Looking for the Best Hostas

By Keith C. Hansen,
Smith County Extension Agent

Hostas are by many accounts the most popular perennial in the United States. They are shade-loving plants that are grown more for their attractive foliage than for their spikes of flowers.

Hostas are not commonly grown in Texas. They rarely reach the same perfection here that they achieve in northern U.S. gardens, English picture books, or plant catalogs. Many varieties burn up in our hot, humid summers, and since new varieties tend to be pricey, some good varieties may be overlooked as candidates for shaded Texas gardens.

We set out in 1997 to evaluate as many hosta varieties as possible. Our hosta evaluation site, located in the Tyler Rose Garden under a mixed oak and pine canopy, receives partial sun throughout the day. We started out with 3 each of 22 varieties in 1997, added 14 varieties in 1998, and added 4 more in 1999. All varieties were obtained from local Northeast Texas growers (Tawakoni Plant Farm and Whitehouse Gardens). The hostas were evaluated every six weeks during the growing season for overall attractiveness and pest damage.

The following are the top six 2-year-old varieties, as evaluated in 1998. These did quite well, despite the record heat and drought which occurred that summer. Over 5 evaluation dates, these varieties averaged 7.5 or above (10 = excellent; 1 = nearly dead). ‘Royal Standard’, ‘Blue Cadet’, ‘So Sweet’, ‘Albo-Marginata’, ‘Sugar & Cream’, and ‘Blue Angel’ were the overall outstanding varieties. However, within this group, all varieties except ‘Blue Cadet’ went down in ranking between the September and October evaluation. ‘Blue Cadet’, a small, blue-leaved variety, held its color and showed no leaf yellowing or other defects the entire year. Some hosta varieties, like ‘Patriot’ and ‘Francee’, did not emerge until late May, while some varieties such as ‘So Sweet’ emerged in late March or early April. Many varieties looked good for a couple of months but began to have leaf burn by late summer.

More details, including photos, a detailed report and data, are available at the East Texas Piney Woods Gardening web site:

http://aggie-horticulture.tamu.edu/county/smith

Look under New Features for the link to the hosta trial.