Popular as ornamental plants due to their colorful foliage, hostas (commonly known as plantain lilies and gibōshi) are great options for a shade garden.
Incredibly versatile as foundation plants, they are often cultivated by novice and experienced gardeners because of their low-maintenance needs. These shade loving perennials come in a variety of striking colors, leaf shapes, and sizes.
A hosta can be grown as a lovely ground cover plant in areas receiving full shade to partial sun. It is a great choice if you wish to add pops of vibrant color to create a lush, green landscape.
The finely textured foliage of ornamental hostas are thick and fleshy. In summer, these are complemented by tall spikes of white, lavender, or purple flowers.
The best companion plants for hostas are shade tolerant plants that favor fertile, moist soil. These include eye-catching ferns (such as the Japanese painted fern), coral bells, woodland phlox, and other perennials with delicate foliage.
Growing dark green and variegated hostas next to colorful flowers should add an extra touch of beauty to the garden.
Shade Loving Companion Plants for Hostas
Here’s what to plant with hostas in shade:
Ferns are fantastic hosta companions because their dark green foliage adds texture, complexity, and height to shaded areas of the garden. Their soft and feathery leaves thrive best when they are afforded afternoon shade. Low-maintenance and hardy, they are remarkably easy to care for.
The Japanese painted fern is an interesting choice as a companion for plantain lily plants because it can add vivid and silvery colors to a shade garden. As it grows quite slowly, it shouldn’t overtake the spread of other slow-growing hostas. Moreover, the shade provided by its leaves should help prevent the growth of weeds.
Astilbe (Astilbe spp.)
Astilbe is one of the best perennial plants that go with hostas because its basic requirements meet those that are provided by most shade gardens.
This popular perennial has lush foliage and is known for its spiky inflorescences. Sprays of white, pink, and red appear in late spring to early summer, just when the blooming period of hostas ends.
An eye-catching display of hosta foliage and astilbe flowers can significantly increase the attractiveness of a shade garden. These shade lovers and their delicate flower clusters look best under light shade. Moreover, they attract dozens of beneficial insects that can enhance your garden’s ecosystem.
Siberian Iris (Iris sibirica)
The Siberian iris, an herbaceous perennial that is often cultivated as an ornamental plant in partial shade, can grow quite well next to stands of hosta plants. Its growth habits complement those of most types of hosta cultivars, which prefer well draining yet regularly moistened soils.
Additionally, hostas and the Siberian iris are fantastic companion plants because they are both deer and rabbit resistant. Their cultivation is recommended in gardens that are often damaged by wild grazers. When planted side by side in cottage gardens, these lovely plants can be such a welcome sight.
Coral Bells (Heuchera spp.)
Coral bells, or alum root, are the perfect hosta companion plants because their lovely foliage looks as though they were made to be situated next to hosta leaves.
Often cultivated as shade ground cover plants, they produce palmate leaves. Dozens of hybrids and cultivars with beautiful foliage textures and delicate flowers are now available.
Evergreen in mild climate conditions, coral bells can be used to create a shade border with dappled colors. Plant hostas in between their stands to add variation in leaf size and shape. Other shade loving plants that can function as ground covers should easily thrive next to their established stands.
Lupine (Lupinus spp.)
The purple flowers of lupine, which tend to appear in late spring through summer, can add just the right amount of color to shady areas.
As far as companion plants go, lupine species are generally some of the best as shade ground covers because of their tolerance for a wide range of soil and exposure types.
If you do intend to use a lupine variety to complement the appearance and growth needs of your hostas, note that it may increase the nitrogen content of the substrate. Though lupine can thrive in partial shade, some types may require full sun conditions in order to bloom vigorously.
Daylilies (Hemerocallis spp.)
Daylilies are some of the prettiest companion plants for hostas because of their showy midsummer flowers and their strap-like, glossy green leaves. Best grown as border plants in partial shade or in full shade gardens, these perennials are able to spread on their own via a network of underground rhizomes.
These shade perennials are named for the fleeting lifespan of their blooms, which only last for a day. The blooms can be a pleasant yet short-lived surprise in hosta gardens.
Make sure to grow them alongside other plants with long-lived blooms to ensure that a variety of colors is present throughout the growing season.
Peonies (Paeonia spp.)
Peonies are great companion plants for just about any perennial that thrives in partial to full shade. These long-lived plants produce glossy leaves and eye-catching blooms that complement the colors of most hosta plants. The soft feathery flowers, which come in shades of pink, red, white, or yellow, add bursts of color to shade gardens.
The deep roots of peonies prevent them from competing for nutrients with hostas. Varieties can display either herbaceous or shrub-like growth, so there’s a wide range of types to choose from to suit just about any type of garden.
Geraniums (Geranium spp.)
Perennial geraniums, which are also known as cranesbills, are prized for their vibrant, showy blooms and their palmate, lacy foliage.
