Hosta Companion Planting: Learn About Plants That Grow Well With Hosta


By: Mary H. Dyer, Credentialed Garden Writer

Hostas have become extremely popular in the last few years, with good reason. Gardeners love hostas for their colorful foliage, versatility, toughness, easy growth habits, and ability to grow and thrive without bright sunlight.

Plants that Grow Well with Hosta

Once you’ve decided that hostas are the best plant for that shady garden spot, it’s time to think about the best hosta plant companions. Although they’re gorgeous on their own, it helps to add a few plants that show them off to their best advantage.

Hosta performs well in full or partial shade, so the best companions for hosta are those that are suitable for the same growing conditions. Climate isn’t a huge consideration unless you live in a very warm climate, as hosta grows in USDA plant hardiness zones 3 through 9.

Blue and green hostas are easiest to coordinate with other plants, including colorful annuals and perennials. Gold or yellow shades or variegations are trickier, as the colors may clash with other plants, especially when the hues lean towards chartreuse.

Often, it works to echo the colors in the leaves. For example, a hosta with blue leaves is complemented by purple, red, or pink flowers, while a variegated hosta with a splash of white or silver looks stunning with white flowers or other plants with silvery leaves.

Companions for Hosta

Here are a few suggestions to get you started:

Spring bulbs

  • Trillium
  • Snowdrops
  • Tulips
  • Crocus
  • Daffodils
  • Anemone
  • Caladiums

Ornamental grass

  • Sedges (Carex)
  • Japanese forest grass
  • Northern sea oats

Shrubs

  • Rhododendron
  • Azalea
  • Hydrangea

Perennials

  • Wild ginger
  • Pulmonaria
  • Heuchera
  • Ajuga
  • Dianthus
  • Astilbe
  • Maidenhair fern
  • Japanese painted fern

Annuals

  • Begonias
  • Impatiens
  • Coleus

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Lily of the Valley & Hosta Companion Plants

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Hostas (Hosta spp.), also known as plantain lilies, are must-haves for anyone who needs a reliable shade-loving plant, with their large, multicolored leaves and hardy habits. Lily-of-the-valley (Convallaria majalis), with its bladelike green leaves and small, white, bell-shaped flowers, provides a perfect contrast. Plenty of other shade-loving plants make good companions, because they also need weekly water and do well in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 5b through 10a.


Designing with Hostas

When I began growing hostas, I used the plant’s size to determine where I placed it in my border. I didn’t think about how the hostas interacted with each other or with the annuals and perennials around them. One day, I replaced a green-and-white hosta growing near a yellow daylily with a gold-variegated one. I was amazed by how much the color echo between the gold foliage and the yellow flower improved my design.

As easy as hostas are to grow, they can be a bit tricky to work into a design, especially if you want them to be the star attraction. I’ve noticed that a plain, common hosta can look stunning when it is planted among the right plants and an expensive, showy hosta can look disappointing when it clashes with its neighbors.

The key to getting the most from your hostas is using the concepts of balance and accent as you weave them into your garden design. Balancing the colors and sizes of your hostas will help them work with the rest of your design. Accenting them with the appropriate companion plants will help them get the attention they deserve.

Avoid too many brightly colored hostas

Gold works best when clustered into drifts that draw the eye from plant to plant. When gold hostas are sprinkled throughout a border, they make the composition look spotty.

One common mistake gardeners make when designing with hostas is to try to create interest with a heavy use of showy gold or variegated hostas. Because these plants pop out at you, too many of them make a garden seem chaotic rather than harmonious. To balance your design, use mainly green, blue, or subtly variegated hostas. It’s easy to balance these hostas because they are unlikely to clash with other plants around them or clamor for attention. You can use green, blue, and lightly variegated hostas almost anywhere to support other plants, add structure, and make the garden lush. These hostas have a quiet presence. The more of them you have, the more restful your garden will be.

Another reason strongly variegated or yellow hostas can be hard to design with is because they catch and hold the eye. Most hostas with white variegation make great focal points, but not all gold hostas do. The brightness of their leaves depends greatly on how much sun they get. In full shade, gold hostas tend to turn chartreuse. They are at their best when grown in morning sun because it provides enough light for their gold color to develop without scorching their leaves.

Use flowers to accent hosta leaves

The soft yellow flowers of ‘Cheddar’ trollius (Trollius × cultorum ‘Cheddar’, Zones 5–8) enhance the gold-variegated leaves of ‘Shade Fanfare’ hosta.

