Hostas are well known for their delightful foliage that looks wonderful as border plants or in mass plantings. But what do you grow with them? This list of hosta companion plants will help you fill in those borders with other shade loving plants.Every experienced gardener knows how important foliage plants are in the garden. Plants like hostas will give interest and variety all through the spring and summer months.
Contrast this with perennials or bulbs that give flower power for just a few weeks of the growing season and you can see the reason for foliage plant’s popularity.
Hosta Companion Plants
These hosta companion plants are a nice combination of annual and perennial flowers, ground covers and shrubs that will fill in those shady garden beds for season-long interest.
Their delightful colors and foliage textures add variety to your landscape. Use these plants to showcase the unique foliage of hostas in an interesting and cohesive way.
Because most hosta plants form a dense mound of cascading leaves, adding shade liking plants with a lighter and finer texture will bring the whole garden bed together.
Perennials Plants for Shade Gardens
Perennials are those plants that you add to your garden one time and they continue to return year after year in the spring. Where you live and your hardiness zone will determine whether the plant will come back after winter in your area.
Some perennials have a wide cold hardiness zones (hardy in zones 2 to 10, which encompasses most of the USA.) Others will be more limited. The higher the hardiness number, the warmer your climate must be if the plant will over-winter.
Tender perennials are those grown in zones 9-11. In other parts of the country they are grown as annuals and planted each year.
Here are a few ideas for shade loving perennials that pair well in a hosta garden.
One of my favorites in the list of shade tolerant plants is hellebore. Not only is this plant tolerant of the shade, it actually loves it! They are cold hardy in zones 4-9.
Plant hellebores along size of hostas and you’ll be rewarded with plants with very long lasting flowers that start when the snow is on the ground and are still growing strong when the hostas start to clump out.
The tiny pink hearts of dicentra spectabilis (also known as bleeding hearts) add a contrast like no other.
The soft and feathery leaves give softness to the more formal and angular foliage of the hostas and those tiny pops of heart shaped color is always breathtaking.
Hardy in zones 3-9, bleeding heart really does love the shade!
Brunnera Macrophyllia ‘Jack Frost’
This clump-forming perennial is primarily grown in shady garden areas for its attractive heart-shaped, dark green and white foliage. It looks great interspersed with hosta plants.
Brunnera macrophyllia ‘Jack Frost’ is hardy in zones 3-8 and sports blue flowers in spring. It’s shade tolerant AND rabbit tolerant. It likes part shade to full shade.
Japanese Painted Fern
Athyrium ‘Godzilla’ (Japanese Painted Fern) has exotic looking foliage that pairs very well with the strapping look of hosta plants.
The plant is hardy in zones 5-8 and has a spread of 48 to 72 inches in the right conditions. With enough moisture and shade, the fronds of the plant will grow in thick clusters.
Plant it directly in to the ground if you have enough space for the mature plant, or it also does well in garden pots.
Heuchera varieties (also known as Coral Bells) are clumping perennials with dramatic foliage in all sorts of colors from orange and red through to almost black and even variegated.
Spiky flowers on long stalks appear in summer. They are happy in both shade and filtered sun. Hardy in zones 4-9.
Plant some dark leaf varieties such as heuchera ‘tnbeueb’ – Black Coral Bells for maximum contrast.
The soft feathery flowers and spiky foliage of astilbe are a stark contrast to the look of hostas. Luckily, they like the same growing conditions, so you can enjoy them both in one garden bed.
This mounding perennials is hardy in zones 3-9 and some varieties have very think flowers, giving the plant its common name false goat’s beard.
Asarum is also known as wild ginger. It loves part shade to full shade and is hardy in zones 4-6.
Wild ginger naturally grows in wooded areas and is right at home in a shade garden with hostas.
Other shade loving perennials to grow with hostas
The above plants are just a few choices. Other perennial shade plants to try are:
- Primrose (some grow this as an annual, but it comes back every year for me.)
- Bluebird Columbine (zones 3-9)
- Toad Lily (zones 4-8)
- Oxalis (comes in many colors and is hardy in zones 6 and warmer)
- Elephant Ears (huge showy leaves that tower over the hostas. Likes both sun and shade. Normally only hardy in zones 10 and 11, but I am in 7b and mine come back each year.)
- Asparagus Fern – another tender perennial, but I had luck overwintering it here in NC this year.)
Grow Shade Loving Annuals as Hosta Companion Plants
Annuals are often grown from seed and are planted in the spring and summer months, bloom for that one season and then die. You will need to plant them each year.
Most annual like full sun but there are several that are shade lovers and those will add a delightful pop of color when mixed with your hosta plants.
Here are some annuals for shade gardens that pair well with hostas.
Golden Shrimp Plant
Pachystachys lutea is also known by the common names “lollipop plant” and “golden shrimp plant”
It is a tropical plant with soft stems and very pretty flowers. It grows to about 48 inches tall.
Used as an annual in most areas, the plant is only cold hardy in zones 10 and 11. It can tolerate partial shade and adds a nice pop of color in hosta garden beds.
The perky flowers of impatiens (also known as Buzy Lizzy) will brighten up any dark and shady garden bed.
The plant comes in both single and double varieties and is a great plant to have if you don’t like to deadhead, since it is quite self cleaning.
One would not think that a plant with the color that caladiums have would be good in a shady spot but that is exactly where it is happiest.
The plant comes in many color varieties from white through to pink and red and it makes a fabulous companion plant for hosta.
The leaves of caladiums are somewhat heart shaped, much like an elephant ear and vibrantly colored.
You can dig up the tubers to over-winter caladiums in colder zones, but if you plan to do this, do it early. My experience shows that as soon as the temperatures hit 50 degrees F, there is no evidence of where the plant was!
