Also called plantain lily, hostas come in a diverse range of foliage shapes, colors, textures, and sizes. There is truly a hosta for everyone, whether it be an adorable miniature hosta for a trough garden or a mammoth monster of a plant to fill up a big space under a shade tree.
What was once just a plain green leafy plant has now evolved into a rich palette of colors that acts as a dynamic filler in many shade gardens. Hostas have been hybridized, divided, shared, and mutated many times to create the huge variety of leaf sizes, textures, and colors that we see today.
As a whole, hostas are genetically unstable plants. This causes them to mutate fairly regularly, or "sport." A sport occurs when a hosta that may be typically all green sends up a new leaf that looks different, say variegated, for example. If this variegated sport is fairly stable (meaning it doesn't turn back to green after a while), it can be divided and treated as a new variety.
You may occasionally see some blooms above the foliage of hostas. While some blooms are small and not the showiest in the garden, others are worth keeping. Some hostas boast exceptionally long, tubular white blooms that have an intoxicating fragrance similar to jasmine or gardenia. On a warm night, these plants can richly perfume any garden space . The decision is up to you: Cut the sometimes visibly unappealing blooms or let them remain to grace your garden (they will draw pollinators like bumblebees, too).
Hosta Care Must-Knows
With well over 3,000 different ones to choose from, you're bound to find at least a few hosta varieties that appeal to you. Luckily, hostas are generally easy plants to grow; with a few general rules of thumb, you can help them thrive in your own garden.
While drought-tolerant, hostas do not like being left too dry. These plants prefer to be in rich, well-drained soil with a constant supply of moisture. They can stand up to drought but not for too long.
Consider light when choosing a place to plant your hostas. While almost all hostas can handle full shade, some thrive in full sun. Varieties with variegated leaves will show best color in at least part sun. In too much shade, these varieties may turn back to an all-green color. Blue-leaf varieties prefer some shade and do better in cooler climates. Ideal sunny-spot hostas include deep green varieties. Just be careful about placing in full sun if the leaves have any white coloring.
Because these plants are such quick growers, they can easily be divided and shared with friends. The best time to do this is in the spring when the foliage emerges so that you have a better idea of where to cut. However, because hostas are fairly tough plants, you can successfully divide them in any season (except winter when the ground is frozen). Just make sure to give them plenty of water if you divide in the heat of summer.
Common Hosta Pests to Watch For
The downside to these versatile perennials is that they are preyed on by several pests. Deer and rabbits love to make a meal out of tender hosta plants. If you have a particularly special plant, cage it early in the spring so its new growth doesn't become a salad snack for these critters. Slugs and snails also can leave your hostas in tatters, so keep an eye out for any holes in the leaves, then seek out and destroy the slimy culprits.
Along with visible pests, hostas are also prone to a few less noticeable fiends. Foliar nematodes have become a recent problem for hostas. Most common in the summer, these microscopic worms eat through leaf veins, which causes the foliage to yellow and eventually brown. Unfortunately, there is no known fix for foliar nematodes, and infected plants should be tossed to prevent spreading.
Another newer pest problem is Hosta Virus X. This tricky virus causes mottling of the foliage that almost looks ornamental in some cases. In fact, before this virus was properly identified, some varieties were introduced into the plant trade as having novel foliage, which was actually due to the virus. If you see mottled leaves, send samples to your local extension office for testing. If positive, discard the infected plants to prevent the virus from spreading to other hostas.
