Hosta Varieties: 31 Different Types of Hosta Cultivars
Thinking of planting some hostas in your garden but aren't sure which variety to choose? The good news is that there are over 3,000 different types of hosta cultivars to choose from! In this article, certified master gardener and hosta expert Laura Elsner takes walks through her favorite hosta varieties.
Hostas are the unequivocal rulers of the shade. Without having flowers as their main features (although they do flower, some more spectacularly than others), they rely on their striking foliage in shades of green to attract attention in the garden. Hostas are easy to grow, and are hardy in USDA zones 3-9 (sorry tropical zones 10+, but you all can grow houseplants in the garden so you can’t complain too hard). With such a wide range they can be added to gardens almost anywhere in the country.
Gardens are like paintings, they need to have an element that really focuses our attention. In gardens. this is usually something in full bloom that our eyes immediately focus on. But if a painting has all bright focal points our eyes have nowhere to land, it’s chaotic and hard for the brain to process. That’s where the neutrals and background elements come in. In gardening that is green, green is the base color that our eyes float over.
So what happens when you have decided you want to add hostas to your garden, but have to choose from over 3,000 different cultivars? You turn to someone with a little experience, and hope they can provide some guidance. So let’s jump in and take a look at 31 of our favorite hosta varieties, with pictures of each!
So, this is the hosta. The foundation to a shady area. This is not to say that it is boring, the hosta is anything but. The subtle variations in greens from chartreuse to bluish to white and the variegations in endless combinations gives such perfect details to the foundation. Just like in a painting, the main focus is wonderful, but after the initial gaze, the eye will start floating over the rest and scanning for those perfect minor details. That’s what makes it special. Hostas add the perfect extra something to a garden vignette.
Not all hostas are created equal, which is important to note when you are trying to choose the perfect hosta for your space. For instance, lighter colored hostas need more sunlight to keep their color vibrant, whereas the darker thicker leaved blue hostas will thrive in lower light conditions. Another consideration is size, some hostas will grow 2-3’ wide, while others top out at 12-18” wide.
Hostas are a versatile low-growing perennial that look great on their own, or when planted as a grouping. If a mass of hosta foliage is the look you’re trying to achieve, keep in mind the colors. Hostas with yellow on the inside of their leaves will pop against other hostas with yellow borders on their leaves. Keep in mind that some hosta cultivars have yellow leaves naturally, but for others, it’s a sign of poor health. A good way to decide which hostas will look great together is by using your shopping cart as the canvas and layering the various hostas you’re deciding on in it. You will notice immediately which combinations your eyes are drawn to and which ones don’t belong together.
Ok, now I’ve convinced you to grab a hosta. You get to the garden centre and there is a whole hosta aisle! Unlike the Pothos which has only around a dozen cultivars, the hosta has over 3000 registered hosta varieties. In this list, we will take a deeper dive into 31 of my favourite hostas, which barely scratches the surface of the hosta world. But, it will provide a good foundation on where to start. So in no particular order, here are some fantastic hosta varieties.
Sum and Substance
Height: 36” Width: 60”
This is a big boy hosta. If grown in its ideal conditions it can reach 3 feet tall and 5 feet wide (I will mention, I am a dry northern climate gardener, they don’t get that large where I’m from, it really depends on your zone and the humidity where you’re gardening). The large and bright chartreuse leaves brighten and bring contrast to the garden without flowers. It can take a part sun location since the leaves are lighter in color. This is a great base hosta that takes up a lot of space and then the more intricate or showy leaf hostas can be planted in with it.
Height: 16” Width: 35”
Whirlwind hosta is a great compact variety with twirly leaves that are variegated with white centres and darker green margins. If placed in more sun the white centre will become more pronounced, in shadier areas it will feature more green in their leaves. They also produce sprays of lavender flowers in the late summer. Some people love the flowers of hosta, and other people will cut them off in order to display the beautiful foliage, either is fine.
Height: 24” Width: 36”
Paul’s glory is a beautiful variegated variety. It has large golden leaves with a blue green margin. A great part sun hosta. The golden and blue green variegation looks even more striking when paired with its opposite, a hosta ‘Liberty’ which has the reverse color pattern on its leaves.
