Yes, you can grow hostas in sun or shade. We think of hostas as shade plants, but there are plenty of sun-tolerant varieties providing gorgeous leaf colors, textures, flowers, and fragrance.
If you would like more plant ideas, see Best Flowering Plants for a Cottage-Style Garden.
Hosta Growing Tips | Sun or Shade
With over 8000+ hosta cultivars in the world, there are a lot of hosta options for your garden.
Colours include deep greens, light greens, blues, grays, yellows, white, and gold, and chartreuse varieties.
The key to success beyond right plant for the right space, is moisture. Yes, they can be sun-tolerant but that does not mean they are drought-tolerant. Hostas need consistent moisture to thrive. Sunlight is rarely an issue, but intense heat and dry conditions are. If you can keep good, even moisture and never let the plant dry out, you’re on the road to hosta happiness.
Planted in deeper shade, a hosta may not grow to its full potential. It’s the light that encourages foliage colour changes and flowering.
As a perennial in a cold climate, hostas go through distinct stages each year.
- Spring The first signs of spring growth come when the hosta ‘noses’ emerg from the soil. These are furled buds that will grow into leaves. The unfurling stage is my favorite. There is something intriguing about so much growth coming up from seemingly bare earth.
- Late spring is the time of rapid root and foliage growth.
- Summer is the big show. The plant is at its peak size for the year. Some varieties flower. Warmer growing zones may trigger second leaves and blooms.
- Fall marks the time for dormancy to begin. Growth slows and stops, leaves may change color with hidden pigments becoming visible (just like tree leaves). Gradually the leaves die off and the hosta vanishes. The roots are there, of course, but there may be little or no evidence of them above ground. This is why long-lasting plant tags can be so valuable, preventing accidental trampling of the soil or digging in spring. If the fall season is dry, a nice deep drink of water for the roots is a good idea when first frost is imminent. Seeds can be collected from dry seed pods for sowing indoors.
- Winter is the dormant period. Just as many flowering bulbs need a consistent chilling period for spring growth, hostas need their winter rest. At least 30 days with temperatures below 40℉ (4°C) is best.
What is the key to healthy hostas?
Always choose plants suitable for your growing zone and conditions.
Even moisture is key. Whether you plant your hostas in dappled shade or a sunny location, you want those roots to have access to water throughout the growing seasons. Drip irrigation hoses are one option.
I use two-inches of organic mulch on my beds to keep moisture in and (gradually) enrich the soil.
Which hostas like sun or shade?
There’s lots! I’ve provided a hosta variety list below. Use it as a starting point at your local garden nursery or ask a hosta specialist and see what they have to offer. In general, it’s all about even moisture and ensuring the plants do not dry out. As a general rule, hostas with thicker leaves manage heat better, because they contain more moisture, but there are lots on the list that happily contradict this.
Also, keep in mind that sunlight can vary greatly: time of day, temporary shade from buildings or plants, altitude, and more can change the intensity and exposure.
I find the more I get to know my garden and pay attention to the light throughout the days and seasons, the better plant location choices I make. And, the good thing with hostas is, you can always move them.
How will I know if the hosta likes its sunny location?
As you would guess, in the right location, the plant will thrive. The foliage will turn to that beautiful colour you saw in the catalogue, and, if it’s a flowering variety, flowers will form.
A heat-stressed hosta will stop growing, and the leaves may get brown edges or light spots.
Unless a plant is really struggling, make sure you give it time to adapt to its location. If new leaves are forming, you know the roots are settling in and growing.
Hosta Care Tips
Watch for tips on dividing hostas, growing hostas in containers, and sun and shade hosta suggestions.
When should I divide and transplant my hostas?
If you want to divide hosta, there are two times of year when it’s also easiest: spring before the leaves have opened (unfurled) and fall when the foliage is dying off and it’s easy to see where to dig.
Truly, if the hosta is healthy, you can move it any time, but it can get messy trying to get nice clean cuts through the mass of leaves and stems.
If you’re moving the plants in fall, allow at least 6 weeks before first frost so the newly transplanted plant has time to settle in. Provide extra water so the roots can recover before winter.
Can I grow hostas in containers?
Yes! Hosta leaves come in so many beautiful variations and look great in pots.
Also, growing in containers is a great workaround if you have poor soil or suspect you will want to move the plant around to find its best growing location in your garden.
Some hostas grow very deep roots (18-inches), so a large, deep container is best. You must keep up with watering and may want to add drip irrirgation if you are away in the summer.
To overwinter your potted hosta, water deeply before storing, place a piece of hardware cloth and a rock on top of the soil, and keep in a cool place (not freezing) until spring.
Why are some hostas so huge?
Several factors: the cultivar (some are much bigger than others), age of the plant, optimum growing conditions include root space, and fertilizer. It’s a good bet that most gardeners with giant—and I mean giant—hostas are maxing out the fertilizers.
The Book of Little Hostas has lovely ideas for growing mini, small, and very small varieties. Charming!
Which fertilizer is best for hostas?
It depends what you want to achieve. Each type of fertilizer targets specific growth needs or deficiencies. And you can most certainly overdo it.
And often you do not actually need it.
Personally, I do not use any synthetic or “chemical” fertilizers and rely instead on compost to enrich the health of my soil.
I know other gardeners who use slow-release granular fertilizers in spring (10-10-10) when the hosta noses are poking up in spring. With equal proportions of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K), these encourage overall growth. But don’t jump out and get some! Focus on soil health with organic matter and consistent moisture and that’s all you need.
If you suspect a true deficiency, get your soil analyzed by a lab that will provide specific improvement recommendations.
Or, grow them in containers so you can control the soil.
Can I grow hostas from seed?
Yes. If you want to grow new plants from the ones you have, allow your flowering hostas to turn to seed and collect those seeds for sowing. Hosta fans recommend sowing the seeds right away indoor and nurturing them over the winter. They are slow-growers, so this allows lots of time for the plants to get established before planting outdoors in late spring.
Related: How to Start Seeds Indoors
Keep in mind that because most hostas are cultivars, the new plants may not be identical to the parent plants. If you want true new plants, divide the ones you have instead.
What are common hosta pests or problems?
Slugs. Voles. Deer. Foliar nematodes (worms). Petiole rot (fungus).
What to do?
- Handpick slugs.
- Physically block voles (hardware cloth or grow in containers) and deer (deer fence). Easier said than done!
- Foliar nematodes: confirm first, then get rid of plant. Sorry!
- Petiole rot: confirm with a lab test and remove plant. Sorry again. I’m Canadian so I have to say it.
Sun-Tolerant Hostas Plants
I compiled this hosta variety list from many sources (gardens, books, articles). There are 8000+ hosta cultivars so there are many more sun-tolerant hostas than I’m listing here. Take them as suggestions and be willing to move your plants around until you find their sweet spots.
Hostas need even moisture, good soil, and root space. Watch for any signs of heat-fatigue. If you see wilting, stalled growth, brown leaf edges or discoloured spots, they are drying out too much. To remedy this, provide more shade, add mulch, or move them.
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~Melissa the Empress of Dirt ♛
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