Durable, Colorful Foliage
Go ahead, run your hands over the leaves—you wouldn't be the first. There is something about hosta foliage that begs to be touched. Large and luxuriant, generally with a velvety matte finish, the leaves look like something born in a primeval forest. While many perennials have tender, delicate look-but-don't-touch flowers, hosta color comes on robust leaves that stand up to the attention. And for gardeners who struggle with a shady area of the yard, these colorful, durable plants seem heaven-sent, transforming a potentially drab space into a lush, soothing oasis.
Native to China, Korea, and Japan, where they grow alongside streams and in woodland areas, hostas really became of interest to American gardeners in the 1980s, when breeders found success in changing the variegation, something that previously occurred only through natural plant mutations. The variegation appears as a band, or margin, of contrasting color around the leaf's edge. It usually combines any of the two core colors—green, blue, or gold, which includes the chartreuse and yellow-tinged varieties—or a core color with white, though some newer varieties have three colors.
Sun Tolerance and Color
Hosta foliage is long-lasting, peeking up through the soil in late spring and remaining until fall, though hot climates will sap color before late September. In early or midsummer, tall spikes extend from the center of the plant and fill with white or lavender trumpet-shaped flowers that last through August. Some gardeners choose to prune them off, redirecting energy and focus back to the showier foliage.
Pay a little attention to where you plant hostas and you'll be rewarded with bright color and good growth. Most do best with 3 to 6 hours of morning sun. The brighter chartreuse and gold cultivars tolerate more sun. Mostly white hostas usually don't fare well in shade because they lack the chlorophyll required to make food. Afternoon sun, especially in the South, will stress plants and fade leaves. Blue hostas are particularly susceptible to too much sun, which softens the naturally occurring protective wax that keeps them blue, reverting them back to their true green color.
Shown: Lining a walkway with 'Lemon Lime' mini hostas creates a clean border and allows taller varieties, such as golden 'Pineapple Juice' (upper right), to stand out.
Susceptible to Garden Pest Damage
While hosta leaves are tender, meaning they die back where winters are cold, the plants are not delicate and will survive down to minus 40 degrees F, growing in the coldest parts of Minnesota (Zone 3) as well as in central Florida (USDA Hardiness Zone 9). They prefer moist, well-draining soil with a good amount of organic matter. It's hard to overwater hostas, but expect them to need about an inch of water each week during the hottest months. Generally easy to grow and disease resistant, they can be susceptible to damage from common garden pests, including deer, voles, rabbits, and slugs.
Today's breeders are tackling practical concerns, such as increased slug resistance (by developing varieties with thicker, more textured leaves) and smaller plant size, as well as cosmetic improvements, including better colorfastness, new leaf shapes, and surface sheen. A lot of effort is being put into developing miniature hostas because of the versatility that these smaller plants, most of which are less than 7 inches high, can provide. Planted under larger perennials in borders or mixed into a container, minis work where larger hostas overwhelm. Newer ones of note include 'Alakazaam,' with ruffled, tapered leaves with green centers, yellow margins, and tiny lavender flowers; and the larger 'Gemstone,' up to 10 inches high, with wavy, rippled blue leaves and lavender flowers on 22-inch-high stems.
Shown: When a lawn runs right up to the base of a tree, mowers and string trimmers can damage the trunk. Ringing the tree with shade-tolerant hostas safeguards the bark and creates a focal point in the yard. Here, the large, variegated leaves of 'Tom Schmid' tower above smaller varieties.
Jumbo hostas easily anchor a planting bed, though they do require fertilizer to reach maximum size. At 6 feet wide by 4 feet tall, the dinner-plate-size foliage of 'Empress Wu' is striking for the ribbing on its dark green leaves, which can grow up to 16 inches across, and its pale purple flowers in early summer.
Shown: Planted on a slope—here, above a curved retaining wall—hostas' fibrous, spreading roots hold the soil so that it doesn't wash away when it rains.
