Companion Plants for Hostas | What To Grow

Planting a full shade garden is no easy task but you can always rely on hostas to tolerate and even thrive in extreme low-light conditions. The key to a ‘Grade A’ shade garden is finding other suitable plants that can grow in the same environment as hostas without competing for resources. 

My own back garden is predominantly shade and I have my fair share of hostas growing out there. With a bit of time and hands-on experience, though, I’ve found a number of great companion plants for hostas that add variety and colour to the space. Keep reading to learn about my favourites.

What Exactly Is Companion Planting?

Companion planting is a concept most often employed by fruit and vegetable gardeners. It involves growing multiple plant species that benefit each other within a single space. 

The most famous example of companion planting is the Three Sisters method — a traditional way of growing corn, beans, and squash with maximum efficiency. 

The Three Sisters method and other forms of companion planting focus on things like natural pest control and nutrient fixing. These benefits are huge when growing edible crops but aren’t as important in the average ornamental bed. However, the core tenets of companion planting are still extremely useful to gardeners looking to upgrade their landscape designs.

Benefits of Companion Planting with Hostas

Why should you invest in companion species for your hostas when you could just keep things simple? Well, there are actually several potential benefits of companion planting. Here are the ones I believe to be most important:

Pest Control: There are a few plant species that naturally deter common pests because they give off strong aromas or produce certain chemical compounds. Planting these varieties next to your hostas may help protect the leaves from pest damage.

Better Landscape Design: A good landscape design requires a variety of plants. You need to mix and match plants with different sizes, shapes, growth habits, and colours for maximum impact.

Improved Biodiversity: Different plants benefit and attract different types of wildlife. Hostas primarily draw in bees and hummingbirds. If you want to bring other pollinators to your garden, I recommend planting a wide variety of flowers.

Good Companion Plants for Hostas

Hostas grow best in cool, fully or partially shaded areas of the garden. Any plants you want to grow alongside your hostas will need to prefer those conditions as well. 

Some of the plant varieties listed below offer more tangible benefits like keeping unwanted pests away from your hostas’ foliage. The vast majority, however, are recommended because they offer visual appeal to the garden when grown with shade-loving hostas.

Vegetables and Herbs

Garden vegetables typically need more sunlight than hostas can tolerate but you can still grow a few herbs in your shade garden. These are the ones I recommend:

Mint: Fragrant herbs like mint are ideal for growing alongside hosta plants because they naturally repel common insects. Mint prefers full sun or light shade, so you may need to fill the sunnier parts of your hosta patch with this herb for the best results.

Mint spreads incredibly easily and this is something you should take into account before planting it. Avoid growing it near naturalized areas and take steps — e.g., landscape borders — to contain the mint within the chosen bed.

Chives: Chives are another fragrant edible plant that can be successfully grown with hostas. They will grow in full sun or partial shade but tend to flower less vigorously in low light. Growing chives among your hostas may even deter slugs and snails who enjoy feeding on the leaves.

Parsley: If you want to make good use of all available garden space, parsley is one of the only herbs that will grow well in shade. Parsley tends to get leggy with little light but you can fix this with routine pruning. 

Lemon Balm: While less popular than the other herbs I’ve mentioned, lemon balm is another candidate for growing with hostas. Its distinctive fragrance may deter small insects that like to feed on hosta leaves.

Spring Bulbs

Spring bulbs are easily my favourite type of plant to grow along with hostas. These flowers tend to emerge before the hostas themselves, filling the garden with colour when it would otherwise sit empty.

Tulips: The quintessential spring bulb is, of course, the tulip. These flowers come in literally hundreds of different colours, shapes, and patterns. In most climates, your tulips will start to die back just as the hosta leaves begin to grow. 

 hosta and tulips

Trillium: Trillium are unique spring flowers that can be easily identified by their sets of three leaves and bracts. Many species are native to North America and wild specimens may be protected in some regions. 

While you shouldn’t dig up trilliums found in nature, these flowers are readily available from many nurseries and greenhouses. In my experience, they thrive in identical conditions to most hostas and emerge quite early in the year.

Crocus: Crocus bulbs technically enjoy at least 6 hours of sun per day. If your hosta bed is shaded by deciduous trees, however, there’s a good chance the space receives enough sunlight in winter and early spring when these flowers are most active.

Snowdrops: Snowdrops emerge at the same time as crocus flowers in most areas but are more tolerant of shade. I recommend planting a mass of snowdrops in your hosta bed to create a natural woodland atmosphere.

Lily-of-the-Valley: This is another excellent option for anyone drawn to that cottage or storybook aesthetic. In my own garden, the lily of the valley and hostas begin sprouting at the exact same time. Since the hostas take longer to fill out, I’ve yet to have issues with these two companions crowding each other out.

