Hostas are a perennial favorite among gardeners for their exotic lush foliage and their excellent shade tolerance. Not to mention the exquisite range of leaf shapes, sizes, and colors. To keep your hostas thriving and looking their best, it is essential to provide them with the right nutrients through proper fertilization.
In this article, I’ll share my experience of using a range of fertilizers on my hostas, as well as giving you advice on when to fertilize, and how to fertilize your prized hostas.
My Favorite Fertilizers for Hostas
Best Top Dressing
My go-to organic all-purpose fertilizer for general use around the garden. Hostas prefer a light feed and this product fits the bill.
Best Water-Soluble Plant Food
For use when Hosta plants are lacking in vitality or for nutrient-deficient soil. Dissolve this fast-acting formula in water and apply it to the foliage and roots of ailing Hostas for noticeably healthier plants.
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When to Fertilize Hostas
Early Spring: Hostas begin to emerge from dormancy in early spring. I always anticipate spotting the first spike-like shoots pushing out of the ground, as a sign spring is well and truly here. This is an ideal time to apply the first round of fertilizer to your plant. to ensure strong growth and development.
The plant is delicate during this phase, so apply a light fertilizer and avoid getting it on any foliage. Instead, I prefer to sprinkle a top dressing around the base of the plant and lightly dig it in being careful not to damage the new foliage. As you can see in the image below my new tender hostas are primed for their first feed. Unfortunately, one or two slugs are also looking for their first feed!
Late Spring to Early Summer: A second round of fertilizer can be applied during late spring to early summer, a period of prolific growth. I will only apply fertilizer if the plant looks weak or underdeveloped at this point. However, if you have poor soil, or sandy soil a second dose may be essential. If in doubt, apply another light feed around the base of the plants.
Mid to Late Summer: Hostas slow down in mid to late summer, but they do still require nutrients to maintain their vigor. If your plants look vibrant and you know your soil is good, then I would skip this round. When the plants die down there will be enough organic material repurposed by the plant to prepare it for next spring
Choosing the Right Fertilizer
Selecting the right fertilizer for your hosta is relatively easy, as this plant is not fussy or demanding in any way. Some people think a high-nitrogen fertilizer is the ideal choice, however, in my experience, a complete and balanced fertilizer is best.
Use a slow-release fertilizer as either an organic powder blend such as blood and bonemeal or slow-release granules. I recommend an all-purpose fertilizer such as an organic Down To Earth 4-6-2, or you can use a standard 10-10-10 or 14-14-14 ratio. The most important thing to remember when fertilizing hostas, use a slow-release balanced fertilizer and go gently. If you do choose a 10-10-10, perhaps use 50% of the manufacturer’s recommended dosage to avoid overfertilizing.
These three primary nutrients that play a crucial role in the overall growth and well-being of the hostas and all other plants are:
Nitrogen (N): Encourages leaf growth and development, giving hostas their lush, vibrant foliage.
Phosphorus (P): Promotes strong root development, ensuring the plants have a robust foundation.
Potassium (K): Supports overall plant health, increasing resistance to disease and stress.
Hostas also require trace minerals such as calcium, magnesium, and sulfur.
Fertilizer Granules or Liquid
The most used fertilizers are granules and liquids. There is no right or wrong, they are two different products made for different circumstances.
Granular fertilizers offer a slow-release feeding option. They come in pellets or coarse powder that break down slowly in the soil over a period of months. If you want to apply fertilizer as a top dressing to release nutrients at a steady rate over a month or two, then a slow-release fertilizer is the right option.
Liquid fertilizers are fast-acting and get to work immediately, which is perfect for treating ailing plants. If you notice a plant in need of immediate care then a liquid fertilizer will have a much quicker impact, but only provide for a short period. Liquids are also prone to being flushed out of the soil by irrigation or rain.
Fertilizer Spikes are similar to granules in that they offer a slow release of nutrients. The small sticks or tablets of compressed fertilizer dissolve gradually with moisture. They are also pre-measured, so it is difficult to over-fertilize your garden.
Make sure to read the packaging so that you put the correct amount of spikes by or in your plants.
Best Fertilizers for Hostas
There are so many fertilizers to choose from but I’ve managed to narrow it down to 6 really solid fertilizers that are perfect for growing Hostas. Whether you prefer ground-planted or potted varieties, there’s something for everyone. Now you just have to decide what method you prefer.
Best Top Dressing
- Balanced Formula Provides essential nutrients for optimal growth, healthy foliage, and robust root systems.
- Organic Composition: Offers an eco-friendly, sustainable option for environmentally conscious gardeners.
- Easy Application: Granular formula ensures even distribution and nutrient accessibility without damaging plants.
- As an organic fertilizer, it may attract interest from wildlife
Down to Earth, All Purpose Fertilizer is a fantastic choice for hosta enthusiasts looking to provide their plants with the essential nutrients they need to flourish. This 4-6-2 blend of natural ingredients offers a balanced mix of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, which are crucial for hostas’ overall health, robust leaf growth, and strong root development.
