Designing a Hosta Shade Garden

A hosta shade garden can turn a shady problem area into a beautiful centerpiece.  They have large, tropical-looking leaves, a neat clumping growth habit, and flower spikes in white, purple, or lavender.   Hostas can grow to anywhere between a few inches and 4 feet in height, but most hostas are 1 to 3 feet.

Begin Your Design with a Site Evaluation. 

Measure the area, amend the soil, and observe the light during the morning and afternoon. If it is in shade all day long, consider this deep shade. If sunlight pokes through the trees above the garden, this is filtered light. If sun shines directly into the garden for more than an hour in either morning or afternoon, this is considered partial shade. In general, hostas prefer morning sun and midday shade.

Draw Your Plan on Graph Paper.

Measure and plot your garden accurately, noting trees, shrubs, rocks, paths and sidewalks. Indicate deep shade areas, and those with more light. Select your plant varieties according to the light they do best in.

Designing for Height and Balance.

Lower-growing hostas can be used along walkways and rock walls, while taller specimens can be used in the rear of a garden. If the garden shape is round or oval, the taller varieties should be in the center, with declining heights used toward the edges. You may want to use a hosta to signal a path's beginning or end, nestle one by a rock, or as an accent at the base of a birdbath. Plan for flower spikes in mid-summer, held about 12 inches above the foliage.

Choose Varieties that Differ in Leaf Shape as well as Color.

Leaves may be oval, heart-shaped or lance-like, with smooth or puckered surfaces and flat or wavy edges. Hostas come in many varieties, some with green leaves, some with blue, and some with variegated leaves. Sunlight will intensify the color contrasts in the variegated leaves. If it is too strong, it will fade the leaves on the blue and green varieties. 

Add Texture with Other Shade-Loving Perennials.

If you plant exclusively hostas in your garden, it may be a bit boring. Mix in astilbes, columbines, sweet woodruff, violas and pansies, heuchera (a/k/a/ coral bells), ferns, pulmonaria, and bulbs such as crocus, grape hyacinth and tulips. Add baskets of impatiens or begonias in the summer for extra color.

Prepare Your Soil before Buying Your Plants.

Hostas prefer a rich organic soil with a slightly acidic balance. Before planting, add generous amounts of organic materials, such as compost or spaghnum peat moss. Use a shovel or spade to turn the soil as you add amendments. Break up large soil clumps as you go. When the soil falls easily off the shovel and the amendments are evenly incorporated, your garden is ready for planting.

Buying Plants and Planning ahead.

Take your plan with you to the garden center or nursery. The staff there can help you select varieties that meet your design needs. You don't have to buy everything the first year. Hostas will increase in size, so plan to divide your plants after 3 years or when the clump has doubled in size. It is fun to shop for new specimens each year to keep your design fresh and exciting.