Often used as ground cover plants to add color and texture in shady areas, they are remarkably versatile as companion plants. Hostas can provide a lush backdrop for the more delicate geraniums, which bloom at different times.
As shade loving perennials, geraniums are easy to care for, propagate, and maintain. They thrive best in a Mediterranean climate. Some species are able to enter a period of dormancy through winter, after which they quickly show signs of new growth in early spring.
Solomon’s Seal (Polygonatum biflorum)
Set apart by its tubular flowers, which are oriented downwards and may appear to be drooping, Solomon’s Seal is an herbaceous plant. Named for the appearance of the scars on its rhizomes, it favors conditions in rich and rocky areas that are provided with a consistent flow of water.
Perfect for shady garden areas, Solomon’s seal can be used as a border plant or as a companion plant for hostas. Its simple, dark green leaves accentuate the quirky appearance of variegated hostas. Make sure to situate it in part shade to prevent its leaves from scorching.
Vinca (Vinca spp.)
Hostas grow quite well next to stands of vinca, which share similar basic requirements. Also known as periwinkle, vinca is one of the most low-maintenance companion plants because it helps suppress the growth of weeds and can quickly fill-in bare spots. These features also make it an ideal ground cover plant.
As hosta leaves tend to be larger and more colorful than those of Vinca cultivars, they can be used as a backdrop or as the focal feature of a shade garden. Partial shade conditions should bring out the deep greens and purples of vincas, creating a dramatic contrast for hosta leaves.
Goldenrod (Solidago spp.)
With species that grow in full sun to partial shade, goldenrods are versatile and attractive plants. As they favor shady conditions, they can be grown in garden beds alongside hostas and other plants with heat-sensitive foliage. With yellow-golden blooms that last from summer to fall, they can sustain an element of interest even when hosta leaves may begin to die back.
The vertical growth habit of goldenrod can complement the low-growing and clumping form of hostas. Moreover, the blooms attract a diversity of pollinators and beneficial insects.
Tough and highly adaptable, this hosta companion can increase the lushness of a garden without requiring too much effort or resources.
Japanese Forest Grass (Hakenechloa macra)
Japanese forest grass is an ideal textural addition to a hosta garden. It embodies pretty much everything anyone could want from a healthy clump of grass. Its lime green leaves are able to photosynthesize efficiently in partial to full shade conditions. Moreover, just like hostas, this species favors regularly moistened, well-draining soil.
In addition to its aesthetic appeal, Japanese forest grass is a favorable companion plant because of its clumping habit and its tendency for spreading slowly to fill in bare spots in the garden. The shade provided by its leaves aids in moisture retention, which helps hosta roots become established.
Phlox (Phlox spp.)
Often grown for their irresistibly charming and fragrant blooms, phlox cultivars are a must-have in just about every flower garden. Its blooms, which come in various shades of pink, purple, white, and red, appear in late spring and may last up to early summer. These help bring out the unique colors and shape of hosta foliage.
Phlox cultivars grow quite well in partial to full shade conditions. As one of the best flowers to plant with hostas, they add a vertical element to shady garden areas. Their showy flowers, which are fantastic sources of nectar, attract pollinators without fail.
Caladium (Caladium spp.)
With leaves that easily rival the vivid appearance of some of the most colorful hosta cutivars, caladiums are highly sought after as ornamental plants. Their eye-catching and variegated foliage may have vivid streaks and flecks of deep pink and snowy white. Though the delicate leaves look great under bright light, they need to be partly shaded as they easily scorch.
To create a stunning shade garden, combine various cultivars of caladiums and situate them next to one another to serve as a backdrop. Low-growing hostas can be placed in the foreground to add dimension and contrast.
Ligularia (Ligularia spp.)
The golden summer blooms of ligularias can easily draw attention to a shade garden.
Some of the best plants that grow well with hostas, these large-leaved, shade loving plants thrive best in moist, well-draining substrates. Even outside of the bloom period, they continue to be eye-catching because of their bold and striking leaves.
Generally native to damp habitats in central to eastern Asia, most ligularia species are endemic to the wetland regions of China. Fertile conditions bring out the best qualities of their leaves, each of which may measure up to 18 inches long! If you’re able to acquire your own specimen, cultivate it as a backdrop for hostas.
Lenten Rose (Helleborus orientalis)
Despite its common name, the Lenten rose is not actually a member of the rose family. It is an eye-catching member of Ranunculaceae or the buttercup family.
Hailing from Greece and Turkey, this species can grow to a full height of about 18 inches tall. As it favors partial to full shade, it is a prime candidate as a hosta companion.
Its leathery foliage is complemented by cup-shaped white, pink, purple, or maroon flowers with spots. These appear as early as winter and may persist into spring.
Mayapple (Podophyllum peltatum)
Also known as American mandrake or ground lemon, the mayapple is an ideal companion plant for hostas because it can thrive in partial sun. Best grown in hardiness zones 3-9, it is a woodland plant that self-propagates to form colonies.