Height: 18” Width: 24”
Hosta ‘June’ is one of my favorites, it is truly a work of art. It has golden centres that melt into the blue green border. The fade almost looks like brush strokes of a lighter green and then the darker green. It is like a real-life painting.
The first time I came across this hosta in one of my client’s gardens I thought there was a glitch in the matrix for a second, the way the leaves look is almost pixelated, I had to touch the leaf to be sure it was real. This one should really be shown off in the front of a garden with larger plain hostas such as Sum and Substance, Blue Angel, or August Moon in the background.
Height: 16” Width: 32”
Halycon hosta is a classic blue green variety. It features large ribbed leaves that are a dusty blueish green variety. This is a great choice for a shadier part of the garden, it likes morning sun, but will not tolerate the hot afternoon sun. The lavender flowers provide great contrast against the blue foliage (of course if it’s only foliage you’re after, just snip the flowers off).
Height: 6” Width 12”
This little hosta is as cute as its name suggests, with tiny little blue mouse ear leaves it is perfect in a small nook, or even in a container. I use mouse ears to soften rough edges in a garden, like up against a large rock, or tucked in against a decorative log, it adds softness without covering or hiding the feature. This guy is so little, it needs to be at the front of a garden bed and will get lost if placed amongst other plants. It’s really cute in a shady container as a little filler plant since the bluish foliage is quite unique.
Height: 18” Width 16”
Praying hands is a unique hosta because its slender pointed leaves point upwards and look like, well, praying hands. I often talk about playing with the colors of hosta leaves when considering groupings, but another aspect to consider is texture. The upright form of this hosta behind a regular leaf hosta creates a striking difference in height and form.
Height: 36” Width: 48”
This is the big momma in a hosta garden. With big thick and ridged bluish foliage it is a garden anchor. This hosta definitely likes to be in the shadier areas of gardens because of it’s darker and thicker foliage (there’s a scientific explanation for this, it involves chlorophyll, I’ll spare you the details, but darker leaves=lower light).
Blue Angel is a great hosta to start with when planning to make a hosta grouping, start with it and then layer other smaller hostas around. This hosta is great for lower zones, some of the hostas don’t reach full potential in colder climates, this one I’ve seen grown to its full potential in zone 3.
Height 20” Width: 32”
Brother Stefan hosta is beautiful, it was named the hosta of the year in 2017 by the American Hosta Growers Association. It has large thick and puckered leaves with a light lemony yellow interior that looks like a darker bluish green has been delicately brushed on the margins leaving a fade from lemony yellow, to dusty blue green to dark blue green.
Its thicker leaves actually make it a slug resistant variety, which is great in damp shady areas of the garden that can be plagued with the slimeballs. This hosta would look great next to hosta ‘Blue Angel’.
Height: 12” Width: 36”
Stained glass hostas have bright yellow-gold interiors and a thin striping of green around its edges. This hosta can be grown in almost full sun ( I say almost, this really depends on your location, Arizona full sun is much stronger than Seattle full sun). This hosta looks great with Sum and Substance, that little border of green will really pop against the pure chartreuse leaves of Sun and Substance.
Height: 18” Width: 24”
Hosta ‘Patriot’ leaf pattern features a medium green interior that has an irregular white border. This is a popular variety and looks funky when it is mixed with its friend, Reversed Patriot. The pure white edge on this hosta really brightens up shady areas and looks great at night shining in the moonlight.
Height: 18” Width: 24”
This hosta is just as it’s name suggests, the reverse of a Patriot hosta. Its leaf has a white interior with an irregular medium green border. This hosta looks great on it’s own, or it can be grouped together with some regular Patriot hostas to create a wonderful blur of white and green leafed splendor. Also use both Patriot and Reverse Patriot in areas of the garden that need a bit of a break up from solid green, that added white gives a little something extra for the eye to focus on (too much green is often a shade garden woe).
Height: 24” Width: 60”
When I first began gardening, the eccentric owner of the gardening company I worked for would rave about Frances Williams hostas, “the only one worth planting!” she’d exclaim. While I don’t quite agree with that statement, Frances Williams herself does make quite a statement in the garden.
This hosta has large thick and deeply ridged foliage that is blue in the centre with an irregular border of chartreuse margins. This hosta is very versatile and can be paired with both chartreuse hostas, like Sum and Substance, and blue hued hostas like Blue Angel. In fact, those three together would be garden harmony.
