Hosta Habit

With hundreds of varieties and an elegant range of hues, hostas are a plant collector’s dream. They demand little care and solve the “what grows in the shade” problem, too.

Mass planting of hostas

Mass plantings of hosta create a flowing pattern of color on a shady slope.


Use bold hosta with large foliage as specimens in colorful containers.
Miniature hostas

Miniature hostas make perfect specimens for trough gardens and tiny landscapes.

Our retail store in Williston, VT, currently offers about 35 hosta cultivars—more than any other perennial species in the nursery. That’s just a drop in the bucket compared to the hundreds of species and thousands of available cultivars that make hostas a plant collector’s dream. They demand little care and solve the “what grows in the shade” problem, too. It’s little wonder that they’ve hovered around the top of the most-popular-perennial chart for years!

Fantastic foliage is the key to the hosta’s success. Leaves range from teaspoon- to serving-platter-size in a wild array of shapes and textures. In shades from bright emerald green to dusky blue-gray to cream, many cultivars feature borders, centers and splashes of pure white to gold. Although the flowers are usually a secondary consideration, they are no less impressive. White to violet and purple, bell-shaped flowers bloom on tall, slender stalks in early to late summer, depending on the species. Some are even fragrant.

With so many to choose from, picking a hosta or two for your own garden can be daunting. Here’s what I look for to help narrow the choices:

Mature plant size. Miniature hostas grow only 8-10” tall and less than 12-15” wide, making them ideal for small landscapes, containers, foreground and garden edging. At 3’ tall and up to 6’ wide, the largest hostas create dramatic landscape accents. Plant these in large groups for a low-maintenance, ground-covering solution or to cover up unsightly wellheads and other landscape features.

Leaf size, shape and texture. Rounded, heart-shaped, cupped, strappy. Teaspoon to platter size. Smooth, wavy, puckered, corrugated. Glossy, glaucous or matte. The potentially infinite combinations of foliage characteristics keep hosta breeders in business and collectors always clamoring for more. Foliage thickness or substance is a particularly important feature, especially in areas with slug and snail problems. I can tell you from experience that these pests cause much less damage to cultivars with thick leaves!

Leaf color and pattern. Hosta foliage ranges through all the possible shades of green, and includes white and yellow. Emerald green to chartreuse to gray-blue green, crisp white to cream to golden. Red is showing up on the flower stems of some newer cultivars, such as Cherry Berry, and I’m sure it won’t be long before we see red on the foliage, too.

Hostas are fun to use in garden design. I like to pair cultivars with similar colors, but opposite patterns. Guacamole has large gold-centered leaves with blue-green edges, for example, which looks great next to Ivory Coast’s cream-edged, gray-green foliage. Patriot and Dancing in the Rain make a good bright-green and white combo. To tie different areas of a landscape together, I use hosta cultivars with similar colors and patterns, but in different sizes or leaf shapes. White- and gold-leafed cultivars brighten shady spots and nearly glow in the dark!

Although known as a shade-loving plant, hostas prefer some filtered and morning sun. Some cultivars, especially yellow-leaved cultivars and those with patterned foliage, need at least a couple of hours of full sun to look their best. All prefer humus-rich, well-drained, moist soil.

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5 Responses to Hosta Habit

  1. Michele says:

    My daughter lives in OH and called a week ago to tell me they just planted a bunch of Hosta's in full sun.

    My daughter, who shocked the heck out of me that she even knew what a Hosta was much less planted one since she abhores gardening, let me know that they have some growing in full or mostly sun and that are growing very well.

    I was amazed since I always thought they grew in shade/Partial shade only.

    Is there such a type of Hosta that grows in full sun?

  2. Anonymous says:

    I love the picture of the mass hosta plantings by the lake. Is that a public location that you can visit? Can I get a larger copy of such a great picture??Thanks!

  3. Hi Michele,
    Here are a couple hosta cultivars that are said to be sun tolerant: 'Sum and Substance','Francee', 'Royal Standard', 'August Moon' and 'Gold Regal'. Hosta plantaginea 'Aphrodite' is also supposed to be sun tolerant.

  4. Michele says:

    Oh, thank you so much for the info. I can get that info to my gardener wanna be daughter asap and send some pictures so she knows what she has. (Since she tossed the little tags that say what they are, and how much light, etc)
    We are in the NW, so Hosta's are big here. Even though people think we get a lot of rain, we actually get less then say NY. It mostly just “mists” here and overcast. I miss the downpours and thunderstorms when we lived in the NE, SE. The property and gardens you have pictured are just Exquisite. Like you are live in a little peice of heaven there. Except for the vicious flys!

  5. Pat says:

    I have found the sun tolerant hostas mentioned do quite well as long as they don't dry out, so mine are doing quite well here in Indiana since we've had lots of moisture this spring and summer. When/if it gets really dry and hot, it wouldn't hurt to sprinkle them, sort of like the NW misty weather. Otherwise, the leaves seem to scorch or lose their full color.

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