One of the most commonly grown shade garden plants, hostas have captured the hearts of gardeners everywhere. Also called plantain lilies, these plants have a diverse offering of foliage shapes, colors, and sizes. There is truly a hosta for everyone, whether it be a 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 simple green leafy plant has now become a rich palette of colors that acts as the backdrop to many shade gardens. Within the course of its fairly recent life in horticulture, hosta plants have been hybridized, divided, shared, and mutated many times to create what we see today.
As a whole, hostas are genetically unstable plants. This causes them to mutate fairly regularly, or "sport." A "sport" is when a hosta that may be typically all green sends up a new leaf that is variegated. This variegated portion is called a "sport" and if it is fairly stable (meaning it doesn't go back to green after a while), it can be divided and treated as a new plant.
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 of 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.
Hosta Care Must-Knows
You are sure to find a hosta to love with well over 3,000 registered cultivars to choose from. Luckily, hostas are some of the toughest plants around and, with a few general rules of thumb, you can easily grow these 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 patches.
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 such tough plants, you can divide them any season without too much risk. Just make sure to give them plenty of water if you divide in the heat of summer.
The downside to these versatile perennials is that they are commonly preyed on by pests. Deer, rabbits, and even slugs love to make a meal out of tender hosta plants. If you have a particularly special hosta plant, cage it early in the spring so its new growth doesn't become a healthy salad for would-be predators.
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 of the hosta, which causes the leaves 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 that hostas tend to endure 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 them from spreading to others.
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
'Aztec Treasure' Hosta
Hosta 'Aztec Treasure' has 1-foot mounds of heart-shape chartreuse leaves and bell-shape purple flowers in summer. Zones 3-8
'Blue Mouse Ears' Hosta
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
'Chartreuse Wiggles' Hosta
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
'Deja Blu' Hosta
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
'Formal Attire' Hosta
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 plantaginea bears rich-green leaves and 5-foot-tall stems of fragrant white flowers. It grows 26 inches tall and 4 feet 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
'Frances Williams' Hosta
Hosta 'Frances Williams' is one of the most decorative hostas. Its bold cupped and puckered, heart-shape blue-green leaves have irregular yellowish-green edges. Dirty-white bells rise on 2-foot scapes in summer. Zones 3-9
'Golden Prayers' Hosta
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
'Great American Expectations' Hosta
Hosta 'Great American Expectations' features large chartreuse leaves edged in blue. It grows 26 inches tall and wide. Zones 3-9
'Great Expectations' Hosta
Hosta 'Great Expectations' has puckered chartreuse leaves irregularly edged in blue. It grows 22 inches tall and 40 inches wide. Zones 3-9
'Heavenly Tiara' Hosta
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
'Krossa Regal' Hosta
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
'Pandora's Box' Hosta
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 'Sagae' is a popular variety with blue-green leaves edged in creamy yellow. It grows 28 inches tall and 3 feet wide. Zones 3-8
'Silver Threads and Golden Needles' Hosta
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
'Stitch in Time' Hosta
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
'Sum and Substance' Hosta
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
'Sun Power' Hosta
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.
'Tokudama Flavocircinalis' Hosta
Hosta 'Tokudama Flavocircinalis' has textured, heart-shape leaves with irregular yellow margins. The summer flowers are pale lavender on 18-inch stems. It makes a fine groundcover. Zones 3-9
'Touch of Class' Hosta
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 'Wolverine' bears long, narrow blue-green leaves edged crisply in gold. It grows 15 inches tall and 40 inches wide. Zones 3-9
Plant Hosta With:
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.