I used Down to Earth All Purpose Fertilizer on my hostas as well as a whole range of other plants and vegetables in my garden. When applying it to my hostas, as you can see in the photographs below, I give a generous handful and spread it around the base of the plants, and then dig it in. I made sure not to get any fertilizer on the foliage, so you may have to get in amongst the border to apply it.
The foliage became more vibrant and lush, with the plants exhibiting healthy growth. I made a second application on this particular set of hostas in late May, as I had no signs of fertilizer burn. This is a big plus for me and one of the reasons why I use Down To Earth’s organic range of fertilizer across my entire garden.
The easy-to-apply granular formula allowed for even distribution around the base of the plants, ensuring optimal nutrient absorption without damaging the foliage.
The product’s eco-friendly, organic composition adds an additional layer of appeal, making it an excellent option for gardeners seeking sustainable alternatives. It also works well in combination with organic mulch, enhancing the soil’s nutrient content and moisture retention.
Best Balanced Fertilizer
- Promotes growth in plants and vegetables
- Provides three major nutrients in equal amounts
- Easy to use
- Not available in all US states due to phosphorus run-off
Sometimes my plants will stall out. They seem to stop growing. Now, this doesn’t mean that they’re not healthy, they just haven’t gotten any bigger usually from some environmental stresses.
I’ve found Espoma Garden Food is great to help plants recover from stress and help increase bigger, faster growth and the 10-10-10 N-P-K is the ideal balance for Hosta plants.
Most users can notice a difference in just a few short days after use, with fuller foliage and healthier growth. It’s not the most reasonably priced option on the market but the results speak volumes if you’re looking for prize-winning specimens.
How to use: For individual plants or seeds, mix 1 teaspoon with the soil.
For established plants, apply ⅛ cups per plant. For gardens, apply 1 ½ pounds per 100 square feet. Place fertilizer at least 3 inches away from the plant. Mix into the soil, but be careful not to disrupt the roots or seeds. Repeat every four weeks and make sure to water after use.
Best Water-Soluble Plant Food
- Easy to use
- Safe for all plants
- Guaranteed not to burn when used correctly
- More expensive than other brands
If on occasion I find my Hostas looking a little sad and underdeveloped, it’s a clear sign that they need a quick nutrient boost. And this water-soluble plant food fertilizer from Miracle-Gro is a fast-acting, easy-to-use, boost that is a great option to have on hand. In an ideal world, I would prefer to use an organic product on all edibles, but for ornamentals such as hostas, Miracle-Gro is an exceptional and versatile choice. So if you only want to purchase one water-soluble fertilizer, it’s a cost-effective option.
When my Hosta plants are ailing and in need of a pick-me-up, this is what I reach for. Expect vibrant and full foliage and fast results. The only downside is the cost. Plant for the plant, this feed works out to be more expensive than some other leading fertilizers that are currently available.
How to use: For best results, I use this fertilizer once a week or every two weeks. You can use a watering can or sprayer. I’ve found that watering can work just fine. For outdoor plants, mix 1 tablespoon of Miracle-Gro for every gallon of water. For best coverage, soak the base of the plants, but take care to avoid getting fertilizer on the foliage.
Best Slow-Release Fertilizer
- Extensive, easy-to-follow instructions
- Sustainably made
- ‘Organic’ odor that some find offensive
All Dr. Earth products are organic, non-GMO, and have no synthetic ingredients added. Great news for your garden, your Hosta plants, and the environment.
This slow-release fertilizer is perfect for any stage of your Hosta’s growth and can be used as a general-purpose fertilizer for many other garden feeding needs.
I find this 4-4-4 ratio particularly beneficial at the start of the growing season as a fertilizer for corn. It is gentle enough for newly planted corn seedlings without the risk of leaf or root burn – even when used regularly.
Like Espoma Garden Food, it provides equal amounts of the nutrients included. The bonus with this product is the inclusion of Dr. Earth’s patented TruBiotic formula that adds microbes to enrich soil further.
Use this as a regular fertilizer or create a compost tea to use as a foliar spray that is mild enough not to cause leaf burn.
How to use: For outdoor plants, use 1 cup for every 10 feet of growing area or ¾ cup for every 12 feet of row. Apply every two months year-round. For instructions on new plants, potted plants, and trees and shrubs, consult the packaging.
- Long-term benefits without chemicals
- Easy to use
Safe for children and pets
- Natural ‘organic’ odor may attract animals
Jobe’s Organic Annuals & Perennials is a dependable fertilizer for all-purpose garden use, whether you are helping your Hostas thrive or giving your trees an extra boost. This fertilizer promotes root growth, aids against disease, and improves the long-term quality of the soil.
It’s a gentle, organic, and slow-release feed that will enrich the soil with the nutrients that your Hostas need without damaging the environment. The granules are completely organic, contain no harmful chemicals, and last up to 3 months.
How to use: For best results, I would recommend lightly sprinkling the fertilizer at the base of the plant and then watering afterward.
For established plants and shrubs, mix 1 ½ cups per foot of plant spread. For plants, 3 feet or wider, use 2 cups.
