Great Plants for Northern Gardens: Day 27 — Hostas

Rochester hosta garden

This large garden uses hosta as a back-bone plant.

If ever there was a collector plant for northern gardens, hosta would be it. We have met many gardeners with 100, 200, 300, sometimes more varieties of hostas growing in their Minnesota gardens. The reasons for hosta’s popularity are understandable: toughness, ease of care and variety, variety, variety.

Toughness: Hostas are generally hardy to USDA Zone 3 or 4. They can survive in areas of deep shade, though they do best in sites with some sunlight or dappled shade. With a bit of garden fertilizer or compost and a moderate supply of water most hostas will thrive. They are not indestructible, however. Both slugs and deer can ruin a stand of hosta, and the Hosta Virus X has periodically been a problem in Minnesota.

hosta and shrub

Hostas blend beautifully with shrubs, perennials and trees.

Ease of care: Many ambivalent gardeners with large properties rely on hostas because of their ease of care. Adequate moisture and fertilizer are all they really need. You can cut them back in fall or spring and they come back year after year. You can divide them every few years to get more plants, or not. They bloom once a season (and some hosta growers remove the flowers) so they don’t require deadheading or any other day-to-day maintenance.

Variety: This is the reason gardeners collect hostas. They range from giant (‘Sum and Substance’) to tiny (‘Teeny-weeny Bikini’); from broad (‘Final Summation’) to narrow (‘American Hero’); from blue (‘Blue Mouse Ears’) to yellow (‘Gold Standard’) to every shade of green imaginable. Many hostas are variegated, including lemon-edged ‘Sagae’ hosta,  and the popular ‘Albo-marginata’, which has a deep green leaf with a nearly white edge. Many hostas have white streaks, such as the popular new hosta ‘Twist and Shout,’ or largely white hostas such as ‘Christmas Candy’ hosta or ‘White Christmas’ hosta. The white flowers of plain old Hosta plantaginea provide contrast and brightness in late summer shade beds.

hosta and art

Minnesota is home to several hosta breeders, including professionals like Hans Hansen, who introduced ‘Stained Glass’, among many others, and amateurs, such as Jerry Williams, who discovered and named ‘Praying Hands’, the 2011 Hosta of the Year.

What are your favorite hostas for northern gardens?