I only plant two cultivars of hosta. One is Hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’ and the other is ‘Sum and Substance’. They are both huge hostas, easy to grow if provided good growing conditions and adequate water. Unless you are a collector, and the hosta world is a world of collectors, hostas can be tough to use effectively in the garden.
We think of hostas as being perfect for our woodland gardens, but so many woodland plants are subtle. When I see hostas planted in woodland gardens they take my eyes away from everything else, so bold is their form. Perhaps more importantly, unless one lives in a northwestern North American forest full of big plants, many hostas are too formal and too large to seem at home in woodlands.
Where hostas do shine in my estimation is in formal gardens, in terra cotta containers, and tucked away half obscured by ferns and such. Especially on the last point, when we do unexpectedly stroll upon a big blue hosta such as sieboldiana ‘Elegans’ it comes as a pleasant and welcome surprise.
I realize that every time I write about a hosta, instead of describing the cultivar, I spend most of my words describing my belief about their best use in the garden. Hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’ is one of the largest of all the hostas. It can grow five or six feet wide, with distinctive blue-green, puckered leaves reaching over a foot across.
The Hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’ pictured herein has been in our garden for five years, largely forgotten in full shade and in a fully ignored part of the garden. The soil quality is excellent where we planted it, but it was otherwise completely left on its own. We cleared the morass away and sieboldiana ‘Elegans’ splendidly revealed itself as spring progressed.
I was as surprised as anyone to see how magnificent the Hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’ had grown.
Hostas are tough plants, very cold hardy, and capable of handling poor soil. If you are going to go to the trouble of planting a hosta in your garden, give it love. So many of the afore-mentioned woodland planted hostas languish because they are competing with the trees for moisture. I’ve seen a lot of hostas crammed into holes literally hacked out from between tree roots.
Dry shade is perhaps the most difficult place to garden well.
By the way, hostas like morning sun and actually prefer it. The dangerous time in the southeastern United States is after 1:00 or so. Keep hostas shaded during the hottest parts of the day.
Hostas are not the fastest growing plants even in the best conditions, but people who grow big hostas make sure their plants receive plenty of compost and plenty of water. You will find lots of resources online offering insight into how to grow huge hostas, but it really comes down to a few basics.
How to grow huge hostas
- Pick a variety that gets large. More people than you might think plant a hosta cultivar with a mature size that is small to medium. Hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’ and ‘Sum and Substance’ are my two choices and I don’t overthink it. Empress Wu is perhaps the largest of all. Empress Wu stands up really tall, which you may or may not prefer.
- Dig a large hole and fill it full of compost and high-quality soil. Really overdo it. It should be well-drained and 12″-18″ deep at the minimum. Deeper is even better but we all hit hardpan at some point. 36″ wide is about right.
- Make sure your hostas get plenty of water to the roots.
- A little bit of compost around the plant in late spring is a good idea. You can mulch to preserve water and keep the soil cool but watch out for slugs if they are prevalent in your area.
- Patience is needed. Especially for the first couple of years, it may seem like your hosta barely grows at all. It’s worth the wait.
If you have a hosta that languishes for years doing nothing, it is most likely poor soil conditions and/or not enough moisture. Don’t hesitate to lift and re-plant in a better location. Slugs can be a major headache. Have a look here for help.
|Genus/species||Hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’|
|Common name(s)||Hosta sieboldiana ‘Elegans’|
|Of note||hostas can take morning sun and grow better when they get sun – the blue-green leaves are large, crinkled, and full of character – gets huge in the correct growing conditions|
|Soil quality||rich, well-drained|
|Suggested use(s)||cottage gardens, formal, shade gardens|
|Hardiness zone(s)||4a, 4b, 5a, 5b, 6a, 6b, 7a, 7b, 8a, 8b, 9a, 9b|
|Deciduous or evergreen||deciduous|
|Exposure||afternoon shade, filtered light, full shade|3