More Varieties of Hosta
Hosta montana 'Aureomarginata' develops wide clumps of glossy, tapering leaves with wavy, irregular yellow edges. Mauve flowers bloom in early summer. Zones 3-9
Hosta 'Aztec Treasure' has 1-foot mounds of heart-shape chartreuse leaves and bell-shape purple flowers in summer. Zones 3-8
Hosta 'Blue Mouse Ears' is a charming dwarf selection with rounded blue leaves. It grows 5 inches tall and 12 inches wide. Zones 3-9
Hosta 'Chartreuse Wiggles' bears thin golden-green leaves with wavy edges. It grows 6 inches tall and 12 inches wide. Zones 3-9
Hosta 'Daybreak' bears deep gold leaves with a corrugated texture. It has lavender flowers and grows 3 feet wide. Zones 3-8
Hosta 'Deja Blu' offers blue-green leaves that bear a golden-green edge. It grows 14 inches tall and 20 inches wide. Zones 3-9
Hosta 'Formal Attire' has large blue-green leaves edged in creamy white. The foliage has a distinctive puckered texture. It grows 30 inches tall and wide. Zones 3-9
Hosta 'Francee' develops wide mounds of large oval leaves rimmed with cream. Funnel-shape lavender flowers bloom in summer on 30-inch stems. Zones 3-9
Hosta 'Golden Prayers' shows off cupped golden-yellow leaves. It's a compact selection that grows 10 inches tall and 16 inches wide. Zones 3-9
Hosta 'Great American Expectations' features large chartreuse leaves edged in blue. It grows 26 inches tall and wide. Zones 3-9
Hosta 'Great Expectations' has puckered chartreuse leaves irregularly edged in blue. It grows 22 inches tall and 40 inches wide. Zones 3-9
Hosta 'Heavenly Tiara' bears light green foliage edged in gold. It grows 12 inches tall and 36 inches wide. Zones 3-9
Hosta 'June' is an award-winning selection that features golden-yellow leaves broadly edged in blue. It grows 15 inches tall and 20 inches wide. It's somewhat sun-tolerant. Zones 3-9
Hosta 'Krossa Regal' is an elegant selection that offers blue-green foliage and a unique vase-shape habit. It grows 36 inches tall and 60 inches wide. Zones 3-9
Hosta 'Pandora's Box' shows off creamy-white foliage edged in dark green. This miniature variety grows only 2 inches tall and 5 inches wide. Zones 3-9
Hosta 'Paradigm' is an award-winning selection with thick, golden leaves narrowly edged in blue-green. It's a large variety that grows to 46 inches tall and 48 inches wide. Zones 3-9
Hosta 'Pathfinder' is a compact variety with thick, slug-resistant, creamy-white foliage edged in dark green. It grows 12 inches tall and 24 inches wide. Zones 3-9
Hosta 'Patriot' is an award-winning variety with dark green leaves boldly edged in white. It grows 12 inches tall and 30 inches wide. Zones 3-8
Hosta 'Silver Threads and Golden Needles' is a miniature variety bearing green leaves edged and streaked in gold and silver. It grows 6 inches tall and 8 inches wide. Zones 3-9
Hosta 'Stitch in Time' is a compact selection with green leaves edged in cream. The foliage has a unique quilted look. It grows 14 inches tall and 24 inches wide. Zones 3-9
Hosta 'Striptease' features golden leaves with wide green edges. A thin white sliver separates the green and yellow colors. It grows 20 inches tall and 36 inches wide. Zones 3-9
Hosta 'Sum and Substance' is one of the largest and most popular hostas around. It has huge chartreuse leaves that can reach 24 inches long. The plant grows 24 inches tall and 60 inches wide. Zones 3-9
Hosta 'Sun Power' is a sun-tolerant variety with yellow-green leaves. It shows brightest color when it gets direct sun in the morning. 'Sun Power' grows 24 inches tall and 48 inches wide.
Hosta 'Touch of Class' is a stunning selection bearing chartreuse leaves widely edged in blue. It grows 7 inches tall and 24 inches wide. Zones 3-9
Hosta 'Whirlwind' bears upright leaves that start out creamy white edged in green but become all green as the summer passes. It grows 5 inches tall and 40 inches wide. Zones 3-9
Hosta Companion Plants
Astilbe brings a graceful feathering note to moist, shady landscapes. In cooler climates in the northern third or so of the country, it can tolerate full sun provided it has a constant supply of moisture. In drier sites, however, the leaves will scorch in full sun. Feathery plumes of white, pink, lavender, or red flowers rise above the finely divided foliage from early to late summer depending on the variety. It will spread slowly over time where well-situated. Most commercially available types are complex hybrids.
Perfect for cottage and woodland gardens, old-fashioned columbines are available in almost all colors of the rainbow. Intricate little flowers, they are most commonly a combination of red, peach, and yellow but also blues, whites, pure yellows, and pinks; they look almost like folded paper lanterns. Columbine thrives in sun or partial shade in moist, well-drained soil. Plants tend to be short-lived but self-seed readily, often creating natural hybrids with other nearby columbines. If you want to prevent self-seeding, deadhead plants after bloom.
For that shady spot, you can't go wrong with holly ferns. Their evergreen fronds always look good, and they mix well with other shade lovers without taking over. They can be planted close and massed as a groundcover, or used as accent plants where soil is rich and well-drained.