I started my Hosta collection way back in the early 1980’s when I moved to the farm (when my grandpa passed away). I bought my first Hosta from Bluestone Perennials. After I moved they got mowed off and fizzled out. I started collecting them again when I was in Mississippi, but growing Hosta there wasn’t that easy. I brought my Hosta with me when I moved back to the family farm in mid-Missouri in 2013. You will see from some of the photos that I get behind with the weeding… There is always plenty to do on the farm and I need to make better use of mulching like I did in Mississippi. So, please be understanding that sometimes nature takes its course.
The genus Hosta was named by an Austrian botanist by the name of Leopold Trattinnick and was first described in Archiv der Gewächskunde in 1812. At the same time, he named Hosta japonica and described it in the same publication. Hosta japonica has been a synonym of Hosta plantaginea since 1863. Previous to that is was Hemerocallis plantaginea which was named in 1789. Well, there are 13 synonyms for the Hosta plantaginea but I am not going into that. This is a page for the Hosta genus in general.
Plants of the World Online lists 20 accepted species of Hosta (as of 1-28-21 when I last updated this page). It also lists 5 synonyms of the genus including Bryocles Salisb. (1812), Funkia Spreng. (1825), Libertia Dumort.(1822), Niobe Salisb. (1812), and Saussurea Salisb. (1807).
Plants of the World Online lists 2 species of Hosta but I’m not sure how many of them were actually used to make the cultivars. There are several websites that give a lot of information, depending on what you are looking for. I like The Hosta Helper by Plants Galore. It says W.George Schmid found evidence of 43 different species and 16 different naturally occurring variations (varieties) in the wild. In 1988, Paul Aden wrote there were at least 600 registered cultivars. In 2010, hybridizer and author Mark Zillis wrote there were over 8,000 identified types of Hosta and over 5,000 registered cultivars with the American Hosta Society. The Hosta Helper has information on 9,425 species and named cultivars (registered and non-registered) with photos of 3,107.
As far as Hosta go, they have always been one of my all-time favorite perennials for shady areas. If I had my way, every shady area under the trees that won’t grow grass would have a Hosta and other shade-loving perennials. Building a shade bed under trees can be hard work though because you have the tree’s roots to contend with.
ADD ORGANIC MATTER AND/OR NEW SOIL…
To make a Hosta bed, you will need to make sure there is plenty of organic matter to start. Amend it with cow manure and good soil if yours is not good. Here on the farm, we have very good soil to start with and I just mixed a good amount of “The Good Stuff” with the soil. “The Good Stuff” is decomposed cow manure and hay where the cows feed during the winter months that has been sitting for a year or so. The biggest problem with that is the unwanted weed seeds that come along. You can also buy bags of cow manure which basically eliminates the weed seed issue. Your soil needs to be well-draining. Although Hostas like moist soil, they do not like wet feet.
MAKE A PLAN…
Now, before you get all excited about buying Hosta, you need to make a plan. While your local garden centers may just have a few cultivars to choose from, there are so many available online it isn’t funny. You will start drooling and next thing your wish will be VERY LONG like mine. That being said, if you are a shade garden newbie, you might want to just stick with a few from the garden center at first to get your feet wet.
ALWAYS SPACE YOUR NEW PLANTS ACCORDING TO MATURE WIDTH!
It is also very important that you keep in mind the mature size of your plants… There are mini, small, medium, large, extra-large, and so on. Depending on the website you visit, they list them in those categories as well as by leaf color. So, you need to consider what size of plants you would like. You can interplant the different sizes together with the bigger ones in the back on down to the miniature Hosta for the front. ALWAYS, ALWAYS, ALWAYS keep in mind the MATURE width your Hosta cultivars can get within a few years. Space your Hosta according to their mature width, not the size they are when you buy them.
ARE SNAILS AND SLUGS AN ISSUE?
One other important thing you need to know is about snail and slug resistance. If you have an issue with snails and slugs, you will need to choose slug-resistant cultivars. They usually have thicker leaves that are more ribbed, rippled, corrugated, etc. I have several cultivars that are slug-resistant and some that aren’t and you can definitely tell the difference. If you glance at the Hosta pages you can see from the photos. I had more of a problem with them in Mississippi than here on the farm.
DEER CAN BE A PROBLEM.
Deer do like Hosta… While we do have plenty of deer here on the farm, they have only bothered my Hosta one time. In the spring of 2017, I noticed half the leaves were eaten off the Hosta ‘Potomac Pride’. It is at the end of the bed and I have no idea why they only ate half the leaves on one side of the plant and not all of them. Nor do I know why they stopped with that one plant and never bothered them again. They usually pass through certain areas all the time, but sometimes they get curious. They do venture close to the Hosta bed during the winter to eat bird seed out of the feeder but luckily the Hosta are dormant then. I have seen them in the yard at night between the garden and Hosta bed but for some reason, they haven’t bothered them. So, if you live where you have deer, you may need to choose your spot more carefully.