Newer Texture and Color Variations
While we're years away from seeing a new core hosta color, some newer varieties with red stalks offer a surprise under the foliage. 'Rocket's Red Glare' has dark red stems topped with wavy, glossy green leaves that sit under striped lavender flowers. New varieties with unique variegations distinguish themselves from the standard, two-color pattern. The aptly named 'Rare Breed' offers three colors: a white center surrounded by a green margin with a paler green color in between. 'Autumn Frost' has heart-shaped foliage that starts blue, with bright yellow margins that mellow to creamy white in summer. Large and showy 'Broad Band,' with heart-shaped foliage featuring yellow-to-white margins around a dark green center, is an example of the trend toward chunkier margins.
Glossy leaves offer a nice contrast in texture when paired with the more common matte varieties. The 3-foot-wide 'Irish Luck' has deeply veined dark green leaves with a lacquer-like finish below sweet-smelling lavender flowers.
Shown: 'Atlantis' has yellow margins that get brighter with more sunlight.
In the past, it's been a struggle to find a blue hosta that kept its color through the summer, but the rounded, silvery-blue leaves on 'Silver Bay' stay true all season. Another new blue, 'Blue Mouse Ears,' has thick, rubbery blue-gray leaves that keep their color and are also slug resistant.
New foliage shapes, like the dark, heavy, almost dart-like green-and-white leaves on 'Sparkler,' help distinguish some new varieties from older ones with similar variegations. 'Surfer Girl' is a medium-green hosta that sets itself apart with wavy, ruffled edges. 'Tropical Dancer' has fluted, piecrust-shaped foliage with creamy-white margins and green centers.
Shown: Planting with a hosta's mature spread in mind makes for a bed that looks full but not overcrowded. Here, the chartreuse leaves of 'Moon Lily' (right) and 'Peedee Gold Flash' are picked up in the margins of 'Sundance' (far left).
In a garden design, hostas give a punch of color to a shady location and, planted in mass, can be a showstopper. Start by using mostly solid-green and solid-blue varieties and mixing in simply variegated hostas that repeat those colors. “Pairing the variegation on two-toned foliage to the shade of a solid-color hosta nearby gives a garden bed continuity,” says Minnesota-based landscape designer Pam Hartley. Keep variegated hostas distinct from one another by varying the width of their leaf margins. Repeat similar variegations within a bed, but allow the plants to stand on their own by using contrasting leaf shapes, sizes, or sheens.
Hartley likes to use the brighter gold and chartreuse hostas in groups so that their colors don't stick out or seem random in a mass planting. “And multiply the number of brighter or variegated minis planted among larger, muted colors to allow the eye to focus on them,” she suggests.
Shown: By repeating colors, you draw the eye through a garden. Here, the yellow and green of large-leaved 'Summer Serenade' (left) are echoed in smaller 'T-Dawg' opposite it.
Little Care, Lots of Payoff
In a mixed border, hostas are useful paired with early spring bulbs, such as anemones and daffodils, so that their large leaves can unfurl to cover the bulbs' spent foliage. Planted with other shade-tolerant perennials, like astilbe, oakleaf hydrangea, phlox, iris, and clematis, solid-color hostas contrast nicely with the red, pink, and purple blooms. Placed with a little care, then virtually ignored, hostas will return bigger and more vigorous for years to come.
Shown: In curving rows, hostas create natural-looking, low-maintenance borders for a large expanse of lawn without hardscape edging. Here, they divide the turf into different outdoor rooms, adding to the feeling of a green oasis.
River of Foliage
Lining a rustic woodland path with mixed hosta borders creates two flowing ribbons of color and texture, with hues from chartreuse to green to blue and foliage that ranges from wide and flat to narrow and ruffled along the edges.