Working with color is one of the most exciting aspects of designing with hostas because their leaves range from sharp white or brilliant yellow to silvery blue or near-black green. These colors become even more striking when you accent them with other plants. Once you start doing this, you’ll be amazed at the improvement in your designs.

Color has a magical way of tying plants together so that the eye flows from one to the next. An unremarkable, solid-colored hosta suddenly becomes beautiful because its color is enriched by a neighboring plant. A blue hosta, for example, looks great planted among pink and purple flowers. The leaf color of a gold hosta becomes more intense when it is echoed by yellow flowers or contrasted with purple flowers. Even if a plant has just a small splash of the color you want to echo, it will be effective. For instance, a daylily with a yellow throat will enhance a gold hosta.

The most striking combinations include variegated hostas because providing a color accent emphasizes the amazing foliage patterns. White flowers make white-variegated leaves look sharper, and yellow flowers make the gold variegation on hostas look brighter. It’s that simple.

Most shady perennials like astilbes (Astilbe spp. and cvs., USDA Hardiness Zones 3–8) and meadow rues (Thalictrum spp. and cvs., Zones 3–10) are excellent color companions for hostas, but they bloom only for a few weeks. Use shade-tolerant annuals like impatiens (Impatiens walleriana cvs.), nicotiana (Nicotiana spp. and cvs.), browallia (Browallia speciosa and cvs.), torenia (Torenia fournieri and cvs.), and coleus (Solenostemon scutellarioides cvs.) for season-long color and the opportunity to try different color combinations each year.

Certain situations call for specific hostas

‘Green Fountain’
Photo/Illustration: courtesy of the Gardens of Sunshine Hollow ‘Krossa Regal’
Photo/Illustration: Todd Meier ‘Sun Power’
Photo/Illustration: Jennifer Benner ‘Blue Angel’
Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais

On a slope or near a pond or stream
Consider hostas that have a distinctive cascading form like ‘Green Fountain’, ‘Niagara Falls’, ‘Jade Cascade’, or ‘Permanent Wave’ to draw the eye down a hill or to a water feature. Hostas with leaves that have a white underside, like green ‘Maekawa’ or blue ‘Azure Snow’, are more striking when you can look up at them.

Near a tree or post
Select one of the many beautiful vase-shaped hostas to accent ver­tical elements in the landscape. Their upright form helps link the lower-growing plants to the tree or structure. Some of the best include ‘Krossa Regal’, ‘Regal Splendor’, ‘Sagae’, ‘Sun Power’, and Hosta nigrescens.

‘Sum and Substance’
Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais ‘Halcyon’
Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais ‘Guacamole’
Photo/Illustration: Michelle Gervais

In slug-prone areas
If you have wet areas that are infested with slugs, plant thick-leaved hostas because they are more resistant to slug damage. These hostas also tend to hold up better under adverse con­ditions, so they look good all season. Try Hosta sieboldiana var. elegans, ‘Blue Angel’, ‘Sum and Sub­stance’, ‘Sagae’, ‘June’, ‘Halcyon’, or ‘Inniswood’.

Near a path or bench
In areas that invite lingering or close inspection, use hostas that are best appreciated up close. ‘Pandora’s Box’, ‘Baby Bunting’, ‘Raspberry Sorbet’, and other small varieties are good candidates. Or choose fragrant-flowered hostas like Hosta plantaginea, ‘Guacamole’, ‘Fragrant Bouquet’, ‘Fragrant Blue’, and ‘So Sweet’.

One hosta can complement another

Hostas with something in common get along best. The bold ‘Sun Power’ sets the color theme for the entire vignette. The thin, subtly variegated foliage of ‘Stilletto’ and the solid green of ‘Nagaeto’ echo the colors of ‘Wide Brim’.

It’s easy to succeed with hostas, and once you’ve grown one, you’re likely to get drawn in by the many varieties available. But putting a lot of hostas together can raise design challenges because the hostas can clash with each other or they can create an uninteresting group. Ideally, if two hostas are close together, one should complement the other. A simple design trick is to use a solid-colored hosta to echo a color in a variegated one. For instance, you might place a gold hosta next to a gold-variegated hosta or a green hosta next to a green-and-white-variegated hosta.

Avoid planting a bold, white-variegated hosta near a solid gold or gold-variegated one because they will compete for attention. Each needs its own territory, so place them away from each other and surround them with green or blue hostas and other plants with soothing foliage.

