Growing Hostas

George Geralis
Adams County Master Gardener

It was on the day that the fencing contractor and his assistants arrived at our home to install the stockade-style fence we had ordered, that I first noticed a lonely "funkia," planted in a shady corner of our yard.

"Funkia" is the name that was commonly used in earlier times for "hosta" as it is currently known. While the use of the name "funkia" lingers on, "hosta" named for the Austrian botanist, Nicholas Thomas Host, remains the acceptable name for the plant, which has surged in popularity during the past decade, after 200 years of obscurity.

Many years have passed since the stockade fence was installed, during which time I had forgotten about that lonely plant, isolated in the shadiest area of our back yard.

Since relocating to Adams County, Pa., where we live today amid towering trees that make it difficult to grow commonly known shrubs and perennials, we have discovered that hostas, in addition to other plants, are ideal for growing in a deciduous woodland setting such as ours, where conditions favor shade-loving plants such as ferns and hostas, punctuated with the colorful inclusion of flowering bulbs and woody shrubs such as leucothoe, rhododendron and azaleas.

Hostas cannot be beat as long-lasting perennials in shady landscapes. They are hardy, clump-forming herbaceous perennials grown in many appealing shades of green, as well as interesting tones of gold and many hues of blue. The leaves emerge from below ground level in early spring and after putting on a spectacular show, die back completely in autumn.

Best known for their foliage, many hostas also have attractive, showy blossoms ranging in color from deep lavender to pure white. Some of these floriferous varieties permeate the air with a light fragrance.

Because most hostas will grow in all soils except very alkaline or boggy soil, they are considered to be a low-maintenance addition to the landscape. They, generally, prefer soil that is heavy and slightly acid. However, very heavy soil should be amended with a bucket of coarse sand per square yard, to help improve drainage. Most are greedy plants that demand a high level of soil fertility, which can be attained by adding organic matter, such as garden compost and well-rotted farmyard manure.

Native to China and Japan, hostas are hardy and are easy to grow. Their interesting foliage runs the gamut of leaf forms, ranging from ovals, rounds, lance-shaped, variegated, twisted, crimped "piecrust" edges, and deeply puckered.

Hostas vary in size from tiny plants, less than 4 inches across to plants that will fill a cubic yard or more. They form dome-shaped mounds of leaves. Most are slow growing, particularly the larger varieties, which take several years to achieve their full potential.

Hostas are great plants to use in many areas of the landscape. They are especially suited to problem areas. Hostas are ideal for areas where snow removal is necessary or where salt spray is occurring. They grow under black walnut trees and survive through wet and dry conditions.

If for any reason your garden does not enjoy shade, consider growing hostas in containers. These planted containers will add a stunning feature when nestled in a shady portion of your patio or terrace.

Read other articles on plants and gardens

Read other articles by George Geralis