- Easy packaging for resealable storage
- Great for multi-plant gardens
- May stain driveways, walkways, and patios
If you have a significant collection of outdoor shrubs and trees, this is an excellent option. Because of its even distribution of nutrients, it is safe for all of your plants.
Users love this feed because it helps to establish a strong root system and improves the structure and appearance of foliage making leaves shinier and healthier. Your Hostas will thank you!
Use as a regular fertilizer during the growing season or incorporate into the soil when you are first planting to add a balanced blend of macronutrients to the soil and help your Hosta plants to thrive.
I prefer using this feed for ground-planted Hostas rather than those grown in pots and containers as the run-off caused staining on the hardscape beneath the pots.
How to use: For flowers and large shrubs, use ½ cups per 4 feet of height. Apply 3 times per year and rinse fertilizer off of leaves or stems. Use ¼ cups for younger plants.
- Easy to use
- Great price
- Dependable results
- Use half the amount to avoid over-fertilizing
J R Peters Jacks All-Purpose Fertilizer is a family-owned company that strives to give the everyday gardener a high-quality water-soluble fertilizer.
The product was created to feed both through the roots and the leaves and the equal formula of nutrients provides greener leaves, luscious flowers, and brighter colors.
Peter Jacks is safe for all indoor and outdoor plants, trees, and vegetables although I prefer using half quantities for my Hosta plants.
How to use: For best results, apply through watering every one to two weeks. For outdoor plants, add 1 tablespoon per gallon of water. For indoor plants, apply ½ teaspoon per gallon of water every other week or ¼ teaspoon every time you water your plants.
How to Fertilize Hostas
Follow these steps to correctly apply fertilizer to your hostas:
Measure the Fertilizer: As a general rule, I prefer to apply 50-75% of the manufacturer’s recommended dosage. Over-fertilizing can cause more harm than good, as excessive nutrients can lead to weak, floppy growth and potentially burn the plants. If you have very poor soil use 75%, if you have good soil use 50% of the manufacturer’s dosage.
Apply the Fertilizer: Sprinkle the fertilizer evenly around the base of the hostas as a top dressing, taking care not to get any on the plant’s leaves or crown. The fertilizer should be applied approximately 6-8 inches from the plant’s center, leaving the nutrients accessible to the root system.
As you can see in the photograph below I like to cultivate the soil lightly, apply the fertilizer as a top dressing, and then dig it into the top few inches of soil with my trowel.
Water the Hostas: After applying, water the hostas thoroughly to dissolve the granules and transport the nutrients into the soil, making them available for the plants to absorb.
Mulch: Consider applying a layer of organic mulch, such as shredded leaves or compost, around the hostas after fertilizing. Mulch helps to regulate soil temperature, retain moisture, and gradually release nutrients into the soil as it decomposes. If you have snail or slug problems in your garden avoid this step, as it may just encourage them to move in!
Fertilizing Hosta in Pots or Containers
Growing Hostas is a great way to add texture and interest to your outdoor space and, since slugs love Hostas, it’s a great way to keep them out of reach. Plus, if you don’t have a very big yard, plants in pots might be your only option.
Bear in mind that Hostas grown in pots will need fertilizing and watering more often, so a water-soluble fertilizer might be your friend here. It’s important to feed them once in the spring and again in mid-summer.
Common Mistakes When Fertilizing Hostas
Here are some of the common problems I see with fertilizing hostas, follow the basic plant care principles I have outlined in this article and hostas will reward you. But look out for these mistakes:
Over-fertilizing: Applying excessive amounts of fertilizer will cause your hostas to put out weak, leggy growth, and make them susceptible to pests and diseases. Over-fertilizing will also lead to fertilizer burn, which damages the plant’s roots and turns the edges of the plant’s leaves brown and crispy. To avoid this issue, always follow the recommended application rates on the fertilizer label and then adjust it down to 50% and see how the plant responds. You can always apply more at a later date.
Nutrient Imbalances: Hostas require a balance of nutrients to put on their best performance. Bad fertilizer selection can lead to imbalances, causing poor growth and potential health problems. Opt for an all-purpose balanced, slow-release fertilizer.
Fertilizer on Foliage: When applying granular fertilizer, avoid getting it on the plant’s leaves or crown to avoid burn. Always apply the product around the base of the plant, approximately 6-8 inches away from the center.
Insufficient Watering: After applying fertilizer, it is crucial to water your hostas thoroughly. This helps dissolve the granules and distribute the nutrients evenly throughout the soil. If you don’t water your hostas after fertilizing it can lead to uneven nutrient distribution and potentially burn the plant’s roots.
Ignoring Soil pH: Hostas prefer slightly acidic to neutral soil (pH 6.0 to 7.0). Fertilizing without checking for soil pH can lead to nutrient imbalances and poor growth. To put it in simple terms if the pH is wrong the plant cannot absorb the nutrient in the soil, so you are wasting your time fertilizing. Use lime to raise the pH or sulfur to lower it.
Timing Issues: It is important to apply fertilizer during the key growth periods in particular early spring through to late spring, and again if necessary in early summer, and mid to late summer. But I always recommend listening to your plants…if they look like they need it feed them, if not then maybe sk