Diverse, Beautiful Garden Hostas

Diverse, beautiful garden Hostas come in all colors and sizes.

The plant kingdom never ceases to amaze me with the diversity that it offers. Even plants in the same genus can have very unique traits in leaf color and texture, growth habits, environmental preferences, winter hardiness, heat tolerance, and flowers. A good example of a diverse genus is Hosta, commonly called the plantain lily.

Many garden plants, such as roses, are grown just for their flowers. Hostas, on the other hand, are grown more for their foliage. While hostas do have flowers, and some of the flowers are fragrant, the glorious mounds of textural foliage are the primary attraction.

Diverse Hostas

In the garden, Hostas blend beautifully with all manner of flowering perennials and annuals.

Hostas are native to eastern Asia, but they are so widely planted in American gardens that they almost appear to be native plants. Hostas can be found in home gardens from coast to coast and tend to perform well in all but the hottest, driest areas. They have adapted especially well in the Pacific Northwest, so it is easy to understand why one might think they are native to this region.

In the mid-1900s, the hosta grown in many gardens was Hosta plantaginea, a big clump of a plant with large green leaves and tall, fragrant wands of white flowers in late summer. The Hosta palette has changed dramatically in the past 100 years because each year new varieties are introduced. Now there are thousands from which to choose. The Sebright Gardens in Salem, Oregon, lists about 500 different types in their catalog–from miniatures reaching to just a few inches to 4-foot giants. With that kind of number and variety, it can be challenging to make a selection. Sometimes you have to buy several…

Shadowland® ‘Empress Wu’ is a spectacularly large hosta from Proven Winners that grows quickly and has a real presence. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

When choosing a Hosta, I would first decide on the ultimate size of the plant for your location, and then select the foliage color and texture that appeals to you. Hosta leaves generally range in color from dark green to chartreuse to those with waxy leaves in shades of grey, blue, or sea green. There are also many variegated forms, and some leaves have a distinctly crinkled, corrugated, or quilt-like texture or undulating edges.

My Favorite Hostas

‘Blue Mouse Ears’ is a miniature hosta with blue-green, cup-shaped leaves and small spikes of lavender flowers in summer.

I cannot list all of my favorite hostas because there are too many, but here is a small list of those well worth growing.

For a miniature type, my favorite is Blue Mouse Ears’. We have had this in a small pot on our patio for several years, and it only gets about 6 inches high. It forms a nice compact clump and is attractive all summer with its blue leaves. Going from the miniature to the giant, Shadowland® Empress Wu’ makes a spectacular specimen plant with dark green leaves that have deeply impressed veins. ‘Empress Wu’ can reach a height of up to four feet and makes a thick mound of foliage. Another one of the ‘giant’ types is Sum and Substance’which has chartreuse yellow leaves and provides a pop of color in a shady corner. ‘Curly Fries’ has unique long, narrow, tapered yellow leaves with rippled edges. A longtime favorite in gardens is ‘Earth Angel’, which has textured leaves that are heart-shaped with a creamy-white border. ‘Mini Skirt’ is a low-growing type that gets very dense with wavy leaves that are blue-green with creamy edges.

Planting Hostas

‘Sum and Substance’ is a very large hosta with textural, chartreuse leaves.

There is a hosta for almost any garden. If given the right growing conditions, hosta plants will thrive. As a general rule, they are shade-loving plants, although most will perform well in an area with morning sun. They do not like the hot afternoon summer sun, and their leaves will often burn with too much. Plant them in soil amended with an ample supply of compost. Black Gold Garden Compost Blend is ideal for working into the soil around hostas at the time of planting. For established plants, a yearly top dressing of Black Gold Earthworm Castings Blend and compost benefits the plants and the soil.

While the cool and moist Northwest climate is ideal for growing hostas, this climate is also ideal for the common garden slug– the number one pest of hostas. Usually, some type of slug control (such as the organic Sluggo) is necessary to prevent leaves from becoming chewed and hole-filled due to slug damage. Some hosta plants with thick, crinkled leaves tend to be more slug resistant, but not slug proof!

Most garden centers and nurseries have a wide variety of hostas for sale.

There are so many different and diverse hostas that a trip to your local garden center will give you a clue as to what is available. Even small garden centers tend to have many types. Hostas do die to the ground in the fall but are very winter hardy and easy to divide after several years. Give them a shady location with a soil rich in compost, and they will reward you for many years. And, if you really get hooked by the Hosta bug, The American Hosta Society is the best organization to join to meet other enthusiasts and learn more.

