Hosta plants are herbaceous perennials. The most natural way to group them is by leaf-color. The foliage can be blue, gold (yellow), or green. Or sometimes, one will find a pleasing blend, as when there's just enough yellow and green to form chartreuse. In addition to all this variety in color, these stars of the foliage world are often variegated. For pictures, click "More Images" below the photo.
As if all this weren't 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 variation, 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, as Marie Iannotti notes, since fragrant hostas (see below) need some sunlight for full flower development, you may wish to make an exception for them, else you'll 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 hosta plants. 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 1/2' tall with a spread of 1 1/2'-2'. Grow fragrant hosta plants in a sunny area.
Hostas With Gold (Yellow) Leaves
Hosta plants with gold leaves should be planted in full sun to bring out their color fully. That color can range from a true gold to a chartreuse, depending on variety, location in the yard, geographical region, etc. Hosta 'Ground Sulphur' stays under 1' tall, with a slightly greater spread. It blooms in lavender, early in the summer. Zones 3-8.
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 hosta plant, 'Blue Moon' stays under 1' tall, with a slightly greater spread. The flowers are white and come out in late summer. Grow in zones 3-8. Hosta 'Halcyon' gets a bit bigger (14" tall, with a spread of about 2') than 'Blue Moon' and has lavender or lilac-blue flowers.
Hosta Plants With White-Variegated Leaves
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' 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." An example is Hosta 'Patriot,' grown in zones 3-8. Its leaves are green in the center and white on the edges. These hosta plants reach 1'-1 1/2' in height, with a spread of 2'-2 1/2'. Their lavender blooms appear later than do those of Hosta 'Undulata Variegata'.
Generally speaking, these types want a bit more sun than the green or blue ones (see above), although too much sun can fade their bright colors.
On Page 2 we'll consider care issues....