Guacamole is another great hosta if you need to fill a space. It has a thick ridged leaf, and bright lime green leaves, with a very small margin of a medium green. This hosta is nice because of the subtleness of the two tones, which can really be made to pop when placed next to a more solid green hosta such as an August Moon hosta.
Height: 6” Width: 16”
Curly Fries is a unique hosta. It has very long narrow leaves and wavy edges and it is a beautiful chartreuse color. This hosta is great softening for edges in a garden, it almost has the appearance of a sedge grass with its graceful arched appearance. Place this one near anything that has darker foliage (bugleweed, or a dark huechera comes to mind) to intensify its bright chartreuse foliage.
Height: 24” Width: 30”
Great Expectations is another hosta that feels like a work of art. It has thick ridged leaves that are all chartreuse, but then it’s as if a painter came and added brush strokes of a bluish green hue all along the margins. This is another great feature hosta, it’s so interesting it could even be used as a focal in a mixed container, or as a stand alone plant in a container.
Height: 4’ Width 7’
Nope, it’s not a typo, this hosta is measured by the foot and not inches! She is the largest hosta currently on the market. While Empress Wu’s leaves are just a simple dusky green, its sheer size is what makes it stand out. I’m going to be honest with you on this one. I came across this variety in my local garden centre and scooped it immediately.
I’ve had it in my garden going on 4 years now (meaning it’s established) and it never got huge. I live in a cold and dry climate, I think to get the full size out of Empress Wu you need to be in a location with more temperate winters and more humidity. But she’s still a lovely hosta in my garden.
Height: 24” Width: 36”
Hosta ‘Liberty’ is a nice sturdy hosta with large leaves with a blue-green interior and a wide irregular margin of a creamy white-chartreuse. This is opposite to Paul’s Glory and would look attractive together, perhaps with a pure chartreuse Sum and Substance hosta, or a pure blueish Blue Angel hosta as a solid compliment depending which color you really want to pop.
Height: 8” Width: 10”
Hosta ‘White Feather’ is a pure white variety of hosta that always draws lots of attention for its pure white foliage. It emerges pure white and then later in the season it will get veins of green running through its leaves. I kind of think of this one as a purebred dog, beautiful and aesthetically appealing, but not altogether practical or hardy.
Because it doesn’t have much chlorophyll (what makes the plant green and is vital for photosynthesis), hosta ‘White Feather’ isn’t able to produce as much energy and is therefore a very slow growing variety.
This variety does look great in container displays, it doesn’t grow too big and the bright white foliage adds a great contrast to the other plants in the arrangement. It also looks good in the front of a border, because of its small size, it gets lost in the garden if placed further back. For more pure white leaves (less green) place this hosta in a more shady area of the garden.
Height: 16” Width: 36”
Hosta ‘Minuteman’ is a very popular variety. It has large green leaves with a wide wide margin. It is reliable, large, and a great selection to fill a space in a shade garden. This hosta looks great along a pathway where the big bright white borders will naturally illuminate the garden at night.
Height: 20” Width 30”
I don’t know who comes up with the names of hostas, but this one is great! Hosta ‘Striptease’ has medium sized, semi pointed green leaves with a distinct chartreuse stripe through the centre. Play up this stripey striptease by adding a full chartreuse Sum and Substance hosta, or maybe a Guacamole hosta that has the thin green border margin to provide great compliment and contrast.
Height: 6” Width: 14”
Pandora’s box is a sweet miniature hosta featuring small leaves with white interiors and a brush-stroke border of green. This hosta looks great nestled in between rocks, and in pots. This is actually one of the few hostas I allow to bloom (this is all personal preference, I trim off the flowers on hostas that I am only interested in their foliage). The lavender blooms rising up from the small leaves are just such a pleasing contrast to me.
Image Credit: Cultivar413 via Flickr (use permitted with attribution)
Height: 12” Width 24”
Hosta ‘First Frost’ is a simple and elegant hosta with a pointed leaf that has a bluish green interior and an irregular yellow border. The thing that makes this hosta special, is later in the season the yellow border will transform to white.
