Hostas are some of the most popular and versatile shade-tolerant perennials. Large hosta varieties are perfect for creating a dramatic focal point in a mixed border. Smaller varieties can be used as filler around trees and shrubs, for edging garden paths or borders, and for growing in pots or combination planters. Variegated hosta varieties provide all-season color – a huge benefit in areas of deep shade where very few flowering plants thrive.
Hostas are low-maintenance, beginner-friendly, and grow almost anywhere (winter hardy in USDA hardiness zones 3–8). Best of all, hummingbirds love hosta’s bell-shaped flowers and are sure to visit your garden to take advantage of this excellent source of nectar!
The trickiest part about growing hostas might be choosing which variety you’d like to plant. There are 70 different hosta species and over 3,000 registered varieties.
In general, hostas like shade. However, the degree of shade tolerance depends on the variety. In this guide, we’ll present a few of the best hosta varieties for growing in heavily shaded areas as well as a few that can handle a bit more sun.
What Are Hostas?
Also known as plantain lily, Hosta is a diverse and widely-grown genus of hardy perennials. Hostas belong to the Agavoidae subfamily, which also includes yuccas and agaves, of the Asparagaceae (asparagus) family. Hostas are native to China, Japan, and Korea, but over time they have become some of the most popular ornamental perennials grown throughout North America and Europe as well.
Hostas are clump-forming plants, which means they grow outward in a compact formation. A mature hosta mound’s width usually exceeds its height. Hostas can be grown in the ground or in containers.
While hostas do produce flowers, they’re grown primarily for their foliage. Most common hosta varieties produce broad leaves in various shades of green, blue-green, and yellow. Many varieties feature variegated foliage.
Do Hostas Like Sun or Shade?
Hostas are known for shade tolerance, but the genus is vast and diverse, with varieties adaptable to a range of light levels. A few hosta varieties that grow well in shade but are also known for sun tolerance include:
Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’
Hosta ‘Stained Glass’
Hosta ‘Sun Power’
Varieties that produce fragrant flowers or those with yellowish foliage tend to be more sun tolerant.
For most hostas, ample shade is welcome. However, gardeners should think of hostas as “shade-tolerant” rather than “shade-loving.” If a spot is too shady, hostas won’t thrive.
Most varieties thrive in partial shade, which involves a few hours of direct sunlight per day with shade during the hottest part of the day. Partial shade is generally considered to be 3-6 hours of direct sun in the morning or late afternoon, or filtered sun throughout the day. Hostas also generally do well in full shade, which is considered locations receiving less than three hours of direct or filtered sunshine per day.
Varieties of Hostas for Shade
Here are a few of our favorite shade-tolerant hosta varieties, ranging from the miniature ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ to the enormous ‘Empress Wu’.
The varieties described below all thrive in partial shade to full shade. Each variety is widely grown and known for reliability and hardiness.
Every year, the American Hosta Society (AHS) conducts a hosta popularity poll to determine the favorite varieties among the group’s members. Consistently, ‘June’ and ‘Sagae’ (see below) are among the top vote-getters.
‘June’ hostas present variegated (multi-colored) blue-green leaves with bright lime-green centers. The foliage is broad and sturdy and forms dense mounds. This variety is medium-sized, growing clumps as tall as 15” (38 cm) and as wide as 35” (89 cm).
Like the variety ‘June’, ‘Sagae’ is one of the favorite varieties among hosta enthusiasts. ‘Sagae’ is considered a large or giant variety, forming mounds that grow to heights of 28” (71 cm) and widths of 36” (91 cm). The thick, wavy leaves are artistically variegated, with blue-green bodies and golden outlines.
Hosta ‘Empress Wu’
‘Empress Wu’ is a giant among giants. In fact, it’s currently considered the #1 largest hosta variety, growing up to 4’ (1.2 m) tall and 6’ (1.8 m) wide. Individual leaves can reach incredible sizes of 28” (71 cm) by 25” (64 cm).
Despite its exotic appearance, ‘Empress Wu’ does well in hardiness zones 3–8, just like other hostas. It takes around 5–8 years to reach a mature size, making this popular variety a rewarding long-term project for patient gardeners.
Hosta ‘Blue Mouse Ears’
‘Blue Mouse Ears’ is a mini variety that grows mounds up to 8” (20 cm) tall and 12” (30 cm) wide, with petite leaves that resemble the open ears of an alert mouse. ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ is one of the most popular mini hostas, providing a low-maintenance option that fits neatly into small spaces.
Hosta ‘Autumn Frost’
‘Autumn Frost’ won the 2022 American Hosta Society (AHS) Benedict Garden Performance Medal. One hosta variety per year wins this award based on “outstanding garden performance across the country.”
This gorgeous medium-sized variety grows up to 12” (30 cm) tall and 24” (61 cm) wide. Leaves are frosty blue with thick yellow margins.
Hosta ‘Rainbow’s End’
‘Rainbow’s End’ is another AHS Benedict Garden Performance Medal winner (2021) that features striking variegated green and yellow foliage. The colors run in thick streaks, with some leaves more covered in green and others bearing mostly yellow.
This medium-sized variety reaches 12” (30 cm) in height and spreads up to 21” (53 cm) in width.
Learn to Grow Beautiful Shade-Tolerant Hostas
Shade tolerance is just one reason for the popularity of hostas. They’re attractive and reliable perennials that come back year after year without requiring complex or time-consuming care. Plus, with so many varieties to choose from, there’s a perfect hosta for every garden.
To learn how to care for these classic perennials, check out our guide on How to Grow Hostas.