A Pop of Blue and Lavender
Glossy, Vibrant Color
Lots of Texture
Colorful Name, Colorful Leaves
'Yellow Polka Dot Bikini'
A Little Extra Texture
Stark Color Contrast
Here, blue-green hostas work as a subtle foil for the brighter foliage and flowers of a blue mophead hydrangea in the background. Variegated Japanese forest grass in the foreground pairs well with a smaller variegated hostas nearby, as well as a larger green one. The pink clematis vine twining around the bird-feeder pole complements the lavender and white flowers of the blooming hostas that surround it.
The Color Spectrum
The thousands of different named hostas are variations on three main colors: green, blue, and gold. Variegation can be found in every combination of these colors, as well as with white.
Jetting Ivory Margins
Green Seersucker and Lavender
'Lakeside cha cha'
Deep Blue Ruffles
Divide Plants to Share: Step 1
Splitting hostas every two to three years is a great way to multiply your riches and present them as gifts to gardening friends and neighbors.
Using a spade shovel, dig along the plant's drip line and remove the root ball.
Divide Plants to Share: Step 2
Shake off excess soil and place the plant on a work surface; separate the leaves to find the center of the crown, pulling the stems into groups of at least three.
Divide Plants to Share: Step 3
Using a soil knife, cut through the crown while gently pulling away a section as you cut.
Divide Plants to Share: Step 4
Pot up the divisions in a mix of compost and soil, and keep moist until they can be replanted.
Protect Against Vole Damage: Step 1
In most areas of the country, voles can be found roaming gardens, tunneling within the top 9 inches of soil to look for grubs and plants to snack on. Hostas, with their thick, fleshy roots, are a favorite. Stymie these garden invaders with a physical barrier, like the modified 10-inch-diameter coated-wire-mesh wastepaper basket shown below. An inexpensive basket like this one protects all but the biggest hostas, for which you can craft a custom basket from hardware cloth. With the rim sitting just above the soil, the mesh protects the root ball while giving the roots room to grow. Once a vole bumps into the mesh, it will go around the basket, as it would a rock or tree root.
Here's how to modify a mesh basket like the one shown:
Mark a line 10 inches down from the rim of the container; make a crease along this line by pressing the wire out with one hand inside the basket while pressing the bottom of the basket with the other hand.
Protect Against Vole Damage: Step 2
Crimp the crease together in line with the rim.
Protect Against Vole Damage: Step 3
Using the heels of your hands, fold the crimped edge over, toward the center, flattening the bottom.
Protect Against Vole Damage: Step 4
You should end up with a finished basket that's about 10 inches tall; it can be spray-painted brown or black to blend in. Fill the basket with loamy soil, planting the hosta in the center, and packing down soil around the root ball to collapse air pockets.
Protect Against Vole Damage: Step 5
Dig a hole and place the hosta in the ground so that about 1 inch of the rim rests above grade; as the plant matures, leaves will cover the basket. Or hide the rim now with a 1-inch layer of mulch.
Where to Find Unusual Hosta Varieties
landofthegiantshostafarm.com has a staggering 21,000 varieties, including 'Gentle Giant,' with ruffled, twisted deep-blue-green leaves that reach 12 inches across. Grows to 42 inches high and 65 inches wide.
naylorcreek.com features nearly 900 varieties, including 'Bam Bam Blue,' which has a deep blue color and puckered leaves that reach 91⁄2 inches across. Grows to 30 inches high and 48 inches wide.
perennialnursery.com offers some 300 varieties, including 'Radiant Star,' a smaller hosta that has heart-shaped dark green leaves, with chartreuse margins, that turn yellow. Grows to 7 inches high and 12 inches wide.
plantdelights.com has about 125 varieties, including 'Pharaoh's Fawcett,' with puffy, rounded blue leaves and green margins. Grows to 18 inches high and 36 inches wide.