This colorful annual thrives in cool, moist soil that drains well. Be careful not to overwater, or you will cause root rot.
There are some varieties of coleus that can handle the sun, but most like filtered shade with the sun coming mainly in the morning. Check out growing tips for coleus here.
This makes them an ideal plant to have along side of hostas to add colorful interest. Pinch out the tops of the plant to make them bushier.
This photo from The Toledo Botanical Gardens shows a mass plantings of coleus, caladiums and hostas and demonstrates how well they look together.
Digitalis, also known as foxgloves, are considered a biennial. The plant grows the first year and flowers the second and then dies. It’s kind of a cross between an annual and a perennial.
However, it is a vigorous re-seeder, so it acts somewhat like a perennial. This dramatic plant doesn’t need much sun at all, which makes it ideal for a shady border where hostas like to hang out.
The tall bell shaped flowers will add drama, texture and softness to the garden bed, so it is an idea companion for hosta plants. Find out more about foxgloves here.
Other annuals that made good hosta companions.
- Dragon wing begonia – dramatic in both leaf and flower. Its sister plant is also known as angel wing begonia and also likes the shade. They look similar but have different colored leaves.
- New Guinea Impatiens – This impatiens is perfectly happy in a shady spot
- Persian Shield – the colorful foliage adds impact in hosta beds.
Shrubs that Grow in Shade near hosta plants
Shrubs are medium sized woody plants. They can be distinguished from trees because they have multiple stems and are shorter in size.
Many perennial shrubs, such as forsythia, need full sun to grow well, but there are some that are considered shade loving shrubs.
Plant a few of these near your hostas and you’ll add some needed height and potential flowers as well!
I have my azaleas under the shade of a huge tree in my front yard, along with hosta plants, rhododendrons and hellebores. Each plant has their own time to shine and the overall look is amazing.
And that fantastic display of flowers in early spring is such a welcome sight!
I have four camellia bushes. One gets full sun and flowered like crazy this year but the leaves are slightly damaged from the sun.
The other 3 are in shady borders with my hostas. Those have glossy green leaves and did flower but not in the same magnitude as my sunny garden shrub.
In the shade borders, the camellias add height and the lovely burst of flowers in very early spring. They compliment the hostas and hellebores that grow at their base nicely.
Since the border faces north, my combination planting gives a lot of long season color and foliage of different types.
Most hydrangea plants thrive in soil that is porous, rich in organic matter and kept evenly moist.
While they do love fun in the morning with some afternoon shade, many will grow and bloom in a shady spot.
This photo shows my big leaf Hydrangea which sits in a north facing border, surrounded by bleeding hearts, primroses, hostas, ferns and coral bells and it is in full shade.
I rarely have to water it and it has flowers all summer long. In contrast my other hydrangeas in much more sun have me at the end of hose most days. Your mileage may vary!
A cousin the the azalea, rhododendron plants don’t mind the shade at all and will flower beautifully in a garden bed with hostas.
This gives softness and color to contrast with the hosta foliage.
This rhododendron bush is in a garden bed that gets very little sunlight until later in the afternoon. The morning and mid day hours are in mainly shade. It flowers well and looks great with hostas.
Shade Ground Cover Plants to grow near hosta
Even though hostas form large clumps over time, there are usually still some empty spots near them that need filling in.
These shade ground covers will add some texture to the garden bed and will particularly add some softness to the edges, since many of them like to spill over edging material.
If you are trying to cover a shady spot in your garden, this tough ground cover will fill in the area quickly and add a punch of color to boot. Ajuga is commonly known as bugleweed.
The low growing mass of leaves covers the ground quickly so that the hostas will grow above them with no bare spots nearby.
This plant REALLY loves the shade. It is tough and I have some in the sunnier areas of my garden, but they get very crisp in the middle of summer, where the shady guys just keep on trucking.
Vinca minor is also known as periwinkle. If you have a shady spot in your garden where other plants don’t do well, plant this tough guy.
The vigorous trailing plant will cover the planting area around your hostas and delight you with its pretty blooms as well!
This hardy plant does well in the shade and has a look that is similar to hostas. The leaves are smaller and the plant is great planted as a border plant to set off the garden bed.
Variegated liriope – liriope muscari variegata – is super easy to grow. See my tips for growing it here.
The normal version of liriope can also be used but I find it more invasive.
Sweet Potato Vine
This fast growing plant will fill in an area of a partly shady border in no time at all. Plant it near some of your larger hostas, or the sweet potato will outgrow your smaller types.
Bulbs that can take a Shady spot as Hosta Companion Plants
We often think of bulbs as those plants that produce best when given full sun.
But there are shade loving bulbs that will thrive in the lower light areas of your garden. Some of these only like morning such and do best when shaded from the heat of the afternoon.
Plant a few of these in shady garden spots along with your hostas and you’ll be rewarded with their bright and cheery flower faces.
- Crocus – sun to partial shade in zones 3-8
- Anemone – sun or partial shade. In cool areas they like more sun but in the south they will do well in a shade border. Hardy in zones 5-9 depending on variety.
- Tulips – will tolerate partial shade. Cold hardy in zones 4-10.
- Lily of the Valley – they prefer partial shade and moist soil. Cold Hardy in zones 2-9.
- Snowdrops – will take full sun to light shade in zones 3-7.
- Muscari – can tolerate a bit of shade for zones 4-9
Do be aware that no bulbs like full shade. Use these as companions for the variegated hostas that can take a bit more sun.
Pin this list of hosta companion plants for later
Would you like a reminder of these shade loving plants? Just pin this image to one of your gardening boards on Pinterest so that you can easily find it later.
Shop for Hosta Companion Plants
There are many online sites that sell shade plants and your local garden centers and Farmer’s Market is a good place to look for them.
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