Sum and substance plant care & growing guide

If you are looking to cultivate a garden with a few exotic but easily cared for plants, hostas are a great choice. And of all the hostas available, the Sum and Substance Hosta is a fantastic choice!

The Sum and Substance hosta is a very large hosta cultivar with thick light-green leaves. Individual plants routinely grow to 5′ wide and 3′ tall. Developed on Long Island, this hosta is tolerant of heat and sunlight (and even develops its best coloring with a dose of morning full sunlight). Sum and Substance is a consistent and reliable ornamental plant in the landscape with very low maintenance requirements.

Here’s everything you need to know about Sum and Substance hostas in your garden.

Sum and substance hostas in the garden
Sum and substance plant care & growing guide

Sum and Substance Hostas: The Basics

The Sum and Substance Hosta is a very popular bright yellow-green large hosta variety. Sum and Substance hosta plants are very large hostas, producing a mound of leaves that can regularly spread out as much five feet wide. The plants are also taller than most other hostas, reaching an impressive three feet tall in good growing conditions. Each leaf can grow over a foot long (and sometimes over a foot wide at the widest point).

The Sum and substance hosta was bred in the early 1970s by Florence Shaw of Weston, Massachusetts. This variety was introduced in 1980 by retired high-school science teacher Paul Aden of Baldwin, Long Island (New York). The Sum and Substance Hosta received the prestigious RHS Award of Garden Merit in 1993, and went on to become the American Hosta Grower’s Association’s 2004 Hosta Of The Year.

Sum and substance hosta
Sum and substance plant care & growing guide

Planting the Sum and Substance Hosta

The best time to plant a sum and substance hosta is during the early fall after the summer’s heat has peaked. This keeps the plants from getting burned by the sun and gives them adequate time to spread their roots deep for the winter. You can also plant the hosta during the early spring, but they might have a lot of competition with other plants during the spring months.

Though the sum and substance hosta isn’t a very needy plant, it can be thirsty, especially during the first few months after it has been planted. For this reason, you will want to plant it in rich soil that holds water well. Once you have your soil, dig a hole that is much wider than the base of the plant so that you have room to surround your plant in fertilizer. The hole should be about one foot deep as well. Once you have put your hosta in the ground, bury it in fertilizer and perhaps a layer of mulch.

In order to grow to their full size, sum and substance hostas will need to send their roots deep. Give the plant as much support as possible during this time by applying fertilizer and plenty of water at the plant’s base. Do not use a liquid fertilizer, however, as this fertilizer could damage the roots before they are fully grown.

Leaves of the sum and substance hosta
Sum and substance plant care & growing guide

How To Care For Sum & Substance Hostas

Consistent watering is the most important maintenance task for Sum and Substance hostas. Give them about 1” (25mm) of water each week. If the hostas receive this much rain that week, they likely don’t need to be watered, but any shortfall should be made up with supplemental watering. Try not to water the leaves of the Hosta, and instead apply the water directly to the soil overtop of the roots (drip irrigation works very well for hostas). Hostas are best done early in the morning (evening watering can encourage overnight slug and snail damage).

As the Sum and Substance hosta grows, it will become more and more self-reliant. It will need a lot of water to keep it growing, but apart from that, you should have no problems growing it. As long as the roots are left free to expand, the plant’s foliage should grow in kind. This variety is not as attractive to slugs and snails as many other hosta varieties.

“Mr. Aden has developed Sum and Substance, a tough-leafed hosta that even slugs don’t like. (Slugs love all other hostas, and he has drowned thousands and has even cooked them up. “But no matter what I do,” he said, “they taste like rubber bands.”) He also plants Petasites japonicus, or Japanese butterbur, as slug food. “They love it so much they don’t eat the hostas,” he said.”

The Cultivated Gardener; A New Ardor for Hostas, Once Spurned, The New York Times, August 11, 1991, by Anne Raver.

