5 Ways to Design With Hostas

First, a warning. Hostas are the potato chips of plants.

Once you buy that first one and watch how it lights up shade, fills the void around large trees and shrubs, softens the edges of lawns and walkways, and sends up pretty blooms when you least expect it, you will be hooked.

After you’ve created your first composition of leafy-fabulousness, you’ll be wishing for more shade. While they’re not for the hottest climates, there are quite a few that do very well in zones 8 and 9.  All of you in colder zones? This is the plant for you.

Because you will ask, deer do enjoy this plant almost as much as you. If deer are an issue, consider planting in containers where you can somewhat control access. Many of the smaller Hostas do quite well in window boxes, too.

Designing with Hostas can be fun. Take a look around and see where you could use a bit of drama. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

5 Reasons Why Hostas Belong in Your Garden

  1. Create a mood from cool and calm to happy and sunny.
  2. Short and wider form is ideal for wrapping around curves.
  3. Summertime flowers on tall stalks add vertical interest.
  4. Small leafed ‘Mouse Ears’ to large-leafed ‘Sagae’ they’re just so useful.
  5. They’re just so easy to grow.

Massed for Maximum Appeal

It’s so easy to be so dazzled by a nursery display of Hostas that you lose sight of how this and that will work when massed. The key is balance. One Hosta by the dozen is alway an effective choice. If, however, you love the look of a Hosta “collection”, with loads of different varieties, here’s a tip: add plenty of solid colors such as blues and greens. It’ll make the more dramatic striped and variegated ones pop even more.

Upper left: Massing one variety of Hosta (such as this large leafed Krossa Regal Plantain Lily) and just letting it do its thing can lead to something mighty romantic.

Above: Massing many varieties creates a lively, painterly effect with the added bonus of lots of flowers throughout the summer. It’s the different sizes as well as colors that makes this work.

Left: And then, there’s just the fun of packing in one variety and adding the totally unexpected such as this combo of Hosta and Allium. Some Hostas can take more sun (preferred by Alliums) so choose carefully.

First Frost Plantain Lily
Zone: 4 – 9

Prized for robust foliage that’s attractive straight to the first frost!  Adaptable to varied climates and conditions. Up to 16 in. tall, 36 in. wide. Full to partial shade.

Blue Mouse Ears Hosta
Zone: 3 – 8

Short and sweet, a perfect hosta to mass at the front of a border or along a walkway. Nice hillside groundcover. Up to 7″ tall and 1′ wide. Full shade to filtered sun.

Earth Angel

Earth Angel Hosta
Zone: 3 – 8

Heart-shaped, leaves emerge blue-green with yellow margins, shifting hues to deep green with cream margins in summer. Up to 2′ tall and 4′ wide. Full shade to filtered sun.

Filling Shady Containers

Hostas are perfect plants for pots. They fill a container in no time, and look sophisticated and elegant. Pots can help where deer are an issue, as you can simply move the containers closer to the house. Here are a few ideas–formal massed pots of the same plant, mixed with ferns, in a classic urn, and farmhouse chic in a galvanized tub–and three great plants for pots. 

So Sweet Hosta
Zone: 3 – 8

If you’re going to have a hosta in a container up close and personal, why not have one whose flowers are FRAGRANT!  Up to 1′ tall and 2′ wide. Partial to full sun.

Golden Prayers Plantain Lily
Zone: 3 – 8

Dramatically textured, golden-yellow foliage retains its color even in full shade! Pale lavender flowers on tall stalks. Up to 1′ tall and 2′ wide. Full to partial shade.

Frosty Ribbons® Hosta
Zone: 4 – 8

Stunning new variety, starring lush green and creamy white variegated foliage that nearly shimmers in the shade. Up to 2′ tall and 3′ wide. Full shade to filtered sun.

In a Mixed Border

We love flowers. Everyone who gardens probably loves flowers. What makes flowers look even more “flowery’? Being surrounded by foliage, especially foliage that amps up the excitement of blooms. This is the promise of Hostas–they bring the party to the planting and that’s especially true in shade. Those strappy, often textured or variegated leaves, provide high contrast to all the colors and forms around them.

Upper left: So gorgeous. The trick here–what really makes this sing–is the addition of a dark leafed coral bell. That one patch of deep red stops this from just being a mass of greens and instead, a composition.

