The most popular of all plants for shade, hostas are prized for their marvelous foliage. The thin spikes of lavender or white, trumpet-shaped flowers that appear for several weeks in summer are a bonus, and they are a favorite among hummingbirds. There's a tremendous variety in leaf size, shape, and color; to fully appreciate the diversity, you'll need to consult a specialist's catalog or visit a well-stocked garden center. All hostas are native to eastern Asia.
Leaves may be heart shaped, lance shaped, oval, or nearly round, carried at the ends of leafstalks that rise from the ground and radiate from a central point. Leaves overlap to form symmetrical, almost shingled foliage mounds ranging in size from dwarf (as small as 34 in.) to giant (as big as 5 ft.). Leaf texture may be smooth, deeply veined, quilted, or puckery; surface may be glossy or dull; edges may be smooth or wavy. Colors range from light to dark green to chartreuse, bright gold, gray, and blue. There are also combinations of colors, including variegations with white, cream, or yellow.
All hostas go dormant in winter, collapsing to almost nothing. All are splendid companions for ferns and for plants with fernlike foliage, such as bleeding heart (Dicentra and Lamprocapnos). They're also good in containers. In the ground, hostas last for years; clumps expand in size and shade out weeds. They are generally shade lovers, though some will tolerate dappled or morning sun if well watered. Plants grown in more sun will be more compact and produce more flowers. Unfortunately, hostas are a favorite dessert for deer and voles.
New selections are legion. To be sure you're getting the one you want, buy the plant in full leaf or deal with a reputable mail-order firm. Species and selections listed below are just a few of the many available.
H. fortunei. FORTUNE'S PLANTAIN LILY. May be an ancient hybrid affiliated with H. sieboldiana. Variable plant known for its many selections in a wide range of foliage colors. Plants grow to 1112 ft. high, up to 3 ft. wide, with oval, foot-long leaves, lilac flowers. Young leaves of H. f. albopicta are yellow with uneven green border; the yellow fades to a greenish shade by summer. H. f. aureomarginata has distinctly veined, deep olive-green leaves irregularly rimmed in yellow. H. f. hyacinthina has large, gray-green leaves edged with a fine white line.
H. hybrids. The following list includes some of the best, most widely grown hostas.
'Albomarginata'. Grows 23 ft. high and 34 ft. wide. Leaves have an irregular yellow border that fades to white; late bloom.
'Antioch'. To 112 ft. tall, 3 ft. wide. Broad, green leaves with wide, creamy white margins. Lavender flowers are held well above foliage mound.
'Blue Angel'. Heavily veined, blue-green leaves 16 in. long, nearly as wide. White flowers over a long bloom period. Enormous mound to 34 ft. tall and 4 ft. wide.
'Blue Mouse Ears'. Charming miniature to just 68 in. high and 12 in. wide. Thick, slightly cupped, heart-shaped leaves are blue-green. Lavender flowers held just above the foliage. Lovely in containers.
'Blue Wedgwood'. To 2 ft. high, 1 ft. wide. Wavy-edged, strongly veined, heart-shaped leaves in 112-ft. mound. Pale lavender flowers bloom early.
'Chartreuse Wiggles'. Dwarf (68 in. high, 10 in. wide), with lance-shaped, wavy-edged, chartreuse-gold leaves. Lavender flowers bloom late.
'Earth Angel'. Sport of 'Blue Angel', with similar size and appearance, except each leaf has wide, creamy yellow margins that age to creamy white.
'First Frost'. Sport of 'Halcyon' grows 16 in. high and 3 ft. wide. Heart-shaped, blue-green leaves are heavily edged in creamy yellow, aging to white. Light lavender flowers appear on 2-ft.-tall stalks in midsummer.
'Fragrant Bouquet'. Vigorous mounding growth to 20 in. tall and 3 ft. wide, with roundish, apple-green leaves widely edged in creamy yellow. Large (to 3 in. long), highly fragrant, lavender-blushed white flowers are held on 3-ft.-tall scapes.
'Francee'. To 1122 ft. tall, 3 ft. wide. Broadly heart-shaped leaves to 6 in. long with striking white edges. Lavender flowers bloom late. Sun tolerant.
