I have seen wonderful stunning green leaves peeking through the shade in so many gardens in the northern and central United States. The puny things that I have seen in so many gardens in the south have left me with a deep feeling of longing for the north in order to grow wonderful hosta in the shade under trees. All this changed when I met Sylvia Butler of Sissinghurst Hosta.
It was a hot August afternoon when I pull into Sissinghurt Hostas. The charming little gardens are young – only having moved to the current location last fall – but they are already filling in with wonderful hosta, bugleweed, and ferns all tucked into tropical plants and a wonderful mix of young trees. The mix of colors and tones is stunning and you are left with an impression that yes, hosta can be grown here and they would be stunning under my front tree.
Meeting with Ms. Butler over coffee, she unlocked the door to growing hosta in my area and put my mind at ease with the fact that this can be done. Her very first statement when I made it in the door was, “Every plant needs sun and don’t let anyone tell you different.” She fearlessly planted hosta in full sun, half sun, and full shade in the garden. She went on to explain that every plant needs some sun but some plants are more shade tolerant. Hosta is one of those plants. She told me it differs from type to type how much sun and how much shade they need and can take.
Water is the key to unlock hostas in the south Ms. Butler repeated in so many different ways during my visit. She waters from February or March until September or early October. It is daily, deep watering during the heat of the summer--- twice a day deep watering---that keeps the 200 plus hostas in the Sissinghurst Gardens growing and blooming. At 6 in the morning and 6 in the evening the water starts and runs for about one hour unless there is rain two times a day.
Soil is another factor Ms. Butler said is vital to the growth of hosta. Whenever you are preparing a new bed for hosta, it is of major importance for you to mix the soil with a good amount of compost and peat moss. This will give the hostas the food they need for the long years ahead. Along with a handful of food Ms. Butler adds some root stimulator in the hole. Then Ms. Butler adds the little hosta to the hole.
Ms. Butler told me that most of the hosta she has started their lives as a bare root plant. She went on to tell me that bare root plants often do better in the south, and told me of the excitement of seeing the first leaf rise out of the dirt and waiting for it to unfurl. Then there is the next excitement of waiting for the bloom stalk to rise up from the dirt and slowly waiting for the blooms to open. She acknowledged that some growers would rather have a growing plant to add to the garden but for her the bare root plants have been growing much better.
Mulch is a major key to the growing of hosta in the south. Pine straw mulch will keep the soil moist and the ground free of weeds. This is the biggest key to growing hosta---keeping the soil moist at all times. When the roots stay moist, they will grow bigger and look stunning in the garden most of the year.
My time with Ms. Butler at the wonderful gardens at Sissinghurst was wonderful. Although I do not have any plans to grow a large hosta garden in the near future, I now am equipped with the knowledge that it will take to add a few hosta to the base of a tree I have been thinking about. The moist soil is the biggest challenge in the south but, meeting that need, you will find these wonderful plants will grow and prosper in our heat too. They are a great addition to our gardens where the soil permits.
You can find out more about hosta growing in the Daves Garden Hosta Forum.
About Mitch Fitzgerald
I am a pentecostal preacher, gardener,husband, and a father. I love natives, daylilies, iris, and roses. I love teaching others, be they children or adults, about the garden and plants.