Lower left: When Mother Nature was creating plants, one wonders which came first–the Astilbe or the Hosta, both of which shine in the shade. Not just the complimentary foliage, but also the sprightly blooms.

Below: This Hosta seems to have just popped up in this natural garden. Hostas have a formality about them. Nice to be reminded that they have a playful side, too.

Fire And Ice300

Fire And Ice Plantain Lily
Zone: 4 – 8

Slightly twisted leaves that feature white centers and green margins and lavender flower stalks throughout summer. Up to 16″ tall and 2 ‘ wide. Full to partial shade.

Praying Hands Hosta
Zone: 3 – 9

Rippled thick leaves with narrow, gold margins, matte topsides, and shiny undersides. Resists slug damage. Up to 18″ tall and 16″ wide. Full shade to filtered sun.

Rainforest Sunrise Hosta
Zone: 3 – 9

Lush leaves emerge solid light green, then quickly develop dramatic dark green borders and radiant gold centers. Up to 8″ tall and 16″ wide. Full shade to partial sun.

On a Shady Slope

Dry shade is one of those garden challenges that’s well, challenging. Often this condition is found under large trees, but it can also be present on a hillside or slope where the water runs down without truly absorbing into the soil. Hostas, once they’ve had a few years to settle in, are surprisingly resiliant, and do just fine on a slope. Their spreading roots knit together to help stop soil erosion. And, they keep down weeds.

Enterprise Hosta
Zone: 3 – 8

This one’s tall and wide quickly filling spots. Heart-shaped leaves, creamy white variegation, and tinges of olive green. Up to 2′ tall and 3′ wide. Full shade to filtered sun

June Plantain Lily
Zone: 3 – 8

Bloom spikes that reach at least 2 ft. tall means this one puts on quite a show when filling a slope or hillside. Up to 1′ tall and 3′ wide. Filtered to partial sun.

Paradigm Hosta
Zone: 3- 8 

Big area, big hosta. Heart-shaped, heavily seersuckered leaves in a soft chartreuse that graduates to golden yellow. Up to 2′ tall and 4′ wide. Full shade to filtered sun.

As a Singular Sensation

Some Hostas are just so spectacular they need nothing but room to grow and a place of honor on your Instagram page (#badboyhosta?). It could be the supersized leaves or the sheer size of the mature plant, but it could also be a quirky leaf form or growth habit. While we’ve organized them in this story into somewhat loose categories, shop all for Hostas that just make you smile.

Upper left: Look at those huge puckered leaves and the way they stand so upright. Put this ‘Abiqua’ near a gate or a fence post and the sheer architecture of it holds its own.

Above: 2017 Hosta of the Year, Brother Stefan, has those kaleidoscope leaves and seersucker texture that makes it a total showstopper in the garden or in a pot. And, it has pretty near-white flowers, too.

Lower left: Sometimes its a delicate form or unique feature that distinguishes a Hosta–other times it’s just the sheer power of big leaves and a huge overall footprint. That’s what we call a singular sensation.

Sum and Substance Hosta
Zone: 4 – 9

One of the largest (and most popular) of the hostas, with immense leathery chartreuse leave that turn gold in summer. Up to 3′ tall and 6′ wide. Full shade to filtered sun.

abq300

Abiqua Drinking Gourd Hosta
Zone: 3 – 8

Giant, deeply cupped, corrugated leaves do not lose stunning powder blue-green color, even in the hottest weather. Up to 2′ tall and 3 ‘ wide. Full shade to partial sun.

Victory Plantain Lily
Zone 3 – 8

Majestic, giant specimen with shiny green leaves that have a dramatic grooved texture. Up to 3′ tall and 4′ wide. Full shade to filtered sun.

Keeping Hostas Happy

  • Provide slightly acidic, evenly moist, well-drained, humusy soil.
  • Apply a balanced, time-release all-purpose fertilizer according to package directions if the soil is poor. Otherwise, topdress with well-rotted manure or compost.
  • Avoid harsh sun exposures.
  • Water deeply, regularly during first growing season to establish an extensive root system; reduce frequency once established.
  • Remove old, faded foliage before new leaves emerge in early spring.
  • Divide every 2 to 3 years in early spring.

Image Credits:(top) James R. Salomon.

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