Tame bold leaves with delicate foliage. The fine texture of Corydalis ochroleuca contrasts beau­tifully with the coarse leaves of the varie­gated ‘Blue Shadows’ and the solid green ‘Candy Hearts’ hostas.

The leaves of many gold hostas, especially when they are grown in some sun, are brighter than the leaves of blue and green hostas. While your eye will pass easily over dark foliage, it will be drawn to the fabulous bronze color of a gold hosta. So if gold hostas are scattered around the garden, they will look like yellow dots, making the garden appear busy. Instead, place them in small groups to create drifts of gold. The eye will then move easily from one to the other because they are linked by color and planted close together.

There is wide color variation among gold hostas, and some may look better together than others. You may have to experiment to find pleasing combinations.

You can also combine hostas with the same leaf color, but make sure they differ in another characteristic. If you want to plant two blue hostas close to each other, select one that has large leaves and one that has small leaves. Or try one that has heart-shaped leaves with one that has long, lance-shaped leaves. If hostas are too much alike, they will look boring together, but if they have nothing in common, they will merely look like isolated plants.

The best combinations feature hostas different enough to be interesting yet similar enough to look like they belong together.

Use fine textures to balance hostas

Not only does the foliage of ‘Reddy Maid’ Siberian iris contrast with that of ‘Regal Splendor’ hosta, but the blooms provide a color accent.

Because most hostas form a dense mound of cascading leaves, they have a heavy, solid look that should be made lighter by fine-textured companions. What could be more dramatic than a lacy maidenhair fern (Adiantum pedatum, Zones 3–8) resting against a hosta with thick, corrugated leaves? The contrast in size makes the hosta look even bolder. The garden then becomes more engaging because one wants to pause and look more closely at the interaction between the two plants.

Ferns are the best fine-textured companions for hostas in deep shade. If the hostas are growing in partial sun, astilbes, goatsbeards (Aruncus dioicus and cvs., Zones 3–7), and bugbanes (Cimicifuga spp. and cvs., Zones 3–8) can balance the hostas’ coarse foliage.

Don’t forget to include plants with medium texture to help knit the fine-textured plants and hostas together. In shade, use epimediums (Epimedium spp. and cvs., Zones 5–9), Solomon’s seals (Polygonatum spp. and cvs., Zones 3–9), and bigroot cranesbills (Geranium macrorrhizum and cvs., Zones 4–8). In partial sun, you’ll have a choice of many more perennials including daylilies (Hemerocallis spp. and cvs., Zones 3–10) and martagon lilies (Lilium martagon, Zones 3–7).

As you play one hosta off another and set them among other plants that make them look their best, you’ll soon discover how easy it is to create beautiful combinations. Balance and accent are simple ideas, but they will transform your garden and make you feel like an artist.


Choosing Companion Plants for Your Hostas

Hostas are hardy, reliable plants known for their lush green foliage that thrive. In the summertime they will bloom with purple or white flowers, but their most noticeable attribute is their leafage. Companion planting is an important aspect of gardening because it teaches you what types of plants go well with others. This is true for hostas as it is with any flower. For some, companion planting is a good way to keep pests away while other companions attract beneficial insects to pollinate. Since hostas make excellent groundcovers and go well in shade gardens and under trees, good companions will enjoy the same surroundings.

Shady Companions

Hostas will tolerate both full and partial shade. Thus, planting under broad trees or on the north side of the house are suitable growing locations. Flowers such as corydalis, hepatica and epimediums all tolerate shade as well and will blend in nicely with the broad green leaves of hostas. Other plants that tolerate very shady conditions are astillbe, baptisia, bellflower, bleeding heart dianthus, geranium and lungwort. There are others, both annual and perennial that like shade as much as hostas and will add splashes of color to the mix.

Perennials that are good companions for hostas include snowdrops, tulips, daffodils and forget-me-nots. Annuals such as impatiens, begonias and coleus make excellent planting mates as well. Miniature bright red roses sprinkled among hostas make for a wonderfully vibrant contrast. In the early growing season, plant hostas around spring bulbs. As they bloom, the wild color will coordinate with the green of the lower hostas. As they begin to fade, the hostas will work to cover up the receding foliage. Hostas also do well with ferns.

