Deep shade-loving Hostas

marta_in_qcJuly 27, 2014

Hostas love shade. There are lots of posts and lots of lists about Hostas that do well in lots of sun. But what about Hostas that do well in deep shade? I thought I'd start a thread just for them.

I have a treed hillside that gets dappled sun all day. I tried to establish a few large Hostas 3 years ago, and to my dismay several of them appear to shrink each year, either coming back with fewer eyes or smaller leaves than the previous year.

What's shrinking:
- Big Daddy (it's really regressed; I've had to move it out)
- Golden Standard
- Final Summation (fewer eyes)
- Snow Cap
- Hudson Bay (just a slow grower?)

What's doing well:
- Frances Williams
- Olive Bailey Langdon
- Wide Brim
- Climax
- Francee
- Blue Angel

I hope to add more (large, very large, giant) Hostas every year, but I don't want them to to fade away.

What are your experiences with Hostas that get very little direct sunlight? Do you have some that do especially well in deep shade?

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squirejohn zone4 VT

I wonder if some of the shade difference may be attributed to tree roots and/or a specific location where some hostas get direct sun via a hole in the canopy. There is a photo of Gold Standard in Grenfell's Encyclopedia and Field Guide that shows a GS in deep shade. I tried to achieve that same color by putting GS in deep shade that gets no direct sun without success - it looks no different than the rest of my GS's.

    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 11:20AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

john stole my line...

what are the trees ...

and secondly.. how do you water on a hill.. and insure the water soaks in.. say .... 6 inches.. instead of running down hill??? .. i have found it near impossible ...

lastly... if that is your woods in the pic .. and you are going to stay there for decades... you ought to have the trees thinned ... BEFORE YOU PUT THE GARDEN IN...

and by that i mean.. without being there.. removing everything under say.. 4 inches ... you might be surprised... how by removing the under canopy.. how all of a sudden ... you have better light ...

snow cap is not a good plant except for 2 peeps here.. who mock me.. lol ... its carp ...

and BDaddy is about the same for me ... i dont think it likes my sand.. which begs the ???.. whats your soil type ...

not being able to grow GS there.. is a mystery ... in fact.. if you found that post on landscaping with GS... you could see what your hill might look like.. with the smaller trees removed....

i would try again.. with a bigger GS ...


    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 5:02PM
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hostacats(zone 3b)

Marta and Ken. I notice you both have problems with Big daddy. So do I. Out of all the ones I planted only one is managing to survive and its not very big. The other ones that really don't seem to do well with shade for me is the empress wu. I do have three growing now but have tried before and all have not survived. Maybe its because the plants were too small who knows.
I do garden under pine trees but you have to be very very good at watering the plants, and even then the hostas there don't get overly big. This is where the unnamed ones and doubles are going.


    Bookmark   July 27, 2014 at 9:56PM
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Thanks for all the good input. squirejohn and ken_adrian, your posts are completely on-target. I have already learned more from a few weeks reading this forum than the last few years of trial and error. I realize that there are other factors in this environment than deep shade. I also have to consider root competition, soil, water, and pests/critters. This year also we had an exceptionally cold, long winter, with a very late, short, and cold spring.

Yes, it's my hillside, and yes, I plan to be here for decades. I just read the Seven Levels of Hosta Gardeners thread, and Level 3 describes my situation pretty much exactly. :o) In a nutshell, my plans for Hosta Hill should get me through Level 4 without loss of lawn.

My plan was to get a few very large/giant Hostas to start growing while I figure out how to do the rest... The idea is this: I establish a walkable, meandering foot path that snakes up the hill. Maybe put some stepping stones between loops (think chutes and ladders). I also want to stack up some low rock walls to make terraces, fill with soil, and plant lots more Hostas, probably about 50-100 per year. I estimate this will take 10+ years (I'm not retired and this is only a part of my garden). I'm not in a hurry, but I do want those giant Hostas to get growing, not fade away! :o)

The trees are mostly beech, with a mix of birch/aspen, oak, and maple. I will take Ken's advice and remove all small-diameter trees before planting more Hostas. I hadn't heard of spinout bags until I found this forum. I like the idea, but I wonder how big the spinout bags would need to be to accommodate the rootball of a mature giant Hosta... I'd probably have to make my own.

