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HOSTAS GREAT PLANT FOR SHADE

GARDEN TIPS – written by Marianne C. Ophardt
WSU Extension Faculty
for the Tri-City Herald, Kennewick, WA Written November 22, 2015

Over the last 30 years, area local gardeners have wisely planted trees for shade. This has yielded cooling shade around our homes, but has also resulted in areas of the yard and garden becoming shaded. Since most perennial flowers perform best with full sun, a shaded garden becomes a challenge.

Shade-challenged gardeners should consider planting hostas. Hostas, also known as plantain lilies, are perennial plants prized for their tolerance to shade. These plants are native to Japan, China, and Korea and were first introduced to US gardeners in the mid 1800s.

Today’s gardeners treasures hostas for their diversity of foliage colors from pretty dark greens, to bright greens, grayish blue-greens, and even golds, as well as their different shapes, sizes, textures, and variegation. With over 2,500 cultivated varieties, there is a hosta that will fit into almost any shady garden.

Just because they are prized for their foliage does not mean hostas lack pretty flowers. Hostas produce stalks of lavender, violet, pink or white lily-like flowers in summer, some cultivars with very showy flowers and some that are fragrant.

Most plants develop a mounded round form, but their size varies. Hosta growers classify hosta into categories based on mature plant height from the tiny minis (shorter than 8 inches tall) up to the big giants (taller than 30 inches).

Along with their beauty, hostas are prized by gardeners because they are easy to grow. Like so many plants, hostas grow best in a well-drained soil that is high in organic matter. If preparing a bed, it is advisable to incorporate some organic matter in the form of compost, coconut coir fiber, or peat moss. Because the plants spread horizontally, be sure to dig a generously wide hole when planting individual hostas.

Hostas grow from rhizomes that are planted in the spring, either from rhizomes or potted plants. The soil should be kept consistently moist, but not wet. As “light feeders,” they only require light fertilization.

Hostas are also very winter hardy and most can survive in zones as cold as USDA Hardiness Zones 3 or 4. The other great thing about hostas is that they have few pests, except for snails and slugs that love to gnosh on their leaves. Also, black vine weevils have a predilection for notching hosta leaf edges.

While often touted as “shade-loving” perennials, hostas actually grow best when they receive morning sun or only dappled shade. While some cultivars will tolerate full shade, they do not thrive in it. If hostas receive too much heat or too little water, the leaf edges will develop crispy brown edges. If subjected to the mid-Columbia’s intense summer sun, leaves will develop “sunburn” or the entire plant may turn brown and dry.

In a six-year hosta variety trial at the Texas A & M University, the cultivars rated the best overall were Royal Standard, Blue Cadet, So Sweet, Albo-Marginata, Sugar & Cream, and Blue Angel. You can find hostas for sale at local nurseries, but if you want to try some unusual specialty cultivars, check out on-line sources, like Sebright Gardens (www.sebrightgardens.com) or Plant Delights Nursery, Inc. (www.plantdelights.com.)

If you had told me thirty years ago that I would write a column about growing hostas in our area, I probably would have laughed because there was so little shade here then.

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