Color and Texture for Even the Shadiest Corners of Your Yard
Unlike some perennials that require a bit of coaxing to draw out their best hues, hostas offer a wide range of color with little effort. Prized for their foliage, easy-to-grow hostas have leaves that can be nearly any size, from narrow, glossy slivers to giant frosted leaves up to 18 inches wide and long. The four main colors, green, blue, and gold, each offer nearly limitless hues, and any can be combined together, or with white, on a variegated variety. Foliage textures, like corrugated ribbing, leaf ripples, and varying degrees of gloss, also add interest.
Punch of Color
Planted against a backdrop of dark evergreens, hostas provide a punch of color to brighten a shady property line. Here, wide, rippled chartreuse leaves are paired with smooth, pointed variegated ones.
Dark green, 9-by-4-inch leaves with creamy white margins under lavender flowers that bloom in late summer. Grows up to 18 inches high and 36 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Thick, wedge-shaped yellow leaves have silvery undersides; lavender, bell-shaped flowers in August. Grows up to 15 inches high and 26 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Heart-shaped blue leaves 10 inches wide sit under thick stems topped with lavender flowers from June to early July. Grows up to 18 inches high and 36 inches wide in Zones 4 to 7.
Rounded, ribbed, 16-by-15-inch yellow leaves; white flowers appear in early summer. Grows up to 16 inches wide and 40 inches high in Zones 2 to 8.
Puffy, rounded green leaves, with purple-striped, bell-shaped flowers in midsummer. Grows up to 14 inches high and 18 inches wide in Zones 2 to 8.
Rounded, rippled dark green centers with a wide margin that changes from creamy to white by midsummer, just before the pale lavender flowers bloom. Grows up to 20 inches high and 42 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
A vase-shaped grower with 10-inch-long, medium green leaves that twist and curl before coming to a point, and pale lavender flowers in August. Grows up to 18 inches high and 24 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
A large yellow hosta that holds its color all season, with ruffled, piecrust-like edges and pale lavender flowers in midsummer. Grows up to 18 inches high and 30 inches wide in Zones 3 to 9.
Small, 6-inch-long leaves with white centers are edged with a green or chartreuse margin, under lavender flowers in late July. Grows up to 12 inches high and 15 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Roomy Bed for Mature Width
Planning for the mature width of the hosta before planting makes for a bed that give room for each variety to grow without overcrowding. Here, the leaf textures and shapes, from deep ribbing on egg-shaped leaves to wavy edges on smooth ones, allow each hosta to stand on its own.
Long, matte, rippled green leaves with a narrow band of creamy white around the edges, with lavender flowers in midsummer. Grows to 15 inches high and 28 inches wide in Zones 3 to 9.
Thick, heart-shaped bluish-green leaves and dark purple blooms on 12-inch stems in midsummer. Grows up to 12 inches high and 18 inch wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Large oval variegated leaves with green to blue-green centers and yellow margins under pale lavender flowers that bloom in early July. Grows up to 22 inches high and 48 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Bright Leaves for a Dark Corner
The yellow and gold leaves brighten this dark corner. Here the variegations echo the brighter solid-color varieties planted nearby.
Glossy, oval dark-green leaves up to 8 inches long and 6 inches wide, and pale lavender flowers starting in July. Grows up to 20 inches tall and 48 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Most of the 12-by-9-inch leaves, which rest nearly horizontally, are jade green with a band of creamy white around the edges that matches the white blooms that arrive in June. Grows up to 28 inches tall and 36 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Wavy, 9-inch-long bright yellow leaves that turn lime green during the season, with lavender flowers in late July. Grows up to 24 inches high and 48 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
'Fried Green Tomatoes'
Large, heart-shaped green leaves that darken over the course of the season are paired with white, fragrant flowers that start blooming in July. Grows up to 28 inches high and 48 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
'Sum and Substance'
This massive variety reaches up to 60 inches wide, with thick, heart-shaped leaves of glossy yellow that can grow to 20 by 15 inches and fragrant white flowers on 38-inch stems starting in August. Grows up to 36 inches high in Zones 3 to 8.
