Overview and History
Hostas have gained their popularity from fantastic foliage that provides interest throughout the growing season. They are adaptable, tough-as-nails plants capable of surviving in the toughest soils and shadiest locations.
One of the ways Hosta ascended in popularity is they can be easily split and shared. They can be dug up, divided, and replanted at almost any time during the year. A term for this type of plant is a “friendship plant” – perennials that are easy to divide and give a piece to your friend or neighbor.
There is also great variety in the genus, with large variations in color, size, variegation, and texture. Today, there are tens of thousands of registered Hosta varieties, with some collectors and nurseries amassing collections of several hundred or even a few thousand.
Basic Types of Hostas
Most Hostas on the market today are complex crosses of multiple species. These crosses are best recognized by size and color. Savvy gardeners may recognize species of hosta like sieboldiana, H. elegans, or H. montana, but most Hosta varieties on the market are complex hybrids of two or more species.
Hosta leaf variegation terminology. Medio-variegation is variegation in the center of the leaf. Marginal variegation is variegation on the edge of the leaf. Hostas are one of the few plants where it is common to have both.
The American Hosta Society identifies five major color categories:
- Medio-variegated (light center, dark margin)
- Marginal Variegated (dark center, light margin)
Hostas are also classified into five defined sizes:
- Mini (less than 6” tall)
- Small (7-10” tall)
- Medium (11-18” tall)
- Large (19-28” tall)
- Giant (More than 28” tall)
Popular Hosta Variety/Series
Diamond Lake – This large blue Hosta has a thick waxy coating and excellent slug resistance. It is among the best for holding its blue coloration late into summer.
Miss America – A large variety of multiple shades of green. Medium green margins jet into cream centers with light green streaking. Near white flowers are held high above the foliage on five-foot flowerscapes.
Empress Wu – This giant green variety is among the largest Hostas currently available. Leaves are individually giant to match the size of the plant. Use this variety as a space filler in the landscape.
Blue Mouse Ears – This mini blue variety is one of the best-known mini Hostas. Vigorous despite its small size, this variety is perfect for use along the front of the border. Lavender flowers are proportionate to the size of the plant.
Touch of Class – The first tetraploid elevation of a Hosta, with added vigor compared to diploid varieties. ‘Touch of Class’ impresses with intense blue leaves and chartreuse centers.
Dancing Queen – One of the most popular large gold varieties, emerging yellow from the start in spring.
Silly String – This unique hosta has narrow blue leaves with intensely wavy margins. Pale purple flowers top the plant for a perfect package. Great for containers or the front of the shade garden.
How to Grow Hostas
Hosta are among the easiest perennials to put in your garden. They are durable, long-lived, and generally maintenance-free.
- The Right Location for Growing Hostas
- Hosta can be planted in most shady spaces in the garden.
- Placing in the morning sun or dappled shade will usually bring out the most intense foliage colors without causing leaf burn.
- Gardeners in southern zones will want to make sure they are placing their hosta in full shade.
- Growers in northern zones may find that some hosta, such as ‘Guacamole’, ‘Paradigm’, or ‘Guardian Angel’ are capable of being grown in full sun with adequate moisture.
- The Correct Soil for Hostas
- High soil fertility certainly helps Hosta grow bigger, and faster, but is not ultimately necessary to have beautiful specimens. Plant in fertile soils or compost for the largest, fastest-growing plants.
- Hosta can grow in a variety of soils, from loose sand to heavy clay. In sandier soils, plants will need more frequent watering. Poor and sandy soils can be amended with compost or organic matter to increase fertility.
- Hosta Foliage and Flowers
- Hosta have traditionally been selected as a foliage plant first, with flowers as an afterthought. Flowers can be trimmed from the plant at any time without harming it.
- The blue color on Hostas is actually from a waxy coating called blum. This coating develops as the plant emerges in spring and fades through the summer. Rain will wash the blum off and cause blue hostas to go green faster, as will direct sun exposure which melts the wax off. To keep your hostas blue, plant them in partial shade and avoid overhead watering. This wax coating provides additional protection from burning under the sun.
- Gold hostas gain the most intense color when best planted in filtered shade or morning sun. Planting in deep shade will result in more chartreuse or green color, planting in full sun will typically cause leaf scorch.
- Some Hosta varieties have been selected for unique, floriferous, or fragrant flowerscapes. A few examples are ‘Silly String’, ‘Royal Standard’, ‘Royal Wedding’, ‘Time in a Bottle’, and ‘Wrinkle in Time’.
- Hosta flowers are attractive to hummingbirds, butterflies, and bees.
- Hosta as a Tasty Treat
- The primary detractor for Hosta is they tend to be a highly desired food source for deer, particularly when they are emerging in spring.
- If deer are an issue in your neighborhood, sitting them near entryways to the house, within a fenced or obstructed enclosure, or behind deer tape may be necessary for them to thrive.
- Combating Slugs on Your Hostas
- Slugs tend to overwinter in hosta foliage. If you have a slug problem, cutting them back in the fall can help reduce slug damage.
- Bait for slugs in spring as the foliage is emerging to prevent leaf damage later in the year.
- Hostas with thicker or crinkled leaves tend to be more resistant to slug damage
- Hostas are considered a “Friendship Plant”
- Hostas can be easily divided and shared with friends.
- Digging them up and dividing them every 5-10 years will also improve the vigor of the main plant.
Learn more about Hostas
- Hosta Roots Planting Guide by Eden Brothers
- 15 Tips For Lush, Beautiful Hosta Plants This Season by Epic Gardening
- Growing Guide: How to Grow Hostas by Dutch Grown
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Each state in the U.S. has its own list of invasive species. Before trying a new plant in your garden, refer to the USDA’s National Invasive Species Information website or check with local agencies such as an Extension specialist.