There are several Hosta cultivars that supposedly do well in full sun. There are many yards here in town I have seen AWESOME Hosta growing right out in full sun and are AWESOME. There are also yards where they burn to a crisp once it gets really hot. You have to be very selective and buy plants that are sun tolerant. You may want to talk to someone in your area that has Hosta growing in the sun to see what cultivar they have. Maybe they will even give you a sample. For me… Well, I have not ventured to grow my Hosta in the sun. They are in light to full shade the entire summer under a maple and two Chinese Elms… Or maybe two maples and one elm. I forgot. Anyway, the maples provide dense shade for them from around noon on. The elms are a different story, more of a filtered light which increases as the Japanese Beetles eat their leaves. The beetles were really bad in 2017 and all the leaves were pretty much see-through or gone by mid-summer.
Hosta prefers moisture, especially their first season with you. They can be somewhat drought tolerant and are forgiving if you let their soil dry out off and on. It is a very good idea to add some type of a mulch around your plants, such as leaves, to help keep the soil from drying out and keep the soil cool. Even though they like damp soil, they don’t want soil that doesn’t soak up or drain the water.
Hostas hibernate during the winter like a bear but there can be a problem. They don’t mind sleeping through a very cold winter with their ground frozen. In fact, that is what they prefer. If you live in a climate like I do here in mid-Missouri, we have periods where the temps go up and down from very cold to mild and back to cold, the warms up then cold again. It’s enough to drive us humans nutty. The problem is, Hosta roots will heave leaving their roots exposed. It is a good idea to give your Hosta a little mulch AFTER the ground freezes. That may sound weird, but it is THE WAY. Considering the VERY BEST Hosta gardens and growers are in colder climates, many of which get A LOT of snow and the ground is frozen all winter. By mulching AFTER the ground freezes, it helps to keep it frozen during periods where it warms up for a few days. Keep in mind, however, you don’t need to pack it on so thick that the soil doesn’t drain properly. Just a few inches is plenty. Now, to be honest, I rarely even mulch. This is one of those “take my advice, I’m not using it” moments. Generally, we don’t get that cold for long periods and temps are fairly mild after we get a good cold spell so I don’t have any real issues. The dead leaves from the Hosta seem to be enough. BUT, if we get this severe cold issue, I will go out and put leaves on the Hosta and Heuchera. Not to keep them warm, but to keep the ground froze because I know we will go through this up and down thing for a while. This happened in January 2017 so I did put leaves on the shade bed.
I covered the soil, planning for size, light, water, slugs and snails, deer and winter mulching.
Oh, yeah, one important thing I forgot to mention!
Growing zones… According to most information, Hosta grow well in USDA zones 4-9. I have been privileged to garden not only in Missouri, but in Arkansas, southern Missouri, 1 year in St. Paul, Minnesota, California, and several years in Mississippi. Hostas were AMAZING in Minnesota where the winters are very cold, but you also have to realize the summers are HOTTER that you can imagine. In fact, Embarrass, MN not only has the coldest recorded temperatures in the continental Unites States in the winter but also the hottest in the summer. I lived in St. Paul for one year and I will never forget when the weather lady said one night that it would be 60 degrees colder when we got up in the morning. I thought, “NO WAY.” But I am here to tell you, it really happened. That summer, in 2008, it was 120 in northern Minnesota! Even so, Hostas are amazing in Minnesota. I never saw any in California and hardly any in Mississippi. I tried several Hosta in Mississippi and we had our moments. Luckily, most survived and I brought them with me when I moved back to the farm. SO, just because the labels say USDA Zones 4-9, you also need to figure out how to use the heat zone.
I just can’t believe the biggest problem in the south is heat and humidity because it does get hot and humid in Minnesota (Land of 1000 Lakes). Maybe not for as long a period, but it still gets plenty hot. Mississippi did have cool temps and plenty of rain in January-March. Cool temps, lots of rain, the soil wasn’t frozen… Maybe that caused the biggest problems with Hosta in the south. I don’t know… It is also basically why many bulbs have problems there, such as tulips. You have to replant them every few years.
DO SOME RESEARCH.
By all means, do some research before diving in with no idea or anything but a shovel and dirt. Gardening can be very rewarding but it can also be very frustrating. Be prepared to do a little extra work in the beginning for years of enjoyment and experience ahead.
I have provided a few links below for further reading and several of the best sources for Hosta. There are links somewhere on the right side of the blog for sources and information as well. The links have nothing to do with favorite or least favorite and I probably should listed them differently. I should have separated information sources from plant sources. Well, I’ll figure that out later. If you have recommended sources, please let me know so I can add them.
I will also be adding more photos as time goes by.
THE HOSTA LIBRARY has photos lots of useful information about Hosta. There are photos of THOUSANDS of Hosta cultivars.
The MOST COMPREHENSIVE database BY FAR with photos and information of 9,425 Hosta cultivars is THE HOSTA HELPER. It is AWESOME!!!
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