Hosta plants are herbaceous perennials. The most natural way to group the numerous varieties is by leaf color. The foliage can be blue, gold (yellow), or green. Or, sometimes, one will find a pleasing blend, as when there is just enough yellow and green to form chartreuse. In addition to all of this variety in color, these stars of the foliage world are often variegated.
As if all of this were not enough, the leaves of hosta plants come in a number of sizes and shapes.
Shapes can be elongated (sword-shaped, for instance) or something more rounded (such as those with heart-shaped leaves). In some cases, leaves are flat; in others, concave. Finally, leaf surfaces may be smooth or bubbled (the technical term for this bubbly look is "seersuckered"). This ground cover also produces flowers, and these, too, exhibit great variety, both in color and size.
Hostas are usually treated as shade plants, since the colors of their foliage tend to fade if exposed to too much sun. The gold-leafed types of hosta plants are an exception: They will not attain their maximal golden color without receiving quite a bit of sun. By contrast, most green-leafed and blue-leafed hosta plants will lose the rich color of their foliage if they receive too much sun. However, since fragrant hostas (see below) need some sunlight for full flower development, you may wish to make an exception for them, else you will miss out on their wonderful aroma.
Hosta plants are more often grown for their foliage than for their flowers. Many varieties should be grown in partial to full shade.
An exception may be made for Hosta 'Plantaginea,' which will bear white flowers that are highly fragrant if the plant is given sufficient sunlight.
In fact, one of the common names for these hosta plants is "fragrant" hosta plants, and their flowers are larger than those of most other types. Hosta 'Plantaginea' blooms in late summer.
Fragrant hosta plants can be grown in planting zones 3-9. At maturity, fragrant hosta plants will stand 1-1.5 feet tall with a spread of 1.5-2 feet. Grow them in a sunny area.
Many other types of hostas also have mainly green leaves; here are some examples:
- 'Bitsy Green'
- 'Blarney Stone'
- 'Purple Dwarf'
- 'Praying Hands'
Hostas With Gold (Yellow) Leaves
Hosta plants with gold leaves should be planted in full sun to bring out their colors fully. The color can range from a true golden to a chartreuse, depending on variety, location in the yard, geographical region, etc. Hosta 'Ground Sulphur' stays under 1 foot tall, with a slightly greater spread. It blooms in lavender, early in the summer. Grow it in zones 3-8. Other kinds with golden foliage include:
- 'Fire Island'
- 'Midas Touch'
- 'Good as Gold'
- 'Remember Me' (Variegated: yellow center, green margin)
- ‘Golden Tiara’ (Also variegated, but in the opposite way: green center, yellow margin)
Hostas With Blue Leaves
The blue-leafed hosta plants should all be grown in nearly full shade. Hosta 'Blue Moon' has heart-shaped, bluish-green leaves. A small ground cover, 'Blue Moon' stays under 1 foot tall, with a slightly greater spread. The flowers are white and come out in late summer. Grow it in zones 3-8. Hosta 'Halcyon' gets a bit bigger (14 inches tall, with a spread of about 2 feet) than 'Blue Moon' and has lavender or lilac-blue flowers. Other blue beauties include:
- 'Big Daddy'
- H. sieboldiana ‘Elegans’
- ‘Blue Angel’
- 'Blue Heaven'
- 'Baby Bunting'
More Variegated Selections
Variegation in hosta plants is manifested in a couple of different ways. Foliage is termed "medio variegated" when the lighter color (white, a lighter green, or yellow) occurs in the center of the leaf. For example, Hosta 'Undulata Variegata' (zones 3-8) is white in the middle and green at the edges. These hosta plants reach 1-2 feet in height, by about the same width. They produce a lavender bloom in early summer.
By contrast, when the lighter color occurs on the edge of their foliage, hosta plants are said to be "marginally variegated." One example is . 'Francee.' Another is the related H. 'Patriot,' grown in zones 3-8. Its leaves are green in the center and white on the edges. These hosta plants reach 1-1.5 feet in height, with a spread of 2-2.5 feet. Their lavender blooms appear later than do those of H. 'Undulata Variegata'. The very popular 'Frances Williams' is another example of a marginally variegated kind.
Generally speaking, these types can take a bit more sun than the green or blue ones (see above), although too much sun can fade their bright colors.
Hostas are commonly planted in rows as edging plants to form borders in a landscape design. They are reasonably low-maintenance, not least of all because their dense foliage crowds out much would-be weed growth around them, making hostas an effective ground cover (you will still have to supplement with mulch, however). But do not mistake "low-maintenance" for "no-maintenance." You should implement the following tips to ensure that you are caring for your hostas properly.
Care of Hostas
- Hostas need a lot of water. They grow best with good drainage but will stand for some clay.
- Fertilize your hostas. The American Hosta Society states, "The norm seems to be an application of around 10-10-10, three to four times per year." The "10-10-10" referred to is the NPK number.
- After blooming, cut off the scape (the stalk that bears the bloom). Otherwise, nourishment is wasted, travelling to the seed pods (you want it to go, instead, to the crowns of the hostas).
- As the foliage of hostas begins to die back in fall, you should remove it, since leaving it to decay in the planting bed is just an open invitation to slug pests (see below). What do you do with it after removing it? First, inspect it. If the leaves look healthy, compost them. But hostas are susceptible to some diseases. So if the leaves don't look healthy, simply dispose of them.
- Divide when spring comes if you'd like to propagate.
