Hostas for Fall

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.


Hosta 'Remember Me'Hosta ‘Remember Me’ looks absolutely spectacular in the fall when its colors deepen and its pristine leaves shine.  All photos were taken at Carolyn’s Shade Gardens this fall.  Click any photo to enlarge.

In my last two articles, A Few Fall Favorites for Foliage and Fruit and A Few Fall Favorites for Flowers, I explained that, inspired by an article about dressing up your fall garden with mums because everything else is finished, I grabbed my camera and headed outside to prove them wrong.  There was so much going on that I divided the plants into three posts: foliage and fruit, flowers, and hostas.  This is part three highlighting hostas.

When you choose a hosta for your garden, I am guessing you are not going for this look in fall.

One reason I started what I like to call my free, on line, shade gardening magazine (AKA blog) was to force myself to document my gardening knowledge in photographs and print.  This article is a perfect example.  Every fall I walk around my gardens saying: “I really should photograph the hostas that still look good in the fall,” but I never do it.  This information is very important when choosing hostas especially if you have a small garden and can’t afford to allocate space to a plant that provides no ornamental value for one third of the season like the specimens in the photo above.  So, for the record, here are some of the hostas dressing up my shady gardens right now:

I don’t expect my hostas to look perfect in the fall, although some do.  Even though ‘Frances Williams’ is slightly tattered, its bold colors and stately habit make it a winner in my fall garden.

There is another very important point I would like to make about hostas.  New is not the equivalent of better or even good.  Gardeners will often remark about a hosta like ‘Frances Williams’, which was first registered in 1986, that it is an old hosta with the implication that we should have all moved on by now.  If I had to, I would gladly trade in many of my newer hostas for a plant as unique in habit, leaf shape, and color as ‘Frances Williams’ (even with its tendency to brown slightly at the edges).  The breeders have yet to come up with a new hosta this beautiful and tough.

Like all blue-leaved hostas, Hosta ‘Blue Umbrellas’ turns greener in the fall, but who cares when it looks like this?

Thanks to my commenter Louise Thompson for mentioning slug resistance.  One of the primary reasons that these hostas look so good in the fall is that they are resistant to slugs.  Most of them tend to have thicker leaves that just hold up better to whatever nature throws at them.  Please read my reply to Louise for information about controlling slugs.  I don’t do anything to control slugs except plant resistant hostas. 

Talk about perfect, Hosta ‘Paradise Joyce’.

Hosta ‘El Nino’ in my silver and blue garden.  If you want to see what it looks like in June, click here.

Hosta ‘Stained Glass’, which was the Hosta of the Year for 2006, just glows in the fall.  One way to choose really good hostas is to select cultivars chosen as hosta of the year by the American Hosta Growers Association.  There are over 6,000 (some say 10,000) hosta cultivars out there, and only 17 have received this honor.  I grow 13 of the winners, and they certainly deserved to be chosen.  To see all the winners, click here.

Another “old” hosta, ‘Blue Angel’ was registered in 1986 and, in my opinion, is the best large blue cultivar–outstanding habit, leaves, and white flowers.  It is the parent of ‘Earth Angel’, the 2009 Hosta of the Year.

The long-lasting gold leaves of Hosta ‘Sum and Substance’, the 2004 Hosta of the Year, can reach 2 feet across while the clump can exceed 6 feet in width.

Hosta ‘June’ was the 2001 Hosta of the Year and is the favorite hosta of my nursery customers.  ‘Remember Me’ in the top photo is one of its “children”.

Hosta ‘Halcyon’ registered in 1988, is a beautiful medium-sized blue hosta (aging to green in the fall), but it is also important as the parent of ‘June’, ‘El Nino’, and ‘Paradise Joyce’, among other wonderful cultivars.

Most gold-leaved hostas turn green in the fall, but not ‘Jimmy Crack Corn’.

Hosta ‘Praying Hands’, the 2011 Hosta of the Year, will stay outside in this ceramic container all winter.  I find that ‘Praying Hands’ multiplies much faster in a container than in the ground.

Hosta ‘Paul’s Glory’, the 1999 Hosta of the Year, also looks best in the fall when its bright colors light up the shade.

Hosta ‘Inniswood’ is a 1993 gold-leafed introduction that puts many newer cultivars to shame.

There are many more medium and large hostas that I could have featured as ornamental in the fall including my favorite, Hosta tokudama and all its cultivars.  For more information on larger hostas and how to use them, click here.

