Hostas are shade problem solvers

Hostas are shade problem solvers

Hosta is such a well-known and widely cultivated perennial that many gardeners take it for granted. There are more than 3,000 identified species, all of which are easy to grow and hassle-free. They are known to grow well in shady spots where most flowers would struggle, which is one of the many reasons why they deserve a place in your garden.

Also known as “plantain lilies,” hostas can be used to create dramatic effects in problem areas. It is very comfortable under trees, where it can be used as a tropical ground cover because it does not mind competing with tree roots. They will thrive in full shade, so they are an ideal way to fill narrow beds between paths and walls on the north side of buildings. Once established they are very drought tolerant and do not care.

Hostas are named after Niklaus Host, the first director of the botanical garden at Belvedere Palace in Vienna, Austria. Built in the early 1700s, the Belvedere is an elaborate complex that includes a museum and formal gardens modeled after France’s famous Palace of Versailles.

Botanically, hostas belong to the lily family, but are also related to asparagus. They send up long shoots with flowers that resemble asparagus stalks. Most hosta flowers are lavender, but some are white. There are many fragrant hosta varieties, but most hosta flowers are not fragrant.

Hostas vary in size. We have some huge hostas in our gardens, but there are also some wonderful little hostas like ‘Mouse Ears’ and ‘Dagger’. Large-leaf hostas such as ‘Blue Angel’, ‘Big Daddy’ and ‘Sum & Substance’ can grow up to four feet wide, and the clumps will gradually spread and form new plants. Hosta clumps are easy to divide.

Growing hostas is easy. They’re not picky about soil, but we like to mix some plant colors into the soil when we plant them so they get roots established quickly. Hosta roots are fairly shallow so you don’t need to dig much. It’s important to plant them where they get protection from the hot afternoon sun; If they get sunburned, the edges of the leaves will turn brown and curl.

Deer and slugs are the main enemies of hosta plants. The best deer repellent we’ve tried is Liquid Fence, a foul-smelling spray that lasts for a month or more. Liquid hedgehog is widely available in a ready-to-use spray bottle at garden centers and hardware stores. The best thing we’ve found for slug control is Monterey’s “Sluggo Snail and Slug Control,” an organic treatment that’s safe around foods like strawberries (another favorite of slugs). Sluggo is available online or at home improvement stores and garden centers.

We often use various hostas as permanent borders around landscape beds. Varieties with bright white or yellow leaves, such as ‘Patriot’, ‘Loyalist’ and ‘Fire & Ice’, add a striking accent along the edges of the beds. Bright green hostas such as ‘Sum & Substance’ and ‘Guacamole’ brighten shade gardens. Blue Hostas like ‘Krossa Regal’ and ‘Blue Ice’ are big favorites. To see hundreds of varieties in one place, all clearly labeled, visit the Chadwick Arboretum at Ohio State University.

Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer who specializes in “renovating” landscapes. Let’s Grow is published weekly. Column archives are located on the Garden Advice page More information is available at Or call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.

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