I dream of a lush carpet of green, a mosaic of leaves in various shapes, textures, and patterns, all dancing to the whims of dappled sunlight under the pine trees. Hostas are the unsung heroes of the shade garden, bringing drama and elegance to forgotten corners.
I know it’s fall – I know, I know (I sound like my adult kids…..) – and I should be saying goodbye to my garden……. But lately, I’ve been thinking about Hostas. Dreaming. I know that’s not really productive thinking. I could be thinking about solving the world’s problems – but – the reality is plants are on my mind!
This time of year (October), I’m cleaning up my gardens – cutting down some foliage, applying compost/mulch, moving a few plants around – and gathering seeds – including hostas seeds! Cleaning up the garden causes me to find forgotten hostas – when I cut back other plants – and makes me think about what plants need to go where. Hmmmm – more hostas would be nice……..
So since I’m dreaming of hostas – it’s time for a hosta information dump!
When I first began to garden, I didn’t understand why people loved hostas so much. They were just big old leafy green things that grew in the shade. I just wanted flowers, and hosta flowers didn’t count at all to me.
After planting perennial flowers to excess for years and years – and adding a few hostas here and there – I gradually started to appreciate them. Why?
- Shade – Yes, everyone thinks of hostas as shade plants – and I definitely use them there – but they can handle a bit of sun as well. When I have a boring shady spot – I put hostas in there – often with leaves in a bright lime green or yellow shade or even a variegated green with lots of white!
- Easy – Once a hosta takes root in my garden, I leave them alone – who needs to fuss over a plant?
- They Keep on Giving – Most of my hostas produce new sprouts in the spring and spread – and I like nothing better than to divide a perennial – turning one plant into many! Hosta divisions are great for gifts or making friends with neighbours!
- They Fill In – Sometimes there’s just a spot in the garden – under a tree, along the edge of a path or wherever – that needs coverage – to keep other plants (weeds?) from taking over. A few hostas in a scruffy bare area – fills things in nicely! Hosta can be a ground cover if you so choose!
- Colour Variety – Once I had planted a few basic varieties of hostas, I discovered more colours, shapes and sizes of hostas. The variety of these plants when placed together creates more interest in previously boring locations.
- Dense Planting – I plant my hostas together, trying to have their edges just meet – this results in the plants sheltering each other and preserves moisture, so I water less (OK, I rarely water – but my husband enjoys doing that, when we are home – but we are rarely home!)
A Hosta by Any Other Name……
Hostas are commonly referred to by their genus name, “Hosta” ( It also is sometimes called a “Plantain Lily” (because some hosta flowers resemble lilies), or “Giboshi” which is the Japanese name or even “Funkia” (a botanic name).
What is a Hosta?
Hosta is (and are!) a shade tolerant perennial plant known for their foliage. They belong to the Genus “hosta” (named after botanist Nicholas Host) and are a member of the asparagus family (Asparagaceae) that originated in northeast Asia. Some of older botany literature refers to Hosta as “Funkia” after another botanist Heinrich Funck. It’s too bad that Hosta aren’t sold as “Funky” – I think they’d be more popular, don’t you?
Hosta Maintenance and Challenges
Sun and Shade – Location, Location, Location
Hosta are primarily planted in shade – but can tolerate and even thrive in some sun. If you buy your hostas at a garden centre, you may find some specifically labelled as “sun-loving” or “sun-tolerant”. They still need some shade – as the leaves may burn in full sun, particularly lighter coloured leaves. Full sun in my northern zone 3 garden is just not the same as further south!
Did you know that some hostas have thicker or corrugated leaves? These are called “rugose” leaves. Rugose leaves tend to do better in the sun AND don’t seem to suffer as much from slugs!
Divide and Conquer
Hostas are generally low-maintenance. They can be divided every few years if they become too large or if you want to propagate more plants. I tend to divide my plants in the fall and spring – depending upon where and when I want to plant new hostas. (When I see a hosta, I want more hosta – so I divide!)
In the fall, when I have big healthy plants, I just dig them up and split them into big pieces with a sharp shovel – then I quickly replant. The trick for me is planting the pieces soon enough so that the pieces take root and survive the winter. In both my Northern and Southern Ontario gardens I have an issue with soil erosion – so I add plenty of soil to try to keep the new roots in place.
My preference is to divide the plants in the spring after the sprouts have begun to appear – so that I have the spring and summer to baby the new hosta, with water soil and fertilizer. This way, they are less likely to wash away and more likely to root.
I don’t know about you – but my biggest hosta worry is the erosion mentioned above. In Southern Ontario we live on a hill above a river – and the heavy rains and melting snow wash our soil away periodically. Hosta roots are a bit more shallow than other perennials – even though the leaves spread out nicely. It generally takes a full year for hosta roots to develop completely. Unfortunately I lose a few hosta each spring. I fight this by mulching heavily each year and planting hosta densely with other plants to protect them!
