Hostas are one of the most popular plants for home gardens, but do hostas spread? It’s a common question that many gardeners have. The answer is both yes and no.
All hostas are rhizomatous. While most hostas form close growing clumps, some hostas have extended rhizomes and are more spread out. Some examples of rhizomatous plants would be iris, alstroemeria, ferns, ginger and rhubarb.
There is a second way hostas spread and that is by seed. This is rarely a problem (more later).
Rhizomes and Runners
This is technical information that you don’t need to know. However, if you are curious read on…
What Is a Rhizome?
A rhizome is a horizontal stem of a plant that grows just below the soil surface. It sends out roots and shoots from its nodes or eyes. Rhizomes have a variety of functions including storage of nutrients, reproduction, and vegetative growth. They are not roots, but modified stems.
What Is a Stolon?
A stolon sometimes called a runner is a long, slender stem that trails along the surface of the soil and sends out roots at its nodes. Some types of plants that produce stolons are strawberries, irises, and lily of the valley. Stolon length varies depending on the type of plant. For example, strawberry runners are usually around 12 inches long while Iris stolon can be as long as 35 inches.
Hostas do not have stolons. They do have rhizomes.
Most hostas have rhizomes with the nodes spaced very close together. The plants are the big (or small) beautiful hostas that are in gardens around the world.
With spreading hostas the nodes are spaced further apart giving the plant a loose informal look.
How Do Hostas Spread
Hostas spread by sending up shoots and roots from the rhizomes. Some do produce extended rhizomes allowing new growths to appear a short distance from the original plant. This is how many get the appearance of spreading. How do you know if this is occurring?
If new plants are not appearing close to the original plant, rhizomes are likely traveling underground and sending up new growth.
How Fast Do Rhizomatous Hostas Spread
I do not know of any studies that have been done on the rate of spread for hostas but do know from experience and discussions with other gardeners that it varies.
Some do not spread very fast at all, while others do. The rate of spread is controlled by two variables.
First is the spacing of the nodes on the rhizome. The closer the nodes are to each other the slower the plant spreads.
Secondly is the actual growth rate of the cultivar (variety). Hostas can be divided into three groups, slow growers, medium or average growers, and fast growers. As you would expect the faster-growing hostas will spread more quickly than the slower-growing groups.
Like all hostas, once they are established you will see a rapid increase in the growth rate. This is normal and not a reason to go into a panic fearing that the spreading hostas are taking over the flower beds.
How to Stop Hostas from Spreading
There are two ways to do this, by digging them up or by using chemicals. I would not recommend using chemicals to control hostas unless you want to kill a rhizomatous hosta completely. This is because all of the growths are normally connected by the rhizomes and systemic weed killers can travel through these rhizomes.
Digging will control most hostas except for the fast growers. The fast growers will usually need regular division to keep them healthy and under control.
Except for H. clausa below, you should not have a problem controlling any rhizomatous hostas in the garden.
Hosta clausa – A Hosta that Knows How to Spread
The most aggressive spreading host is the species H. clausa. This hosta is a very nice green hosta of medium size, about 12 by 12 inches when mature. It spreads rapidly and can be difficult to eradicateif you ever want to get rid of it. It looks great in a container and that solves the spreading problem.
Where Should I Plant Spreading Hostas
You may have already noticed that most rhizomatous hostas are small to miniature hostas and containment is not an issue for most. They make good foreground plants where you need groups of the same plant. They work well in rock gardens and some even work as ground covers.
Rhizomatous Hostas as Ground Cover Plants
Many spreading hostas do not make great ground cover plants as many cultivars have an open habit. Some do not age well requiring extra work to replant them in a few years.
Here is a list of spreading hostas that will work as ground cover plants. Some of these are not readily available and most will have to be purchased from hosta growers, not your local nursery.
- Betsy King – Green
- Abiqua Delight – Variegated
- Abiqua Ground Cover – Green
- clausa – Green
- Decorata – Variegated
- Ebony Spires – Green
- Foundling – Yellow to Green
- Green Fingers – Green
- Gorgeous George – Green
- Little Jay – Variegated
- Livonia – Green
- Painted Lady – Variegated
- Snowstorm – Green
- Sugar Babe
- Traveler – Variegated
Other Interesting Spreading Hostas
Firefly – A recent release. A small hosta with shinny green leaves with white margins.
Green Eyes – A miniature with lance shaped leaves that are yellow with narrow green margins.
Jiminy Cricket – A fast growing small hosta. Yellow leaves turning more lime-green later in the year or under low light conditions.
Maraschino Cherry – A fast growing medium to large plant with glossy green leaves. The purple flower scapes are a nice bonus.
Outhouse Delight – Called the ugliest hosta in history, complete with ugly flowers. So why did Tony Avent of Plant Delights Nursery release the plant? It could be because is a little off beat. But the truth is that it has produced some outstanding progeny.
sieboldii – A large growing rhizomatous species. Most would never suspect it to be a spreader and it truth does appear to be a clumping hosta. Look close if you divide one and you will see the similarity to other spreading hostas. A great plant with many varieties available.
Surfer Girl – A miniature hosta with green leaves that are very wavy, measuring about 2 to 3 inches long and 1 to 1.5 inches wide.
Vera Verde – A small to medium sized hosta. Lance shaped leaves that are dark green with creamy white leaf edges.
Yellow Splash Rim – A medium sized variegated plant with leaves that are green centered and edged with cream to yellow.
A much longer list of spreading hostas can be found here.
Hostas Also Spread by Seed
Many hostas produce seeds that will scatter around the garden. These seeds can and do germinate in the garden. These seeds do not usually look like the parent plants and frequently just have green leaves.
Still, these hosta seedlings are interesting to most of us gardeners due to our curiosity and the desire to see something new.
If you don’t want them in the garden they are easily removed, especially when they are young. Or you can simply cut the flower spikes off after the flowers are finished and the seeds can mature.
In this post, we’ve covered what a rhizome is, how rhizomatous hostas spread, and the best ways to control their growth. With the exception of Hosta clausa you should find the spreading hostas interesting and useful plants for your garden. Not something to worry about.