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Literature by:
Rhonda Fleming Hayes and David C. Zlesak
Copyright ©  2008  Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.

Hostas are herbaceous perennials, hardy to Zones 3 or 4, depending on the variety. Sometimes referred to as the plantain lily, hostas have fleshy roots and short spreading rhizomes; in spring broad leaves emerge from a central crown and develop into a mounded form. Leaves come in colors from bright green to gold and even blue tones; variegation can result in an edging or center of white, cream or gold; or splashes of color. Leaf texture varies and can be smooth, veined, or even puckered. Leaf size ranges from petite (few inches long) to gigantic (few feet long). Descriptions such as heart-shaped, lance-like, and cupped characterize different leaf shapes. Depending on growing conditions and variety, individual plants range in size from six inches high and a foot or less across to 3-4 feet high and 5-6 feet across.

Although hosta flowers are sometimes discounted as secondary, they can provide great ornamental value. The flower stalks, known as racemes, hold bell-like blossoms of white or lavender to blue. Some flowers are exceptionally fragrant as well as attractive to hummingbirds and bees.



While hostas are often referred to as shade-loving plants, too dark a location will lead to slower growth rates and compromised performance. Hostas can survive in deep shade, defined as 4 hours or less of sun, but really thrive in sites where filtered or dappled shade is available for much of the day.

Some hostas exhibit color variability, changing color according to the amount and intensity of light exposure. Yellow and gold hostas will actually benefit from 2-3 hours of morning sun, helping to develop richer leaf color. Blue hostas have a waxy coating on their leaves, much like the needles on blue spruce, and require a shadier site to avoid leaf burn and bleaching from intense sunlight. As this coating washes off with rain, the plant becomes more vulnerable to sun damage as the growing season progresses. Brown, scorched leaf surfaces or leaf tips on a hosta is a symptom of sunscald. This can be alleviated by moving the plant to a shadier location or providing more water.

For sunnier sites, plants in the Hosta plantagineagroup will fare better, and actually develop more of the fragrant flowers they are known for; ‘August Moon’, ‘Sum and Substance’, ‘Honeybells’ are in this category. Hosta breeders continue to develop new varieties with greater sun tolerance; ‘Sundance’ and ‘Sun Glow’ fit into this category. At the same time these hostas will still tolerate shade, giving gardeners greater flexibility in site location.
 Day Break                             El Nino                                     
Hosta 'Day Break' Hosta 'El Nino' 

Hadspen Heron                         June
 Hosta 'Hadspen Heron'                      Hosta 'June'                              
Royal Standard                          Silver Crown                   
 Hosta 'Royal Standard'                      Hosta 'Silver Crown'                        


 Francee                            Kikuttii Yakusimensis    
Hosta 'Francee'     Hosta 'Kikuttii Yakusimensis'          
Golden Nugget                   Undulata UnvittataHosta 'Golden Nugget'     Hosta 'Undulata Unvittata'    
Platinum Tiara                    Love Pat
Hosta 'Platinum Tiara'     

Plant Selection

Native to Japan, China, and Korea, hostas were imported first to Europe and later arrived in America in the mid 1800’s. There are hundreds of species and thousands of cultivars from which to choose. Besides ornamental attributes, gardeners should choose cultivars based on available light and space. Purchase plants from a reputable nursery, whether in person or online, checking to make sure they are free of obvious symptoms of virus, such as yellow or spotted foliage, dwarf, irregular or disfigured leaves, and other diseases. Some nurseries certify their stock as free of certain viruses.


Hostas require an adequate supply of water to thrive. Hosta leaves have a large surface area and transpire or lose water easily. Consistent, even moisture equivalent to an inch of water per week is considered best for hostas. Deeper watering done with less frequency is better than frequent shallow applications that do not penetrate the root zone.

Hostas planted in dry shade will need attentive watering; rain does not always reach under eaves of buildings or through tree canopies in sufficient amounts. Planting hostas beneath shallow-rooted trees, such as maples (as pictured) or spruce will require watering for establishment and frequently thereafter due to excessive competition for moisture. Hostas in sunny locations will also need additional water to compensate for hotter conditions and increased transpiration.


Organic mulches, such as shredded bark, shredded leaves, or pine needles, will help to conserve and retain the moisture needed for hostas to succeed. Apply mulch after the soil warms in late spring to early summer to maintain a 2-4 inch layer, taking care to keep it away from the plant’s central crown. In addition the mulch will help to suppress weed growth, keep soil temperature even, and eventually decompose releasing nutrients into the soil.

Hosta Literature

Rhonda Fleming Hayes and David C. Zlesak
Copyright ©  2008  Regents of the University of Minnesota. All rights reserved.