'Frances Williams'. Forms a mound to 2123 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide. Round, puckered, blue-green leaves have a bold, irregular yellow edge. Pale lavender flowers bloom early.
'Ginko Craig'. To 1112 ft. tall and wide. Elongated, frosty green leaves with silver margins. Abundant lavender flowers.
'Gold Edger'. To 1012 in. high, 112 ft. wide. Heart-shaped, 3-in. leaves in chartreuse gold. Masses of lavender blossoms. One of the most sun tolerant; in fact, it needs some sun for best color.
'Golden Tiara'. To 1 ft. tall, 112 ft. wide. Heart-shaped leaves are 4 in. long, light green with gold edge. Purple flowers. Sun tolerant.
'Gold Standard'. To 2 ft. tall, 3 ft. wide. Heart-shaped, bright golden leaves with a green margin. Pale lavender flowers. Sun tolerant.
'Great Expectations'. To 2 ft. tall, 212 ft. wide. Leaves sport a creamy yellow center surrounded by a wide blue-green edge. White flowers.
'Guacamole'. Grows 12 ft. tall and 45 ft. wide. Distinctly veined leaves are apple-green, shading to blue-green along the edges. White flowers are very fragrant.
'Hadspen Blue'. Low grower (to 1 ft. tall, spreading to 112 ft.) with slightly wavy, broadly oval, slug-resistant blue leaves. Many lavender flowers.
'Halcyon'. To 112 ft. tall, 3 ft. wide. Heart-shaped, heavy-textured, blue-gray leaves. Short spikes of rich lilac-blue flowers.
'Honeybells'. To 212 ft. high, 4 ft. wide. Wavy-edged, yellow-green leaves; lightly scented pale lilac flowers.
'June'. Low grower to just 1 ft. high and 2 ft. wide. Slender, heart-shaped leaves are heavy textured. Each golden leaf has wide, streaked margins of sage-green, shading to blue-green at the edges. Fragrant white blooms.
'Krossa Regal'. Big, leathery, frosty blue leaves arch up and out, making a vase-shaped clump to 3 ft. tall and wide. Slug-resistant foliage. Blooms late, with lavender flower spikes that can reach 56 ft. high.
'Liberty'. This sport of 'Sagae' grows in an upright vase shape to about 2 ft. tall and 3 ft. wide. Thick, heart-shaped leaves are blue-green, with very wide margins in yellow. As the season progresses, the blue-green turns greener, and the yellow fades to white. Pale lavender flowers on 3-ft.-tall scapes bloom in midsummer.
'Paradigm'. Thick, corrugated, rounded leaves are gold, with a wide margin of dark blue-green. Grows 22 in. high and 3312 ft. wide. Light lavender blooms appear in early summer.
'Patriot'. To 15 in. tall, 3 ft. wide. Resembles 'Francee', but leaves have a wider white border. Lavender blooms.
'Paul's Glory'. Forms a sturdy clump to 12 ft. high and 4 ft. wide. Heart-shaped leaves are chartreuse, with a dark green margin. The center slowly ages to gold (white in more sun). Lavender flowers in midsummer.
'Piedmont Gold'. To 2 ft. high, 3 ft. wide. Broadly heart-shaped, heavily veined, slightly wavy-edged, 7-in. leaves of glowing chartreuse gold. White flowers. Sun tolerant.
'Praying Hands'. Unusual upright form sets this one apart. Narrow, folded leaves are held erect on upright stems for an overall vase shape with a height of 1418 in.; clumps may reach 2 ft. across. Dark green leaves have thin edging of creamy yellow. Plenty of lavender flowers appear in late summer.
'Rainforest Sunrise'. Forms a mound about 1 ft. tall and 12 ft. wide, with rounded, corrugated, cupped foliage. Each golden leaf is bordered in deep green. Pale lavender flowers appear in early summer.
'Regal Splendor'. Sport of 'Krossa Regal'. Grows 2 ft. tall and nearly 6 ft. wide. Huge blue-green leaves are frosty blue, with a creamy yellow margin. Lavender flowers in midsummer.
'Royal Standard'. To 2 ft. high, 34 ft. wide. Glossy, light green leaves, elongated and undulated. Fragrant, white flowers. Sun tolerant.