Fire and Ice
Height: 20” Width: 24”
Hosta ‘Fire and Ice” is a beautiful bold hosta. It has smaller, more dense foliage than some of the other larger leaf hostas. It has bright white interiors with a thin dark, almost forest green margin. This is a great addition into a green and white hosta garden (Patriot, Reverse Patriot, White Feather, Whirlwind, Pandora’s box etc.). It’s also a great variety to consider in a night garden as the large white interiors will brighten up a midnight stroll down the garden path.
Height: 18” Width: 30”
Oh the Dancing Queen reigns supreme. I love this hosta! Hosta ‘Dancing Queen’ is a large leafed hosta with deep ridges along the leaves and little wavy ruffles along its edges. The centre of the leaf is a darker green that runs through the ridges, this is a subtle detail that contours the ridges and makes them pop even more. This hosta compliments any hosta that has chartreuse in its leaves.
Height: 12” Width: 20”
This sweet hosta is another smaller leaf hosta with glossy green leaves and a white margin. It has dense foliage and looks really lush in shade gardens. Since it’s a lower growing hosta it looks great in the front of a group of hostas where it will be a dense mound of leaves around the base of another hosta which will help create a lush grouping of foliage at all levels for the eye to travel across.
I also personally really like smaller leaf hostas since I garden in a region that gets a lot, and often large sized, hail (lucky me, I know). With a small leaf hosta like So Sweet, I am able to trim out the holey leaves without cutting back half the hosta.
Height: 20” Spread: 34”
Hosta ‘Forbidden Fruit’ is another artistic marvel. It has a large inner portion of its leaf that ranges from a creamy lemon yellow, to light lime green (the same plant can feature some leaves having light green and some with lemony yellow), that is brush stroked into an irregular dark green margin. The foliage is so pretty, I use this one in pots, or in the front of beds where people can really take the time to appreciate its beauty.
Abiqua Drinking Gourd
Height: 18” Width: 36”
I was so excited when these started appearing in local garden centres. Hosta ‘Abiqua Drinking Gourd’ was one of those plants that was always featured in garden mags and photos, but it seemed nearly impossible to find and use in gardens. It is a dark blue green hosta with thick deeply ridged leaves that form an upward facing cup. These hostas can take shadier areas and when they get the morning dew caught in their drinking gourd leaves they sparkle.
Height: 16” Width: 16”
This lovely and symmetrical hosta features a blue green centre with a white margin. The leaves are smaller in size and slightly more pointed than some of the larger rounder leaf hosta. Place this one at the foot of a hosta ‘Blue Angel’ for a beautiful blue combination. Or mixed in with hosta ‘Halycon’ which is a similar size, but a solid blue.
August Moon Hosta
Height: 18” Width: 36”
I think often in the pursuit of growing the most unique hosta we forget about the beauty of the most simple hosta. Hosta ‘August Moon’ is that simple hosta, it’s a large dense light green variety. Because of its light limey green foliage, it can handle more sun than some of the darker foliaged hostas.
This is a great building block hosta (Sum and Substance, and Blue Angel both fall into this category as well), when other more ornate hostas are planted with an August Moon variety hosta the unique differences in the ornate leafed hosta is intensified.
Height: 20” Width: 48”
Hosta ‘Fragrant Bouquet’ is a large, round leaf hosta that is bright green with a thin yellowish white margin. It will come as no surprise that the main feature of this variety is the fragrance that emanates from it’s delicate plumes of light lavender flowers. This hosta is great when placed near benches or areas where the lovely floral scent can be enjoyed.
Well, that list might give you some great ideas, but it might also be very overwhelming. Just know that when you go to your local garden centre or nursery they won’t have every single variety I listed, they will probably have some different ones, and even ones that are simply labelled as ‘Hosta’ with no variety listed.
I think the take away is to familiarize yourself with some of the possible varieties of leaf pattern, size, color etc and decide which direction you want to go based on your personal taste and the conditions of the garden you will be planting them in. Darker leaves need less sun than the bright leaf hostas, some hostas grow 3 feet wide, while others stay compact, these are a few considerations when choosing a hosta.
I love hostas because the possibilities and combinations are seemingly endless. I can still go into a garden and see a variety of hosta I’ve never seen before. It’s a perennial with a million uses. It can be used as a solid border or mass of green. It can be a single plant used as an anchor, or a focal, or you can take what I call the Pokemon approach and try and catch them all and create a patchwork of colors, shapes, sizes, and textures. Have fun, and happy gardening!