Hostas Under Japanese Maple: What To Know Before Planting

An attractive visual landscape can be created by combining Japanese maples and hostas, two varieties of ornamental plants that complement each other with their diverse colors. But how can one maximize the potential of both plants?

Can you plant hostas under Japanese maples? You can take advantage of the empty space under the Japanese maple canopy by planting hostas. They grow well under the tree and add a splash of color to the landscape. Some hostas cultivars grow well in partial shade and have leaves and flowers in various colors.

Selecting the right hosta cultivar for your region is key to its success under a Japanese maple tree. Read more to find out how to grow hostas under Japanese maples and avoid some of the common pitfalls.

Hostas Under Japanese Maple Trees — What To Know

Not all plants can grow under the canopy of a large tree, no matter how hardy they are and especially when that canopy is dense and keeps the area around the trunk partially shaded as is the case with the Japanese maple.

However, many hosta cultivars are hardy plants and will thrive and bloom under Japanese maples.

Hosta Growing Requirements

When pairing plants together, especially a small plant with a large tree, knowing the growing requirements beforehand can help you choose the right cultivar and ensure the success of the plant.

Hosta Soil Requirements

Hostas have only one requirement for the soil — it should drain well. Whether you have sandy or loamy soil in the garden, hostas will do just fine in both.

Till the top 12 inches of the soil where you plan to plant under the Japanese maple in the spring or one month before the first frost in the fall.

Mix in a lot of organic materials to loosen the soil and enrich it at the same time. Make sure that the hole is as deep as the soil mark on the stem of the hosta you got from the nursery.

Hosta Light Requirements

The light requirements of hostas are minimal. That’s what makes them ideal under the dense canopy of a Japanese maple.

Some varieties can grow perfectly fine in full shade without the need for direct sunlight.

However, the hosta varieties that have variegated leaves tend to need partial sunlight, especially in the mornings to bring out the different colors of the leaves.

These varieties could have pale leaves without adequate some sun exposure.

Hosta Water Requirements

In the early stages of development, hostas will rely on you for their water requirements. They prefer moist soil, so water regularly but lightly and don’t get the soil saturated.

One inch a week of water should be enough, especially if the hosta is in full shade. Once it establishes, the plant becomes hardy and can tolerate drought. Water it when the top inch of the soil is dry.

When To Fertilize Hostas

In general, hostas don’t require a lot of feeding. Most cultivars will do just fine with one application a year.

Mix the compost or balanced all-purpose fertilizer with the soil in the early spring before the first signs of growth. The slow-release fertilizer will keep feeding the plants until the flowers bloom.

There’s no need to apply any other fertilizer, so be careful when feeding the maple — you don’t want to overfeed the hosta by accident. 

Why Hostas Are Good Companion Plants

It’s not always easy to find a companion plant for Japanese maples, but hostas fit the bill perfectly. They’re not fussy plants, they’re easy to grow, and they don’t require a ton of care or work to keep them growing year after year.

Here are the reasons hostas do well with Japanese maples as well as other plants.

  • Hostas do well in different types of soil as long as the soil drains quickly. Heavy soil can be amended with perlite or coarse sand.
  • They don’t need a lot of fertilizing. Hostas do well with slow-release fertilizers like this one that won’t interfere with other plants with minimum feeding requirements.
  • Once established, hostas are tolerant of drought.
  • They don’t require a lot of pruning.
  • They do well in full shade most of the time. This makes them good companions to larger plants as well as trees with dense canopies.
Several hosta plants of different varieties.

Where To Place Hostas Around Japanese Maple

The best place for a hosta as a Japanese maple companion is near the drip line of the tree.

Even shade-loving hostas shouldn’t be placed near the trunk of the maple. That’s because the Japanese maple has a robust root system that is close to the surface.

That root system tends to choke any small plants growing under the tree. However, the roots of the maple grow sparser the further you go from the base of the tree.

If you’re growing more than one hosta plant, plant them in a circle around the tree.

Potential Problems To Be Aware Of

Although hostas are easy-to-grow plants with little demands and few problems of their own, pairing them with the Japanese maple can get tricky for many reasons.

Here are the possible problems and what to do about them.

  • Hosta Choked To Death: The robust root system of the Japanese maple tends to grow thickly near the base of the tree, which puts any plant in the vicinity in mortal danger. Keep the hostas close to the drip line of the tree to avoid this risk.
  • Full Shade: Not all hosta varieties favor full shade. Some, especially the ones with variegated leaves, need at least partial sun. Planting these varieties deep under the canopy will impact their growth and appearance. 
  • Competition over Resources: Even if you manage to avoid the entangled web of roots of the tree, the hosta and the maple will compete over the water and nutrients in the soil. The competition often goes in favor of the big tree, which could threaten the life of the hosta.

Best Hosta Varieties

Hostas come in different sizes ranging from miniature ones that grow up to 9 inches to giant ones reaching 48 inches tall. Here are some hosta varieties that pair well with Japanese maples:

  • Blue Mouse Ears: A miniature hosta that averages 6 to 12 inches tall at maturity. The leaves are highly ornamental and shaped like a heart.
  • Golden Tiara: A medium hosta with a height of 16 inches and a spread of 3 feet. It has variegated green and yellow leaves and requires partial sunlight.
  • Halcyon: A large hosta growing to 24 inches tall and 3 feet wide. The leaves are pale green and shaped like spades.
  • Frances Williams: A large hosta growing to 24 inches tall and 3 feet wide. The spade-like leaves are dark green with pale veins.
  • Patriot: Averages 18 inches tall and 12 inches wide. The variegated green and white leaves require partial sunlight; otherwise, they’ll turn pale green.
  • Sum and Substance: A large and ornamental hosta growing to about 36 inches tall and 5 feet wide. The leaves are golden at the tips and yellow near the base.

Hosta Growing Tips

  • Plant the varieties that need partial sun on the first row under the drip line of the tree with the shade-loving varieties behind them.
  • Make sure the soil drains well. Add plenty of organic materials to loosen the soil and improve water retention.
  • Don’t overfeed your hostas. Just feed them once in the early spring with slow-release fertilizer or compost.
  • Keep the soil moist but not wet until the hostas establish.

Related Questions:

Can Hostas Grow in Full Shade?

Many hosta varieties thrive in full shade. That’s what makes them ideal companions to Japanese maples.

However, varieties with variegated leaves need at least partial sun to maintain the bright colors of the leaves. In the absence of sunlight, those varieties turn pale green.

Are Hostas Perennial?

Hostas are herbaceous perennial plants that can live for many years under the right conditions. They thrive in Hardiness Zones 3 to 9 and have a high tolerance to cold weather conditions.

Closing Thoughts

When pairing hostas with Japanese maples, you need to pick the right variety for the job.

Hostas with variegated leaves need partial sun and should be planted in the first row under the drip line of the tree. Shade-loving hostas can be planted behind them.

Keep the hostas away from the trunk of the tree to prevent the tree roots from strangling them.

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