Hosta Aren’t Huggers
Some hosta don’t enjoy being touched by other plants. I move my plants around – and find that some are happier when their leaves don’t touch other plants – maybe they just want more room to spread out – who knows why? Some hostas have a waxy (sometimes bluish) coating on the leaves – these ones mark if they touch other leaves or objects!
Bugs and Creatures
Slugs and snails are known to be particularly fond of hostas and can damage their leaves. I do have some bugs that make holes in my hosta leaves, but the plants survive. Deer and also find hosta leaves to be a tasty treat in areas where deer are common.
In my yard, I’m not sure if some of my hostas are being eaten by rabbits, or is it the boys being aggressive with the lawnmowing! It doesn’t matter – the plants grow back.
Most hostas are grown and propagated from divisions of existing plants. This will result in a plant which is a duplicate of the original! It is possible to collect hosta seeds and start new plants from seeds.
The flower stalks of hosta plants will eventually produce pods. When the stalks and pods have started to turn brown, they may be cut off and dried. Once completely dried – the seed pods will open – and will release multiple black “keys” which will each have a seed kernel. (Black seed pods are viable – white keys and kernels are not!).
Store hosta seeds over the winter in kraft paper or paper towel “envelopes” to keep them dry and prevent mildew from forming.
Hosta Seeds – True to Type?
Hosta seeds typically do not grow true to the parent plant, especially if the original hosta is a hybrid variety (and many popular hostas are hybrids). When you grow hostas from seed, there’s a good chance the resulting plants will show a mix of characteristics and might look quite different from the parent plant.
- Genetic Variation: Hosta seeds are a result of combining genetic material from two parent plants. Even if the flower is self-pollinated, there’s still a mix of genes. This genetic diversity results in seedlings that might not look like the parent.
- Hybrid Varieties: Many of the hosta available in nurseries are hybrids, specifically bred for particular characteristics. When these hybrids produce seeds, the seeds contain a mix of the genes from the hybrid’s lineage. The plants that grow from these seeds can vary widely in appearance.
- Pollination: If you have multiple hosta varieties in your garden, there’s a chance for cross-pollination to occur. Bees and other pollinators can transfer pollen from one hosta flower to another, leading to seeds with mixed genetics. I have dozens of varieties of hostas – and the bees do not care which ones they visit first – but no matter! Variety and cross-breeding hostas makes for an adventure!
If you want a hosta that’s identical to the parent plant, division is the method to use. By dividing a hosta, you’re essentially creating a clone of the original plant. This is how most named varieties are propagated and sold.
Growing hosta from seeds can be an exciting project because you might end up with unique and beautiful variations. Just be prepared for the unpredictability! I think that starting hosta from garden seeds is kind of like getting one of those surprise gift bags from the dollar store – don’t you?
When to Start Hosta Seeds
Hosta seeds can be started indoors in jiffy pots or seed trays. February is a great time to start hosta seeds in Ontario – but I often start them months earlier to produce a more mature seedling to plant outside in spring.
A hosta plant grown from seed may only produce one small plant by the end of one growing season – and will be more mature by the second year – so personally I prefer to give them as much of a head start as I can!
Starting seeds in February for many areas in the Northern Hemisphere generally offers a good balance, giving seedlings enough time to grow strong indoors without outgrowing their space before spring planting. But always adjust your timing based on your specific growing zone and local conditions.
Starting hosta seeds too early indoors can lead to some challenges, but it doesn’t necessarily mean the plants will be of lesser quality. The key concern with starting seeds too early is that the seedlings might outgrow their containers or become leggy (elongated and weak) due to insufficient light before it’s warm enough to transplant them outside.
However, if you’re equipped to handle these challenges – for instance, if you have grow lights, sufficient space, and the time to care for the seedlings – starting hostas plants early can be done successfully.
- Provide Adequate Light: Even if you’re starting them early when natural daylight is limited, you can use grow lights to ensure they get the light they need. This will prevent them from getting leggy.
- Keep Them Cool: If possible, keep the temperature on the cooler side after germination. Cooler temperatures combined with adequate light can help prevent legginess.
- Rotate: If you’re using natural light from a window, make sure to rotate the seedlings regularly so they don’t grow leaning in one direction.
In conclusion, while mature hostas are shade-tolerant, when starting them from seeds indoors, it’s essential to provide them with ample light to prevent leggy growth.
Hosta La Vista!
Now that it’s too cold to do very much in the garden, I am indoors sorting and putting away my precious hosta seeds (Kind of like Gollum from the Lord of the Rings). My adult kids find it confusing – but they know to keep away!
What I’ve learned to appreciate about hostas, is that I can plant them in the sun (within reason), and that they are generally hardy in my yard. I tend to plant them among other plants, where they provide a different leaf shape, sometimes a different leaf colour, and they nicely fill in the gaps – helping to crowd out other aggressive plants, and when densely planted with my other perennials – preserve the moisture in the soil during dry times.
Happy October! Hope you’ve enjoyed this hosta information overload. I’m always interested in learning new things – Do you have any hosta tricks or facts that I left out here?
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