Gardening Help FAQs

Here are answers to some of the most common questions we receive about garden plants. You will find concise information on general gardening techniques as well as plant selection and care. For detailed information on specific plant pests and problems refer to our Common Garden Pests and Problems page.

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Horticulture Questions and Answers

What hostas are good for a shady garden?

Hostas are Asian members of the lily family that offer a wide variety of cultivars for gardens with shade to partial shade. Although the original 40 or more species of hostas came from Japan and China, the United States is now the world leader in hosta breeding and production. Hostas have been grown in gardens for 150 years or more. In the past, they also were called plantain lilies or funkias.

In size, hostas range from small plants that will fit in the palm of your hand to giants that grow up to three feet or even more in height with a spread of four or more feet. Hosta colors range from blue-green to lime-green plus a wide assortment of variegated color patterns that combine white to yellow with many shades of green. Hosta flowers, secondary in importance to the foliage, range in color from white to lavender and, in a few wonderful varieties, are strongly fragrant.

Hostas are herbaceous perennials that die back to the ground when hard frost arrives in the fall. Once established in a location with suitable exposure and soil, hostas are tough and need not be divided or moved for many years unless, of course, you want to increase their numbers through divisions. Hostas owe much of their popularity to the fact that they are not only handsome but also nearly maintenance free.

They are useful as ground covers, specimen plants and as strong components of the shady to partly shady garden. They offer strong elements of color, texture, form and line to garden designs. The plants' growth pattern is of the crown type with all leaf stems rising from a central point. The leaf stems may be short or comparatively long, characteristics that often add to the overall impression. Hosta foliage grows in elegant symmetry, forming handsome dome-shaped mounds.

Hosta leaves of different cultivars range in size from only an inch or two in length to those that may be a foot long and of similar width. The leaves vary in shape from long lance shapes to heart shapes to forms that are nearly round. The surfaces of hosta leaves may be flat, down-curved or cup-like. Leaf textures range from smooth to heavily puckered.

A key to growing healthy hostas is to protect them from hours of searing summer sun and heat. Partial shade, filtered light and open shade provide good sites for hostas. Although hostas are tolerant of a wide variety of soils, for best results, make sure the soil is well draining, has a good open structure and a healthy percentage of organic matter. Since hostas have high transpiration rates, you should check the soil often for moisture content. Water as needed. Hostas are tolerant of soils that are somewhat acid, neutral or somewhat alkaline.

Add compost, humus or other organic matter to the soil regularly to provide nutrients and increase the moisture-holding capacity of the soil. An early spring application of a slow-release fertilizer with an eight- to nine-month release time is an easy way to provide nutrients to hosta beds annually.

Slugs are the worst problem you will encounter when growing hostas. Look for cultivars that are resistant to slugs. Spread diatomacious earth, wood ashes or sharp sand on the soil around the crowns of plants to eliminate many slugs. An old damp, mossy board placed on the soil in the afternoon is a good slug trap. The next morning, lift it and scrape and destroy slugs hiding on the bottom side. Grapefruit rinds and potato halves freshly cut can be placed upside down near the plants to trap slugs. The old-fashioned beer-in-a-saucer trap often works well. Use all of the above in your war on slugs.

Hostas are rewarding and easy to grow. While they will tolerate neglect, they will respond vigorously to improved soil, water, fertilization and general care.