The large, umbrella-like leaves of this species can add a vertical element to the shade garden. Many shade-loving herbs with a preference for moist substrates can be grown at the base of older mayapples.
Shade Loving Shrubs for Hosta Shade Gardens
Hydrangea (Hydrangea spp.)
Next to larger hostas, such as the blue angel hosta, hydrangeas can prove to be low-maintenance companion plants. Their bouquet-like blooms, which may appear in early spring in regions with mild climate conditions, may seem to defy gravity. Their colors tend to be determined by the availability of nutrients and the pH level of the substrate.
Shrubs that are largely native to North America and Asia, hydrangeas can thrive in part shade. They are frequently grown as shade shrubs that add complexity to expansive landscapes.
Some of the most popular hydrangea species to grow as hosta companions include H. paniculata and H. macrophylla.
Boxwood (Buxus sempervirens)
Usually cultivated as a hedge plant or as a natural fence, boxwood is a remarkably versatile perennial. Its sturdy branches, which grow in a compact manner, can be pruned back to create a neat and uniform finish. Their small, green leaves are oval-shaped and measure just 0.5-3 cm long.
Although both large and dwarf boxwood varieties are great for adding texture to both fully sunlit or partly shaded gardens, they don’t take attention away from smaller ornamentals. Hostas can be grown at the base of established boxwood shrubs. Make sure the substrate is allowed to drain efficiently, however, to prevent boxwood roots from dying back.
Viburnum (Viburnum spp.)
Viburnums are low-maintenance shrubs that are known for producing colorful blooms and eye-catching fruits. In some cases, they can be cultivated as low-growing evergreen or deciduous trees. Their angular foliage, which can be lobed or have entire margins, are usually an alluring shade of deep green.
Able to thrive in various exposure conditions, including full sun and partial shade, viburnum shrubs can be grown next to hostas because they favor moisture-retentive soils. They can add stunning early spring color and vertical complexity to a shade garden.
Bergenia (Bergenia spp.)
Native to central Asia, bergenia shrubs are lovely perennials that grow as hardy, low-maintenance clumps. The heartleaf bergenia (B. cordifolia), one of the most commonly grown ornamentals of this genus, boasts leathery, heart-shaped leaves that can proliferate under full to partial sun.
As bergenias tend to be tolerant of heavy shade, they can be grown alongside hostas in shady parts of the garden. Moreover, like hostas, they favor regularly moistened yet well-draining substrates.
Common Witch Hazel (Hamamelis virginiana)
Like its common name, the witch hazel shrub has a quirky appearance. Often cultivated as a small deciduous tree, the autumn blooms of this species are distinguished by a set of stringy or ribbon-like petals. Ranging in color from yellow to red, the petals add sprays of vibrancy to an otherwise simple-looking plant.
If you’d like to attract moths to your shade garden, you should cultivate this species. It supports the survival of dozens of moth species throughout its native range, which runs through the eastern to southeastern regions of North America.
European Barberry (Berberis vulgaris)
The European barberry is cultivated as a deciduous shrub that may measure as much as 13 feet tall at maturity. This phenomenal perennial has oval-shaped leaves that generously cover its woody branches. Yellow blooms occur on branching inflorescences. These develop into clusters of red fruits after being pollinated.
Fairly naturalized in the US, the berries of this species are an important food source for birds. Rich in vitamins, they are edible and can be used as an ingredient for making sweet concoctions.
Lily of the Valley Bush (Pieris japonica)
Set apart by its delicate, bell-shaped blooms, which range in color from pink to white, Lily of the Valley Bush is the perfect hosta companion. It is a shade-loving plant and it thrives in practically the same conditions as most hostas. It is also unlikely to compete with nearby herbs for light or water.
The beautiful flowers of this species tend to appear soon after hosta blooms have begun to die back. Their soft colors complement the vibrant greens and yellows of variegated hosta leaves. Moreover, their evergreen foliage can maintain visual interest in shady parts of the garden.
Plants That You Should Not Grow Next to Hostas in a Shade Garden
While many plants can easily thrive alongside well-established hostas, there are some that may compete with them for nutrients and space.
Larger trees and shrubs with spreading roots should be placed further away from clusters of hostas and their companion plants.
Invasive species, which are known for quickly spreading on their own, should also be avoided.
Plants that favor full sun exposure and soils that do not retain moisture (e.g., cacti and succulents) would suffer in conditions that are favored by hosta cultivars. Aim to situate these in a more brightly lit part of the garden.
As a rule of thumb, any species that requires direct sun and is known for producing competitive roots should not be planted close to hostas. The aggressive root systems of the plants listed below can easily choke out the roots of mature hostas.
If necessary, you may situate them in dedicated plots, containers, or pots to prevent them from competing with hosta roots.
- Cherry bushes