Annuals

I like to use annuals in the garden to boost colour and texture with minimal waiting or long-term commitment. Most annuals you find in your local greenhouse require ample sun for healthy blooms but there are a few notable exceptions that pair nicely with hostas.

Begonias: Almost any begonia plant will grow alongside hostas in the shade. My favourite type for this purpose is the tuberous begonia. 

Tuberous begonias are hardy in USDA Zones 7 through 9. In cooler areas, it’s possible to dig up and store the tubers at the end of the season for planting the following spring. I suggest experimenting with this method so that you can reuse the same plants over multiple years.

hosta and begonias

Pansies: In many climates, pansies are the first flowering annuals to make an appearance in the spring. They grow well in sun and shade and are perfect for tucking into small nooks and crannies within the garden.

Since pansies thrive in cool conditions, planting them in your shaded hosta bed might even extend the growing season slightly!

Impatiens: You might not be familiar with impatiens if you’re somewhat new to gardening but these flowers are probably the most shade-tolerant of any annual. They bloom steadily in partial or full shades and come in many bright colours.

hosta and impatiens

Perennials

Shade-tolerant perennials are the best way to add variety to your hosta bed with minimal year-to-year maintenance. I have all of the following varieties in my garden alongside a number of hostas.

Coral Bells: Coral bells (Heuchera) are even more colourful and diverse than their hosta counterparts. You’ll find coral bells in shades of red, orange, yellow, purple, and lime green. Some varieties even have multi-colour leaves. 

Bleeding Heart: Once one of the most popular landscape perennials around, the bleeding heart shrub is an ideal companion for hostas and other shade-lovers. Bleeding hearts grow from tubers in spring and early summer. By the time the plants die back to the ground, your hostas will be nice and filled out.

hosta and bleeding heart

Astilbe: This flowering perennial contrasts beautifully against hostas and other foliage plants. Astilbe has spiked flowers and delicate, fern-like leaves. They can grow up to 3 feet tall, so I recommend pairing astilbe with smaller hosta varieties.

Astilbe are typically classified as either early- or late-blooming. Plant both types to enjoy flowers throughout the entire season. The spent flowers and leaves will remain attractive through fall.

Ferns: I’m a big proponent of installing ferns anywhere there is ample shade. Most ferns prefer cool, dim, and moist growing conditions. They are perfectly suited to life alongside hostas.

While there are countless fern species to choose from, I suggest selecting native varieties when possible. If native species aren’t an option, Japanese-painted ferns are both attractive and non-invasive.

hosta and ferns

Hardy Geraniums: Hardy geraniums, also known as cranesbills, pair well with hostas as long as you choose a shade-tolerant variety. Some shade-friendly varieties — as recommended by Gardeners World — include ‘Kashmir Purple’, ‘Nimbus’, and ‘Orion’.

Clematis: Clematis vines typically require more sun than the average hosta. If you have a partially shaded section of the garden in need of some colour, however, this combination is a great option. Since the clematis will rapidly outgrow the hosta in terms of height, there’s no need to worry about it getting shaded out.

Shrubs and Trees

Larger shrubs and trees add contrast to low-growing hostas. Select varieties that tolerate partial or full shade for the best results.

Hydrangeas: You really can’t go wrong pairing your hostas with a hydrangea shrub. Both plants enjoy cool, acidic soil and have little need for direct sunlight. Hostas also work well for hiding the leggy growth that forms at the bottom of some hydrangeas.

hosta and hydrangea

Rhododendrons and Azaleas: If hydrangeas don’t align with your taste in landscape design, rhododendrons and azaleas offer all of the same benefits when paired with hostas. 

These shrubs grow best in acidic soil and filtered sunlight. Rhododendrons are not as cold-tolerant on average as most hydrangeas but new hardy varieties are regularly hitting the market.

hosta and rhododendron

English Yew: Grown as either a tree or shrub, English yew is a shade-tolerant evergreen. It can be used to increase the amount of shade your hostas receive and/or as a living windbreak for added shelter.

Bad Companion Plants for Hostas

Hostas are incredibly versatile and require almost no maintenance during the year. It’s hard to think of a scenario where you wouldn’t want to grow them in your own shade garden. With that said, there are a few plants you don’t want to combine with hostas:

Slugs and snails love munching on fresh hosta leaves. To prevent a garden massacre, keep other slug-attracting plants far away from your hosta beds.

Avoid planting hostas under trees and large shrubs with aggressive, shallow root systems — e.g., willows, poplars, and beech trees. Over time, the spreading roots are likely to damage the hostas.

Hostas generally prefer a slightly acidic soil pH of 6.0 to 6.5. Plants that require alkaline soil shouldn’t be grown in the same bed as hostas.

Citations

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Ben's horticultural interest grew when graduating from Hertfordshire University in 1997. Having contributed to numerous publications including Better Homes & Gardens, Garden Design Magazine, and The English Garden. He is also the author of Propagating Houseplants Made Easy.