Companion Groundcover

A variety of hosta called the cheesecake makes an excellent groundcover, for it grows only about 8 inches high. Other low lying plants that can be used with hostas as a substitute for grass include lady’s mantle, lamium, lily-of-the-valley, pachysandra and vinca. Anything that is bright and flowery and can tolerate similar soil and shade conditions will go well with hostas. They provide a rich, green backdrop for their more colorful companions, creating a beautiful garden scene in any area that does not get that much sunlight.

Growing Hostas

Hostas like rich soil that is well drained with a nice combination of nutrients and organic matter. It should not be too acidic or too alkaline. They grow best when exposed to sun in the morning and can be kept cool and out of the sun in the afternoon, but too much shade will not let them thrive.

Learning about companion planting is a necessity if gardening is a passion. You not only get a feel for the aesthetics of pairing certain plants with one another, but–especially with herbs or vegetables–you learn how to naturally repel pests and attract beneficial visitors. Companions for ornamental plants such as hostas are numerous, and they include both perennials and annuals. Plant your hostas as groundcover in a shady area and surround them with beautiful, flowery mates.


CAROLYN'S SHADE GARDENS

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade. The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas. For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to [email protected] Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

When finding containers for your hostas you have to think outside the box: “Carolyn’s Gold” hosta in an antique kerosene can.

This is the third post in a three-part series on small hostas. My nursery specializes in miniature hostas, and I have over 30 varieties available right now, both at the nursery and mail order . In I LOVE Mice , I raved about the mouse ears series of hostas. In Beyond Mice , I highlighted some of my favorite non-mouse ears hostas. My 2011 post Miniature (& Small) Hostas also gives an overview of little hostas and how to use them in the garden. Now I want to focus on the containers you might use to hold your hostas and the plants that will keep them company.

Probably my favorite medium sized hosta, the straight species Hosta tokudama.

Why would you want to grow hostas in a container? One reason I do it is to highlight a hosta’s very special ornamental attributes. I think Hosta tokudama (photo above) is gorgeous so I grow it in a pot outside my front door. Here are some other hostas that I think merit their own container (read my previous hosta posts for photos of other single hosta containers):

Hosta ‘Little Miss Sunshine’ has bright gold leaves and deep red stems that look like rhubarb. I placed its pot on a wall by my front walk so I can admire the stems up close.


The elegant hosta ‘Hanky Panky’ grows in an old dogwood stump, also along my front walk.

I love the very unusual hosta ‘Praying Hands’ and have it in three different containers, here with violas.

There is no other miniature hosta that looks like ‘Sparkler’ so I gave it its own spot in an antique metal pitcher salvaged from the dump.

Small hostas can get lost when planted in perennial borders unless they are massed. Growing special miniature hostas in containers brings them up to eye level. Here are 16 miniatures in my strawberry pot:

It also allows you to pair them with other miniature plants to create a tiny garden. My previous posts contain many photos of my containers of little hostas. However, I thought I would show you some of the planters I have recently created to give my customers ideas and to sell at my upcoming hosta open house:




All these containers were purchased inexpensively at flea markets and antique stores or were salvaged from the dump at the bottom of our property. You probably have a suitable pot, pan, or other hosta garden holder gathering dust in your attic right now.

Hosta gardens waiting at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens for a new home.

Choosing tiny companion plants to go with your miniature hostas is another fun part of growing them in containers or in a rock garden. Plant collecting urges are satisfied by all the plants that can be crammed into a small area. In the planters above, I used violas, sedums, hens and chicks, ‘Heartthrob’ violet, ‘Tiny Rubies’ dianthus, and pasque flower (Pulsatilla). Here are some more combinations:

Hostas ‘Shiny Penny’, ‘Green Eyes’, and ‘Itsy Bitsy Spider’ paired with sedum, hens and chicks, and rosularia in my dish garden.

Mouse ears hostas with dwarf Solomon’s seal, Polygonatum humile, in my stone trough.

Hostas ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ and ‘Blonde Elf’ with miniature lady fern, Athyrium filix-femina ‘Minutissimum’, in the rock garden.

Hostas ‘Little Blue’, ‘Blonde Elf’, and ‘Little Wonder’ with a small epimedium in the rock garden.

Gardening with tiny plants and salvaged containers is so much fun. I hope you will give it a try.

Nursery Happenings: If you are interested in receiving miniature hostas mail order , click here.

If you are within visiting distance and would like to receive catalogues and information about customer events, please send your full name and phone number to [email protected] Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.