'Sagae'. Vase-shaped plant to 2 ft. tall and 45 ft. wide. Large, heart-shaped, heavily ribbed leaves are blue-green with an irregular creamy white edge. Showy pale lavender flowers. Sun tolerant and resistant to slug damage.
'Shade Fanfare'. To 1112 ft. high, 112 ft. wide. Leaves are pointed ovals to 7 in. long, green to gold with creamy white margin. Lavender flowers. Very sun tolerant.
'So Sweet'. Upright grower to 112 ft. high and 23 ft. wide. Glossy, deep green, heart-shaped leaves have irregular white margins. Fragrant white flowers. Takes considerable sun.
'Stained Glass'. To 1 ft. tall and 34 ft. wide. Shiny, golden leaves have a 2-in.-wide margin of dark green. Vigorous and sun tolerant, with very fragrant, pale lavender flowers.
'Striptease'. Sport of 'Gold Standard' and similar in size and leaf shape, but with wider dark green margins on the golden leaves. A narrow white strip separates the green from the golden areas. Pale lavender flowers show up in midsummer.
'Sum and Substance'. To 3 ft. high, 5 ft. wide. Textured, shiny yellow leaves to 20 in. long. Slug-resistant foliage. Lavender flowers. Very sun tolerant.
'Sun Power'. To 2 ft. high, 3 ft. wide. Ruffled, twisted leaves are chartreuse to golden; retain their color all season. Lavender flowers on 3-ft. stalks. Takes morning sun.
'Touch of Class'. Vigorous grower to 1 ft. high, 1 ft. wide. Thick, quilted, blue leaves are marked with a large central flame of gold. Lavender flowers.
'True Blue'. Sturdy, mounding growth to 2 ft. tall and a little wider. Slightly wavy, heavily corrugated leaves are blue-green. White flowers may show a distinctive lavender stripe.
'Wide Brim'. Oval, pointed, dark green leaves are widely edged in creamy white to pale yellow. Forms a mound about 1 ft. high and 3 ft. wide. Pale lavender flowers top the plant in mid- to late summer.
H. plantaginea. FRAGRANT PLANTAIN LILY. Zones US, MS, LS, CS; USDA 6-9. Glossy, bright green leaves to 10 in. long, broadly oval with parallel veins and quilted surface. Foliage mound 2 ft. high, 3 ft. wide. Noticeably fragrant, large white flowers bloom late. Heat tolerant. Performs better than other species in Coastal South. 'Aphrodite' (H. 'Aphrodite') is double flowered.
H. sieboldiana. SIEBOLD PLANTAIN LILY. To 2123 ft. tall, 4 ft. wide. Blue-green, broadly heart-shaped leaves, 1015 in. long, heavily veined and puckered. Many slender, pale lilac flower spikes nestle close to foliage mound early in season. Foliage dies back early. H. s. elegans has especially handsome blue-gray leaves that are slug resistant.
H. sieboldii 'Kabitan'. To 8 in. tall, 10 in. wide. Wavy, lance-shaped leaves to 5 in. long, chartreuse to yellow with thin green margins. White flowers.
H. undulata. WAVY-LEAFED PLANTAIN LILY. Wavy-edged, narrowly oval leaves, 68 in. long, in a mound 112 ft. tall and wide. Typical leaf is green with a creamy white center stripe. Foliage is used in arrangements. Pale lavender flowers. H. u. albomarginata has creamy white margins on leaves. H. u. erromena is solid green.
H. ventricosa. BLUE PLANTAIN LILY. To 2 ft. tall, 3 ft. wide. Named for its violet-blue blooms. Leaves are glossy deep green, broadly heart shaped, prominently veined, to 8 in. long. Leaves of H. v. aureomaculata are yellowish green with a green border. In 'Aureomarginata' (H. 'Aureomarginata'), each leaf is green edged with creamy white.
Provide good, organically enriched soil with regular feeding during the growing season. A blanket of mulch or low-growing ground cover around plants will prevent mud from splattering leaves. Slugs and snails can ravage hosta foliage; where these pests are a problem, protect plants or choose slug-resistant selections (those with heavily textured or waxy leaves are your best bets). Deer also enjoy hosta.