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Plantain lily

HostaHostas can be a gardener's best friend. It's a given for success.

Nicholas T. Host (1761-1834) gave it its name in 1812. Hostas are also known as funkia after the German botanist Heinrick Funck. They are also known as plantian lily.

Hostas are native to Japan, China, and Korea.

If you are into collecting plants and in particular families of plants, hostas provide the most unusual foliage patterns of green, white, yellow, and blue to enjoy.

There is a hosta for every situation. They range in size from tiny to jagunda, growing in deep shade to tolerating sunny conditions. There is a hosta for you.

Some hostas grow faster than others do and all respond to rich soils, added nutrients and plentiful watering. Do not forget to mulch.

Geographic Consideration

Many people think hostas are only for the North but there is a wide variety that will grow to zone 9. Most, however, do thrive from zones 3 - 8. One consideration for growing hostas in the South: containers.

Varieties of hosta for the southern zones are 'August Moon', 'Halcyon TF1X7', 'Honeybells', 'Francee', 'Green Fountain', 'Fordiflora', 'Torifons', 'Maruba', 'Golden Dwarf', 'Sum and Substance' (especially for the sun) and 'Aphrodite'.

(more information at Growing Hostas in the South?)

HostasCarefree Perennial

Hostas have risen in popularity because there is no perennial as carefree as they are. Virtually their only problem may be snails and slugs. Use a granular bait to diminish this problem. If wildlife is active in your area, you may have to deal with those outsiders. Voles can be curtailed by planting hostas in sunken one-inch cages. Hostas overall are not openly fussy about the soil and will tolerate less than rich loam.

There are over 3,000 cultivars to choose and soon will be more than 2,000 registered varieties. Hostas can be planted from spring to the fall from containers grown. The fall may be the ideal time to divide those big masses in the garden.

Hostas should be given plenty of room for their designated mature size. In general foliage width will be twice that of height. Crowding to get a full affect in the beginning is not advised. However, do plant daffodils, or Virginia Blue Bells or some annuals for contrast.

Some hostas may not reach their maturity until 4 or 6 years. Again, dividing is not always necessary. There are stories of hostas happily in one place for 25 - 30 years.

Some hostas are native to woodlands. Some grow in moist areas. In the cultivated garden 1/3 shade is ideal, with morning sun being the best.

Keep in mind that gold varieties require more sun for full color to develop. If these same varieties are grown in the shade, they become chartreuse in color. There are exceptions however. Many, like 'Golden sunburst' will simply "burn up" in almost any direct sun. 

Blue tends to do best in deeper shade.

When leaf edgings get papery and brown too much sun is damaging the hosta. Be careful and relocate for the next season.

If one is growing hostas around a tree, remember these hostas will need more compost or leaf mold, fertilizing, and water to compete with tree roots.

If you are experiencing "root climb" (roots appearing above the ground) this may be happening because the repeated freeze / thaw cycles from the fall and spring are creating the pushing effects. Apply additional mulch around the hostas.

As the hosta goes dormant for the season be sure to dispose of decomposed leaves. You can compost the leaves for future nutrients unless you suspect nematodes or diseases. Then do not compost.

Hosta bloomBlooms

Flower scapes are a bonus of the hosta. People generally grow hostas for their varied foliage and the removal is purely optional. Enjoying them on the plant, picking for arrangements or letting them go to seed is totally a choice. However, leaving the bloom on the plant will pull energy from the plant itself. The longer the scape remains on the plant the more energy that plant is giving towards its bloom. Many people prefer to cut off and especially if they are not hybridizing. I cut the scapes for arrangements.

Foliage Coloring

hosta in bloomThree terms are pertinent to the culture of hosta, that sometimes make them chameleon-like in growth behavior. It is basically a color instability. Viridescence, will happen when a yellow center will gradually turn green as the season continues. This term also applies to when a white leaf turns green. Lutescence happens when a hosta will begin green and turn to a shade of yellow as the season matures. The third color changing term is albescence. This is when yellow area turns white. It is important to know that this is a normal thing.

All hostas are not created equal and certainly that may have an effect on price. Some of the slower growing hostas remain higher in cost because they are used by breeders for their substance quality. A good example of this would be the Tokudama group.


Hosta's are not generally thought of to be your designated fragrant flowers for the garden but they can be. One of the most popular is the 'August Lily' (H. plantaginea). It is one of the few that originate from China. This species is one of the most southern naturally occurring hosta making it very heat tolerant. It is unique because this hosta has flowers that open at 4pm rather than the norm of 7am for most other hostas.

The fragrance is close to the smell of the honeysuckle. Another interesting fact is that this species is the only hosta that will continue to produce new leaves all season. Other hostas do not. Certainly an advantage to diseased or damaged southern garden. It is an early grower to be sure, often emerging in early March. This becomes a danger because late frosts may nip new foliage burning it to the ground.

There are about 60 registered hosta cultivars with fragrant flowers. Some are: H. 'Honeybells', H. 'Sweet Susan', H. 'Royal Standard', H. 'Iron Gate Supreme', H. 'Iron Gate Glamoni', H. 'Iron Gate Delight', H. 'Sugar and Cream', H. 'Summer Fragrance', H. 'Fragrant Bouquet', H. 'Invincible', H. 'So Sweet'.

It is suggested that the green selections work best, yellow, then blues and last the yellow-greens.

No matter what you select for your garden, it will be enjoyed. With no more than 50 hosta hybridizers in the US, we are apt to see new and exciting things with hosta.

For more references check with the American Hosta Society and detailed information for your region.

Be sure and check out "The Hosta Book" by Paul Aden and "The Genus Hosta" by W. George Schmid. Both are excellent sources of detailed information.

April 23, 2012

Deer Photo by Ed UtzEmily: The deer ate all of my hostas!

Dear Emily: I live in Florida and I'm limited to what I can have in my garden. We have many deer and they ate all of my hostas. I'm running out of ideas. What can I do? HELP!!!

A: Deer like almost anything, but here is a web site that I found that has dear resistant plant lists. http://www.deerxlandscape.com/

There was also a list in Rodale's "Landscape Problem Solver" and a list in the "Southern Living Gardening Guide".

Many of the landscape and problem books had other suggestions: deer repellent, moth balls sprinkled around the yard, hot peppers sprinkled around (which we have used very successfully but you need a lot of pepper and it will not survive rains), soap on strings hanging from trees, fences (tall or multiple).

Hosta eaten by deerWhen we lived in South Carolina backing up to woods the deer had lots to eat in the woods so only ate our expensive hosta plants which I protected with ground up hot peppers. The fence around our yard (which was not put up to deter deer) was five feet tall and the deer treated it like it was not there.