What Are Good Garden Flowers for Partial Shade?

Nothing beats classic impatiens for color in shady gardens. (Image by Jessie Keith)

“What are the best flowering plants for a mostly shady spot with some morning sun?” Question from Brigitte of Arnold, Missouri

Answer: There are so many wonderful garden flowers that grow well in partial shade but can tolerate a little sun, too. Here is a good list of long-blooming perennials and annuals that will grow well in your area under these light conditions. All of the annuals are also great for containers. Before planting any of these in the garden, I recommend amending your soil with Black Gold Garden Soil, which feeds plants for up to 6 months. Black Gold Moisture Supreme Container Mix is recommended for potted specimens.

Annual Flowers for Shade

Endless™ Illumination Bush Violet thrives in partial sun or shade. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Begonias: You can’t go wrong with begonias, as long as you provide them with good moisture, especially through the hottest summer days. Two showy high performers are Bossa Nova® Red  Begonia and Illumination® Golden Picotee tuberous begonia. Classic wax begonias that you can purchase in flats at every garden center are also inexpensive and excellent.

Bush Violets (Browallia hybrids.): These annuals are just beginning to gain popularity due to their nonstop summer flowers. Try the true-blue Endless Illumination Bush Violet.

Classic Impatiens (Impatiens walleriana): Pick up a flat of impatiens at the garden center in your favorite color, and plant them for all-summer color.

New Guinea Impatiens (Impatiens hybrids): These impatiens are generally taller and tolerant of a little more sun than classic impatiens. One that I will be planting this year is the tangerine-orange Infinity® Orange

Torenia (Torenia hybrids): You cannot go wrong with any of the spreading torenia in the Summer Wave Series. They spread and bloom from late spring to frost. Summer Wave® Large Blue is probably my favorite.

Perennial Flowers for Shade

Pink Diamonds fern-leaved bleeding heart is a great shade flower. (Image thanks to Proven Winners)

Rozanne Hardy Geranium (Geranium ‘Rozanne’): Purplish-magenta flowers are produced by this hardy geranium throughout summer.

Pink Diamonds Fern-leaved Bleeding Heart (Dicentra hybrid): Standard varieties of this pretty woodland bloomer just flower in late spring or early summer, but ‘Pink Diamonds’ offers showy pink flowers all summer long.

Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaticata): Blooming in mid to late spring, wild blue phlox bears airy stems of five-petaled, pale violet-blue flowers that are visited by butterflies and long-tongued bees. The variety ‘Blue Moon’ has especially large flowers of violet-blue Plants will naturalize over time.

Foamflower (Tiarella spp.): These pretty perennials have attractive foliage and foamy flowers that appear in late spring. Try the new Proven Winners variety ‘Cutting Edge’.

Heuchera (Heuchera hybrids): Here’s another for both beautiful flowers and foliage. There are hundreds of varieties on the market with beautifully colored (gold, orange, burgundy, purple, red, etc.) and textured leaves and wands of colorful spring flowers. The variety Dolce® ‘Spearmint’ coral bells is a very strong bloomer. Terra Nova nurseries develops the most fantastic forms of this garden favorite.

Happy flower gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

What Shade Plants Will Grow Beneath White Pines?

‘Cutting Edge’ foamflower is a good shade perennial to grow beneath white pines.

My backyard has lots of huge white pines that I want to landscape around. What plants grow best [beneath pines] in Midwest weather and [like] mostly shade? Question from Karen of Adel, Iowa

Answer: You are looking for shade-loving perennials and small shrubs adapted to slightly acid soils. There are quite a few that will grow well in your USDA Hardiness Zone 5 garden. Here are just a few suggestions.

Low Shrubs

Bearberry (Arctostaphylos uva-ursi): If you are interested in a ground-hugging evergreen shrub that spreads and has festive red berries in summer and fall, consider bearberry. It thrives in well-drained, acid soil and survives well under pine trees. It is also native to many areas in Iowa.

Lowbush Blueberry (Vaccinium angustifolium): Small, lowbush blueberries are perfect for edible landscaping, and they grow well in acid soils and shade. They also have attractive fall leaves that turn shades of orange and red.