I'm no expert, but I believe the hillside holds moisture fairly well. The soil is mostly clay, with a good layer of decomposing leaves. There is always some ground vegetation, mushrooms pop up regularly, and a few weeks ago I even found some amazing Monotropa uniflora (Indian Pipe) growing there. Watering the hill by hand would be a pain, but thankfully my region gets a lot of rainfall, as well as spring run-off of melting snow (we are at the foot of a hilly provincial park - this comes with some wildlife challenges too). I had put mulch around the first Hostas, but I stopped that because I read it encourages voles, and I found holes around the roots of several Hostas, here and elsewhere. I have not done anything other than soak those roots with a water, castor oil, and soap mixture.

The Gold Standard actually looks great, but it's still about the same size as when I planted it 2 years ago. I planted another one in a different part of the garden last year, and the newer one is almost double the size of the older one. Maybe I just need to be patient. I've heard of Hostas that seem to stall for a few seasons and then take off.

I relocated Snow Cap to another spot. Both of its scrawny petioles were broken, but the leaves were still attached (possibly a deer stepped on it). I figured it for a goner, but the root ball seemed good, and Snow Cap is putting out some new leaves and looks like it's going to recover.

I relocated Big Daddy to another spot too, but the recovery isn't as dramatic as with Snow Cap. Maybe I need to get him a Big Mama to get him to perk up. :o)

Here is another photo of my fledgling Hosta Hill. The only Hosta that you can make out (to the right of the bench) is Wide Brim. I guess a bit of brush clearing is in order.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 6:11PM
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josephines123 z5 ON Canada

Too bad you live so far away! What I'd do to clear brush in that gorgeous environment!! Sounds like you have a good plan in place. Have fun! One deep shade lover is Dark Star (blue/green with ivory margin) but it is S-M, increases rapidly, providing excellent ground cover. It might be a good plant to use for massing as a natural edge to the area.

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 6:50PM
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hostacats(zone 3b)

Wow Josephine dark star is nice!!

Marta! There is so much potential there! You will have fun! I think also do as Ken suggested and do some clearing. Whats in front of the bench?? Its looks like downed trees or logs or something? This picture is taken at your house facing backyard??

    Bookmark   July 30, 2014 at 8:34PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

you do not have to dig up the trees you cut down...

cut to the ground.. and apply 100% RUp to the cambian layer of the stump ... and be done with that part ...

and stripped trunks of those trees.. can come in handy ... i used to use such as path edging ...


    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 8:05AM
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zkathy(7a NC)

We dug up a maple stump and made such a huge hole that it is now the Komodo Dragon bed.

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 8:08AM
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josephines123 z5 ON Canada

Thanks, Hostacats! :-)

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 10:26AM
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bragu_DSM 5

Another thing you can do is to build some pergolas. I have three in my yard. Depending upon how close you put the roof slats, you get differing amounts of shade. You do not have to deal with tree roots, and you could put drip water system if you want.

The basic 12x12 pergola requires a mix of 4x4s, 2x10s, 2x8s and 2x6s with varying amounts of bolts, some roofing slats, screws and a bag of quick crete to secure the 4x4s in the ground. I can cram at least 2 dozen hostas underneath and then I usually go out at least 18 inches on each side for even more garden space. And, you can put the pergola in full sun and still get shade.

I usually use a screwdriver as the spacer for the roof slats. As the wood dries, it ends up being about a half inch between the slats, allowing both sun and shade. And no tree roots.

Materials $200-$500 plus your time

A nice weekend project for the DIY-er.

Note: (I like to bolt two of the 2x8s to two 4x4s (one inside and one outside of the 4x4) (two sets of these) before I dig the holes. Makes the job easier, although you may need a buddy to help hoist the 4x4 and 2x8 frame into the holes.


    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 1:11PM
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bernd ny zone5

Be careful when you write : "Hostas that do well in lots of sun. ". That is only true when you give them an equal and consistent LOTS OF WATER. The moment you forget to water they will burn and shrink!!

    Bookmark   July 31, 2014 at 2:30PM
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