available in a multitude of textures, colors and shapes, they're a great plant to use as an addition to a flower arrangement display.


Most hosta flowers are small, up to 2” long and open early in the morning and have no scent.  There are fragrant hosta types in the Hosta Plantaginea varieties. There are some hosta hybrids bred to produce fragrant blooms also. Many have likened the scent to honeysuckle. 

Here at Sunset Hosta Farm we grow and sell a variety of fragrant hostas, including Blue Mouse Ears, Honeybells, The Shining, So Sweet and Guacamole.  To see our selection of fragrant hostas, click here.

Drawing in Hummingbirds

The bell or funnel shaped delicate flowers of hostas are the perfect shape for the long, slender tongues and beaks of hummingbirds.  They are also a great source of nectar for them.

Drawing in the Bees

For the same reason, bees are drawn to hosta blooms. If you have a sunny vegetable garden, giving the bees a shadier place to feed on the hosta blooms will help draw them into your garden to pollinate your food plants.

Draw in the Birds

Large-leafed hosta varieties hold drops of water on their leaf surfaces and in the flower folds. They can serve as a hydration station for birds and other flying visitors. Birds also enjoy eating the hosta seed heads.

Harvesting Hosta Seeds

If you're adventurous and want to grow hostas from seed, you can let all or some of your hosta plants go to flower and seed. The best time to harvest the seeds is right after the first frost. The seed pod needs to mature before the seeds inside are viable.

Commercial hostas are propagated through root division, though, as their seed will not produce a plant that is identical to the mother plant. If you're not picky about the exact type of hosta you will get from the seed, you can expand your collection by harvesting and growing some hostas from seed. You never know exactly what you'll get!

To read our detailed article on growing hostas from seed, click here.


In the winter, hostas are dormant. There is no winter growth like there is with some other perennials. Hostas need 4-6 weeks of temperatures below 40 degrees for an appropriate winter sleep.

Overwintering Hostas in the Ground

Cover the newly-planted hostas with an extra layer of leaves or mulch. The best mulches are leaves, straw, and other biodegradable materials which are light and allow for air pockets. Established hostas can benefit from an extra layer of mulch, but can usually survive without it.

Overwintering Hostas in Pots

There are several ways to protect your potted hostas during the winter months. The key is keeping the hostas away from too much overhead moisture and to protect them from sudden swings in temperatures. 

Here are some suggestions:

  • Move the containers to an unheated shed, garage or greenhouse. 
  • Put an additional 2-3” layer of mulch on the top. 
  • Bury the entire pot or group of pots in the ground and cover with leaves. 
  • If leaving them outdoors, after the soil has frozen, you can tip the pots over on their sides to give them extra protection from too much overhead moisture. 
  • Water the containers if they completely dry out before the soil freezes but never water them after the soil has frozen. 
  • Although more labor intensive, if you have a prized hosta in a pot, you can plant it in the ground and repot it again in the Spring. 


If you're lucky enough to have some shady and semi-shady spots in your garden and you haven't incorporated hostas into your garden yet, you are really missing out.

Take a stroll around our website, but a word of warning! There is a reason there are so many Hosta-Holics, myself included.


Where to go next!

Love Hostas or know someone who does?
Visit our website for great hostas at affordable prices!

1 comment:

  1. Why do hosta stems fold in half instead of staying upright?


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