Foamflower (Tiarella spp.): These pretty spreading perennials have pretty foliage that looks attractive from spring to fall and foamy flowers that appear in late spring. Try the new Proven Winners variety ‘Cutting Edge’.

Heuchera (Heuchera hybrids): These may be commonly called coralbells or alumroot, and there are hundreds of varieties on the market with beautifully colored (gold, orange, burgundy, purple, red, etc.) and textured leaves. Some even send up wands of coral or white flowers. Terra Nova Nurseries develops some of the coolest varieties available.

Hostas (Hosta hybrids): Most hostas will grow beautifully in lightly shaded spots among conifers.

Lady Fern (Athyrium filix-femina): If you like ferns, this delicate looking native fern grows reliably well in slightly acid soil and shade. Just be sure to irrigate it during very dry spells.

Wild Ginger (Asarum canadense): Few native groundcovers for shade are as tough as wild ginger. It creates a mat of bright green, heart-shaped leaves that look attractive in shaded gardens. Expect clumps to spread to a few feet wide over time.

Wild Blue Phlox (Phlox divaticata): Blooming in mid to late spring, wild blue phlox bears airy stems of five-petaled, pale violet-blue flowers that are visited by butterflies and long-tongued bees. The variety ‘Blue Moon’ has especially large flowers of deep blue-violet. This one is also an Iowa native. Plants will spread and naturalize a bit over time.

You can begin planting any of these shrubs or perennials in mid-spring. Before planting, I recommend amending your garden soil with Black Gold Peat Moss and Garden Compost Blend. Be sure to feed plants with a fertilizer formulated for flowering plants at planting time as well. Then keep plants well-irrigated until they set fresh roots and begin to grow well on their own. This usually takes a couple of weeks. It is also wise to irrigate during long, hot, dry spells in summer.

Good luck with planting your new shade garden!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist

(Click here for some more shade perennial recommendations.)

(We also recommend that you read this article about evergreen ferns. Some would also work well in your garden.)

What Are Some Good Southern Plants for Shade?

“Most of my yard is shaded. What are the best plants for me? I am in Georgia.” Question from Lucretia of Elberton, Georgia

Answer: There are lots of great flowers for you to grow in your southern garden. Perennials are the best investment because they return each year. Here are eight great perennials to try that will thrive in your hot summers. It’s nice to plant a suite of flowers that will look good in spring, summer, and fall.

Good Southern Perennials for Shade

Heuchera ‘Southern Comfort’ is a beautiful shade perennial for southern gardens (blue lungwort flowers in the background). (Image by Terra Nova Nurseries)

Fall Anemones: These spreading fall-blooming flowers grow well in partial shade and add color to late-season gardens. (Read more about fall anemones here.)

Autumn Fern (Dryopteris erythrosora): This is a tough fern with coppery fronds that will take hot summer climates and thrives in shade. Just be sure to amend its soil with quality compost, like Black Gold Garden Compost Blend.

Hardy Begonia (Begonia grandis): This perennial begonia gently spreads through shaded gardens and has lovely red-veined green leaves and pink flowers.

Hostas (Hosta spp.): Hostas are perennials grown for their beautiful foliage and come in hundreds of large and small varieties. Most thrive in southern gardens. (Click here to read about super hostas for the South).

Wild Bleeding Heart (Dicentra eximia): This Georgia native is at home in shaded gardens and has ferny foliage and pretty spring flowers of pink, white, or rosy red.

Barrenwort (Epimedium spp.): This tough perennial grows really well in dry shade and can take the heat. It has lovely foliage and unique spring flowers. (Click here to read more about barrenworts for southern gardens.)

Alumroot/Coral Bells (Heuchera spp.): Heuchera are grown for their beautiful leaves and delicate flowers. They love shade and look pretty all season long. Try the elegant variety from Terra Nova Nurseries, ‘Southern Comfort‘, which has beautiful cinnamon and peach leaves.

Lungwort (Pulmonaria spp.): Like many of the plants on this list, lungwort has pretty speckled f0liage and pretty violet-blue flowers in late spring. It grows well in the South and is reliably attractive. (Click here to read more about lungwort for southern gardens.)

If you want to add nice shade-loving shrubs to your low-light perennial border, throw in a few azaleas and rhododendrons.

Happy shade gardening!

Jessie Keith

Black Gold Horticulturist