In order to handle cold winters, your hosta will shrink and fall back to the ground when freezing temperatures arrive. Though they may look dead, they will be flashing their leaves again once the warmer spring weather comes round. This time in which the plant is recovering from the winter is pretty much the only time of year that you need to give them any extra care. Fertilize them during the spring and ensure that they are sufficiently watered and you should have no problems for the rest of the year.

There isn’t much that you need to do for the sum and substance hosta apart from fertilizing and watering it. As long as it is kept free from pests and remains uneaten by deer, your hosta will stay around for a long time. The plant can survive for as long as 30 years in a garden with almost no maintenance, making this plant a great investment for a garden.

Planting Sum and Substance Hostas

Hostas grow best in nutrient-rich, slightly acidic fertile soil that is moist (not dry), but that drains excess water away easily. Typically, a sandy loam soil enriched with organic compost is preferable. Hostas grow best in sheltered locations, where the large leaves are protected from harsh sunlight, strong winds, and potentially damaging precipitation like hail.

Plant your hosta in a partial sun-partial shade location. Sum and Substance hostas are more tolerant of full sunlight than many other hosta varieties. The color of their leaves is best when these plants do receive some full sunlight (morning is best in hotter climates). These hostas were developed on Long Island and are also very tolerant of heat when healthy. Plants can tolerate heat waves (even in the temperature range around 100°F (38°C), provided they have adequate water and shade.

Sum and Substance hostas grow to be quite large in good conditions, often reaching up to five feet wide and 3 feet tall. The individual leaves can each get about 18″ long and over a foot wide in the center. Be sure to plant this hosta in a location where it has room to spread and grow to its full mature size.

Growing Sum & Substance Hostas In Your Landscape

Most gardeners implement the sum and substance hosta to add variety and a green backdrop to their gardens. Because this hosta is a perennial plant (meaning that it has a lifespan longer than a year) it is mostly incorporated into perennial gardens. In general, perennial gardens have larger plants that require much less maintenance, which perfectly suits the sum and substance hosta.

Though the plant may start with a small size and small leaves, it can grow to monstrous sizes. Be sure that you give the young plants plenty of room to grow, spacing different plants at least three feet apart. Though the plant needs a lot of space, it isn’t very picky about where you plant it. The sum and substance hosta thrives in shady areas that aren’t as appreciated by some of a gardener’s more sensitive flowers.

Besides its many soft, thick, golden-green leaves, the Sum and Substance hosta also sports a few blossoms during August and September. These blossoms are usually lavender in color and attract hummingbirds with their nectar. The wide leaves (which can measure a foot and a half long and a foot wide) shade the ground from the sun and provide excellent contrast for the flowers and bushes around them.

Though it shares many attributes with other related hosta plants, the Sum & Substance hosta is unique in its size and coloring. It can grow at least a foot wider than most hostas and several inches taller, with showy golden leaves to display instead of common green ones. Because of these simple differences, the sum and substance hosta is a favorite species for gardeners to cultivate.

Companion Planting with Sum & Substance

Sum & Substance Hosta’s bright cheerful leaves make it excellent for pairing with darker foliage plants and even with flowering shrubs. Try it in front of a white Hydrangea or among some Ostritch Ferns of a similar shade. Alternatively, plant some contrasting foliage plants like Coral Bells or Brunnera in front of this large variety, or a colorful tree like Japanese Maple overhead. Here are more companion plants for hostas.

Hosta History

The plant genus hosta comes from Northeastern Asia and is found most commonly in China, Korea, and Japan. The plant was sometimes cultivated for food (as the flowers and young shoots are sometimes edible) but it was largely ignored until European explorers showed up in the 19th Century. Hostas symbolize friendship because of their long lives and non-demanding nature.

Mary Jane Duford
Mary Jane Duford

Mary Jane Duford is a gardening expert and founder of Home for the Harvest. She's also an engineer and certified permaculture garden designer. Mary Jane has been featured by publications such as Real Simple, Mother Earth News, Homes & Gardens, Heirloom Gardener, and Family Handyman.