'Lakeside Shore Master'
Starts with broad leaves that are blue-green in the spring before developing a yellow variegation in the center, with pale lavender flowers on 30-inch tall stems in midsummer. Grows up to 20 inches tall and 36 inches wide in Zones 3 to 9.
'Ice Age Trail'
A rare variegation with lots of white streaks on blue-green leaves that change to dark green during the season, with white flowers on 24-inch stems starting in June. Grows up to 16 inches high and 36 inches wide in Zones 2 to 8.
Bright red stems hold up 14-by-9-inch glossy, dark green leaves, with pale lavender flowers that bloom in early July. Grows up to 30 inches tall and 36 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Reinforce Nearby Foliage
Tucked under a tree, this planting extends the bed to the variegated shrub nearby. The mostly white variegated hostas reinforce the shrub's foliage colors.
A tall mound of oval, variegated leaves of frosty bluish-green with white margins paired with white flowers on 34-inch stems. Grows up to 28 inches high and 36 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Sturdy blue leaves with a splash of yellow-green in the center, with lavender flowers in summer. Grows up to 20 inches tall and 30 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Long, wide blue leaves that come to a point with a creamy yellow or ivory margin, and lavender flowers on stems as high as 6 feet in mid to late summer. Grows up to 36 inches high and wide in Zones 3 to 9.
Long, wavy leaves with white centers surrounded by a chunky band of green and paired with white flowers on 34-inch stems in midsummer. Grows up to 15 inches high and 26 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
This small yellow hosta has lance-shaped leaves with wavy edges and pink flower buds and stems that produce light lavender flowers in midsummer. Grows up to 10 inches high and 18 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Lightly rippled, heart-shaped leaves covered mostly in a frosty blue-green color with a creamy yellow margin, with pale lavender flowers on 22-inch stems in midsummer. Grows up to 14 inches high and 22 inches wide in Zones 3 to 9.
Starts bright yellow before turning green later in the season, with thin, 13-inch-long lance-shaped leaves, and lavender flowers in late summer. Grows up to 18 inches high and 41 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Small, thick leaves with white centers and dark green margins, and lavender flowers that bloom in July. Grows up to 10 inches high and 12 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Thick, dusty blue leaves with a slight ribbing paired with fragrant, light lavender flowers on 22-inch stems in midsummer. Grows up to 18 inches high and 30 inches wide in Zone 3 to 9.
Rounded, ribbed leaves up to 10 inches wide in mostly blue rimmed with creamy yellow that turns to white, and pale lavender flowers in early summer. Grows up to 19 inches high and 47 inches wide in Zones 3 to 9.
Round, cupped, glossy dark green leaves splashed with creamy white centers; white flowers in midsummer. Grows up to 16 inches high and 30 inches wide in Zones 2 to 8
Large, Textured Leaves
Large-leaved varieties look even better with heavy ribbing or slight upward cupping. The pale lavender flowers on these hostas work well with the mophead hydrangea at the back of the bed.
Medium green color with corrugation on leaves up to 5 inches wide, with fragrant, lavender flowers that bloom on 25-inch stems in mid-August. Grows up to 18 inches tall and 30 inches wide in Zones 3 to 9.
The 11-inch-long leaves start yellow before turning chartreuse during the season, with white flowers in early July. Grows up to 28 inches high and 36 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Thick, yellow-gold leaves with a very wide band of blue-green around the edges, and pale lavender flowers on 34-inch tall stems in midsummer. Grows up to 25 inches high and 40 inches wide in Zones 3 to 9.
'Kiwi Gold Rush'
Rounded, pointed 5-inch-wide bright golden yellow leaves, with light lavender flowers in midsummer. Grows up to 15 inches tall and 24 inches wide in Zones 2 to 8.
Slug-resistant leaves start light green, then turn dark green with golden centers before light lavender flowers arrive on 24-inch stems in midsummer. Grows up to 8 inches high and 16 inches wide in Zones 3 to 9.
A stroll on this path is the perfect opportunity to reach out and touch these hostas, which provide an informal, cottage feel as they spill over onto the walk.