- Hostas require protection from certain garden pests. For instance, you may have to practice the following:
Because of their size, deer will usually do the most damage. If you live in an area heavily infested with deer, consider skipping the hosta and growing deer-resistant plants.
Slug Control for Hostas
A taste for beer has been the downfall of many a formerly svelte figure. You may find it helpful, as well as amusing, to know that slug pests, too, are drawn to beer -- with even more disastrous results (for the slugs, that is).
Simply set a bowl or similar container outside at night in the planting bed where your hostas grow. Then fill it with a couple of inches or so of beer. Drawn by the smell of the beer, slugs will scale the sides of the container and take the plunge -- into the beer, where they drown.
It is one beer party which your hostas, although teetotalers themselves, will most certainly enjoy hosting.
Slug control is discussed in great detail in Sarah Ford's 50 Ways to Kill a Slug. Here are some slug-control methods gleaned from her work, a book that will be most useful to gardeners who love growing hosta plants:
Studying Up on the Enemy: Facts You Can Use in Killing Slugs
Before listing some facts cited in this book that you can use to help you kill slugs, let's report some information provided by the author that may motivate you (even more than you already are) to wage war on these garden pests:
- Slugs (Arion lusitanicus) are hermaphroditic, meaning they can mate with themselves
- "A slug has a lifespan of several years" (2-6)
When you combine facts 1 and 2, it helps account for why there are so many of them -- and why it's so necessary to have a plan to kill slugs, assuming you value your hostas and other susceptible plants.
The following facts about slugs cited by Ford will be especially helpful in this pest-control project:
- They hide in dark, wet spots during the day and munch on your hosta's leaves at night.
- They exhibit a fatal attraction toward, for example, grapefruit rind and -- most famously -- beer.
- In contrast, some other food-related items repel them, including salt and vinegar.
- They dislike crawling over sharp objects with their soft bodies.
- Despite their sliminess, they do have some natural predators.
Before launching into the various ways to kill slugs, Ford wraps up the book's introduction by pointing out that one of the best preventive steps you can take in your battle with these pests is to engage in spring cleaning outdoors every year and, generally, to keep your landscape tidy, since slugs need something under which to hide out during the daytime. Also, since many people wonder, "After I kill slugs, what do I do with the bodies?" Ford notes that it's fine just to put them in the compost bin.
Ford covers three kinds of barriers that are effective in repelling slugs:
- Things that smell bad to slugs.
- Sharp stuff that cuts into their soft bodies.
- Materials that dry out the slug's moisture-craving skin on contact.
Included in the first category, according to Ford, is the foxglove plant, which you can grow around plants that slugs eat to form a living barrier. Meanwhile, the second group includes:
- Diatomaceous earth
- Crushed nuts
- Pine needles
- Hair (both human and animal)
An example of the third type of barrier is the soot you scrape from your chimney.
Yucca extract, vinegar and salt are other products that are anathema to slugs. Both vinegar and, especially, salt must be used in moderation, as they can have deleterious effects upon your garden when used in excess. With so many ways available to kill slugs, it is best to avoid any tactic with possible negative consequences.
Traps to Kill Slugs
As detailed above, the beer trap is a classic way to kill slugs. The varmints will crawl into a beer-filled container (sink it into the ground) and drown. If you know that a particular type of plant is susceptible to slug damage, it is a good idea to protect it by installing beer traps nearby. Hostas are one of the plants most often damaged by this pest. Delphiniums and clematis vines have the dubious distinction of also ranking high on the list.
Another example of a trap suggested by Ford is grapefruit rind. How do you make such a trap? Just buy a grapefruit, cut it in half, and eat the good part. Then take what's left over from these two halves (primarily the rind) and, using a knife, make a small notch on the edge of each (big enough for a slug to crawl through). Place them down on the ground (edge down), such that they form little domes.
The idea is that slugs will be drawn to the grapefruit halves. They will use the "door" (i.e., the notch you cut) in each to crawl underneath, where they'll spend the night. Then, in the morning, you'll:
- Check the traps.
- Find the victims.
- Kill the slugs.
Old lumber can also be used for slug traps. But whether it be carpet, boards, or whatever, the principle is the same. The slugs, seeking darkness and moisture, will congregate underneath; you later check the trap, kill the slugs caught in it, and repeat.
Baits, Plants Not on the Menu, and Predators That Kill Slugs
Let's conclude by mentioning a few of the many other options for slug control covered by the author.
If you scatter oat bran on the ground as bait, slugs will eat it. Then something funny happens: The oat bran expands while inside their bodies, and they will explode.
Cat food and dog food are also good baits, according to Ford. These pet foods won't kill slugs, though; you have to finish them off yourself, after the critters unwittingly take the bait. Ford admits there's a problem with the use of this bait, however: it could also draw stray cats and dogs. Not to worry: Just consult the following two articles to address these problems, should they arise:
Some plants simply are not eaten by slugs very often. So you could grow just these slug-resistant plants if you really wanted to take the easy way out. In this category, Ford lists, for example:
Finally, if you want someone else to do your dirty work for you in protecting your hosta plants, the following are listed by Ford as being predators that will kill slugs:
- Birds (thrushes, specifically)
- Salamanders (but they would have to be large salamanders)
If you're already laboring over the separate issue of mole control, however, you're unlikely to take much consolation in the fact that moles kill slugs.
Need more choices for shady locations, in addition to some of the hosta plants described above? See this article on the Best Perennials for Shade.