Facebook: Carolyn’s Shade Gardens has a Facebook page where I post single photos, garden tips, and other information that doesn’t fit into a blog post. You can look at my Facebook page here or click the Like button on my right sidebar here.

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information. If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.) or to subscribe to my blog, just click here.


Tall Plants

With lilies-of-the-valley scattered at ground level and plantain lilies in the middle of your shady garden bed, you need taller plants for the back. Good choices include “Grandiflora Alba” bellflower (Campanula persicifolia), rising up to 3 feet with white flowers, or “Bright Eyes” phlox (Phlox paniculata), rising up to 5 feet with flowers in shades of pink. These plants work best with a light-colored plantain lily, such as H. fortunei “Gold Standard,” whose yellow leaves are tinged with green.


Fall (Maturation of seeds and onset of dormancy) late September-October-November

As the days shorten toward winter, hostas prepare for dormancy. As the chloroplasts begin to break down and the bright yellows of hidden pigments, caroteins and xanthrophylls, begin to appear, green hosta leaves turn to gold. The leaves then begin to dry and petioles weaken and droop. The dry air helps the ripe seed pods to spring open, allowing the seeds to fly away on the wind. Usually it takes two or three hard freezes to knock the shriveled hosta foliage to the ground, while the flower scapes will persist intact through the first snows of winter.

Labeling: Make sure every hosta has a label before it becomes unidentifiable. The ones in pots probably need a new label as well. They tend to fade over the winter.

Light: The leaves are falling and the light continues to fade never the less. The days shorten inducing dormancy.

Pests: Only the voles are a problem now. Begin to bait and trap again.

Protection: Remove tree leaves from the garden to discourage the voles from moving in. I use a leaf blower and not a rake. Finish cutting flower scapes. Apply mulch to your new plantings and touch up as needed.

Propagation: Hurry up! It is almost too late.

Water: Make sure your hostas are full of water the night before the first hard freeze. Usually rain comes with the first real cold front of the season, but if the fall has been dry you might need to soak the garden one more time before you lock the pump house for the winter.

Fun! Collect a few seeds and plant them right away. They will be up in 2-3 weeks and you will have a few hostas to play with all winter. Cheer up. I know your hostas look terrible now, tired from another full turn of their life cycle. This last sad memory of them as they retire for the year, I believe, just makes them look that much more perfect when they emerge with their fresh leaves next spring. Take a break, you have earned it!


Keys to Hosta Garden Design

  1. Select companion plantings for hosta with contrasting texture. Look at the photograph at the top of this article. Imagine the planting with nothing but hosta. Now imagine the planting without the hosta. It is the variety that creates interest. Even though there are three Sum and Substance hosta in this planting, the grouping is effective because of the contrasting textures.
  2. Plant groupings of the same hosta cultivar together. This is a tough one for the hosta collectors out there (you know who you are). Again, take a look at the photograph and imagine three large hostas: a big blue like Hosta sieboldiana, a big variegated variety such as Francis Williams, and one Sum and Substance hosta. A hallmark of good design is repetition, and three different hostas planted in close proximity can overwhelm the overall effect…the scenario just described is the way most hosta plantings are laid out.
  3. Treasure each cultivar like the jewel it is. There are tons of plants that look best casually dispersed around the garden. Columbine and wood sorrel spring to mind. Hosta, because of their larger-than-life textures and colors have to be placed with restraint and consideration. If you love a particular variety of hosta, then create a showplace in an area for that specific hosta. Surround one carefully tended hosta with a beautiful and appropriate supporting cast. Maybe plant three of a particular hosta cultivar together and another off to the side, interspersed with your favorite ferns or perennials.
  4. Surround your hosta. A technique almost never used, but which I use almost exclusively with Sum and Substance hosta is to plant the hosta on the interior of the garden space. Separate the hosta from the viewer. Beginning hosta gardeners tend to plant hosta at the back, with the idea that the large foliage will be more in scale when viewed at a distance. Over time, the gardener may come to realize that planting the big hosta at the front of the planting is often more effective. My preferred method is neither choice above. I like to surround Sum and Substance hostas with as many textures and shades of dark green as I can find. The goal is to create a rich tapestry. With a blue hosta such as Sieboldiana elegans, perhaps a fern with cool tones is where it’s at (Japanese painted fern below).
Sieboldiana elegans hosta with painted fern.

Watch the video: How to Plant White Feather Hosta Plant in the Garden


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