Blue-green leaves with distinct ribbing that nearly fold inward, and lavender flowers that bloom in summer. Grows up to 10 inches high and 18 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Rounded, ribbed light green leaves about 4 1/2 inches wide paired with soft lavender flowers on 33-inch stems starting in July. Grows up to 28 inches high and 18 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Medium green leaves up to 5 by 4 inches with a shiny appearance and rippled texture under purple flowers that start in September. Grows up to 16 inches tall and 30 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Large, egg-shaped leaves that feature a subtle twisting with a white middle surrounded by jagged margins of lime green, then darker green, with lavender flowers in summer. Grows up to 15 inches high and 24 inches wide in Zones 3 to 9.
'Margin of Error'
Dark green leaves with creamy white margins, and soft lavender flowers on 24-inch stems in late summer. Grows up to 18 inches tall and 15 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Glossy blue-green, spear-shaped leaves with creamy white edges that can streak toward the middle, with lavender flowers in late July. Grows up to 9 inches high and 15 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Ribbed, heart-shaped green leaves, with lavender flowers in midsummer. Grows up to 28 inches high and 24 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
The stems that bear the small- to medium-size tubular-shaped flowers make a dramatic exit out of the mass of foliage. Filled with as many as 75 flowers, these stems can reach up to 40 inches high, depending on the variety.
Thick, dark green leaves edged with a broad golden yellow border that changes to a creamy color in summer at about the time lavender flowers appear on 40-inch stems. Grows up to 26 inches high and 39 inches wide in Zones 3 to 9.
Large egg-shaped leaves, which can grow to 12 by 8 inches, start blue-green before developing a gray-green color later in the season, with pale lavender flowers in midsummer on 34-inch stems. Grows up to 18 inches high and 24 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Round golden yellow leaves with plenty of corrugation and that cup upward, paired with lavender flowers in summer. Grows up to 22 inches tall and 44 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Blue-green hosta, considered one of the bluest varieties around, that has thick, egg-shaped leaves with slightly wavy edges under soft lavender flowers in midsummer. Grows up to 18 inches high and 12 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Large, up to 14-inch-wide ribbed leaves that are mostly flat, with white flowers in summer. Grows up to 28 inches high and 36 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Features a wide band of blue around chartreuse in spring, before the center turns bright gold and the margin a deeper blue-green, with white flowers on 16-inch stems in midsummer. Grows up to 12 inches high and 18 inches wide in Zones 3 to 9.
Forms a wide mound of 6-inch-long narrow, wavy blue-green leaves, with lavender flowers starting in mid-July. Grows up to 18 inches high and 24 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Variegated varieties always draw attention, even more so when a healthy dose of white is included. Here the white variegation moves throughout the bed on varieties with matte, almost frosted finishes.
Pointed dark green leaves with thick white margins under 26-inch stems bearing pale lavender flowers in midsummer. Grows up to 18 inches high and 26 inches wide in Zones 3 to 9.
Thick leaves with white centers surrounded by dark green, paired with lavender flowers on 20-inch stems in midsummer. Grows up to 18 inches tall and 24 inches wide in Zones 3 to 9.
Blue-green, wedge-shaped leaves featuring dramatic ripples, with lavender flowers in August. Grows up to 24 inches high and 26 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
Pointed leaves up to 6 inches long in a frosted blue-green, with soft lavender flowers on 26-inch stems starting in late July. Grows up to 15 inches high and 32 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.
A real focal point in the garden with deeply corrugated dark green leaves up to 18 inches wide and long, with pale purple flower in midsummer. Grows up to 4 feet high and 6 feet wide in Zones 3 to 9.
'Memories of Dorothy'
Wide, heart-shaped leaves with green centers, lighter green streaking, and yellow-to-white edges under pale lavender flowers on 32-inch stems in mid-July. Grows up to 18 inches high and 42 inches wide in Zones 3 to 8.