Now for some fall stars among the miniatures, my current hosta passion.  For more information on miniature hostas and how to incorporate them into your garden, click here.

If you have read my article on Miniature Hostas, you know I am a sucker for the Mouse Ears series, here Hosta ‘Mighty Mouse’.

Hosta ‘Blue Mouse Ears’ is the 2008 Hosta of the Year.

Hosta ‘Little Sunspot’ is growing in one of the 16 pouches in my strawberry jar.  One look at this collection will show you that all miniatures are not created equal in terms of their fall appearance.

All my hosta containers, including this pot of Hosta ‘Pixie Vamp’, will stay out all winter.

Like all plants, hostas should be chosen to provide ornamental value from the time they come up in the spring until frost.  You can choose any of the hostas above for your garden and be confident of a long season of interest.


This is the third article I have written on hostas.  The first two are:

Miniature (& Small) Hostas

Larger Hostas

Notes: Every word that appears in orange on my blog is a link that you can click for more information.  If you want to return to my blog’s homepage to access the sidebar information (catalogues, previous articles, etc.) or to subscribe to my blog, just click here.

Nursery Happenings: The nursery is closed for the year.  Look for the snowdrop catalogue (snowdrops are available mail order) in January 2012 and an exciting new hellebore offering in February 2012.  If you are within visiting distance and would like to receive catalogues and information about customer events, please send your full name and phone number to  Subscribing to my blog does not sign you up to receive this information.

56 Responses to “Hostas for Fall”

  1. You have so many of my favorites featured except they do not look like this in my garden up N here since we have had 2 frosts…of course the miniatures look good still which is one reason I love them. Of course they are so darn cute too which is really why I buy them…

  2. Louise Thompson Says:

    Carolyn, have you ever done an article or blog entry on slug-resistant hostas and what you recommend for fighting slugs?

    • Louise, I didn’t make it clear in this article but one of the prime reasons these hostas still look good is because they are slug resistant so this is the article on slug resistance. I added a paragraph to the post about this. I don’t do anything to fight slugs or really any other pest or disease besides deer and occasionally aphids. My approach is that it’s all part of nature and it’s too much work–my garden just doesn’t have to look perfect. My recommendation for combating slugs is to trap them in cups of beer/upside down grapefruit rinds/under boards and remove them every morning or to sprinkle a spiky barrier around your hostas that the slugs won’t cross like poultry grit. I do not recommend any of the non-organic slug repellants. I find that gardeners who have the most continuing problems with pests are the ones using the most herbicides, fungicides, and insecticides. Thanks for raising this important point. Carolyn

  3. Wow…what a selection. I think the gold leaved ones are fab.

  4. Brilliant post Carolyn, do link this and the other post about foliage to GBFD next week 22nd, October. Christina

  5. Another great post Carolyn, and another one I shall bookmark for future reference. Interesting that you find so many of the “old” hostas out perform most of the newer introductions.

    • Janet, It really isn’t that the old hostas out perform the new ones. It’s that with 10,000 cultivars and hundreds being introduced every year (it seems like every month), there really are only a small number that are really great hostas. Just because a plant was registered in 1986, doesn’t mean that it is not one of the best cultivars out there, and just because another was registered in 2012, it’s not necessarily superior. Carolyn

  6. Know what you mean, just had to rip H Halycon out of a customers garden: still in full spate but guess what? holes in the leaves.

  7. Super post about hostas, you must be warmer than us, ours are all finished now, collapsing in a golden heap, will soon have be tidied for the winter. I think the best one that I have is “Sum and Substance” for size, resistance to snails and it lasts the longest before dying for the winter.

    • Pauline, No golden heaps here yet–all the hostas I profiled still look just like the photos. We haven’t had a frost and it has been very warm and rainy. ‘Sum and Substance’ is great. It’s a hard sell to my customers though because it’s so big. Carolyn

  8. Your blog is a great source of inspiration and go to for shade gardeners like myself. I too think hostas need to earn their keep-all season and not just in the spring. You’ve got some great choices here. ‘Sum and Substance’, ‘Stained Glass’ are awesome here too. Another one that gives all season interest I like is ‘Christmas Tree’. If you have the chance to pick up ‘Hacksaw’ for your miniatures it is still going strong here in a container. Those gold leaved ones are sure awesome in your garden.

  9. Great post! I had to run outside to look at my hostas. One looks good. The rest – not good at all. So, I’m glad you posted this information about hostas in the fall. It really does make a difference!

    • Holley, I am so complimented that you were inspired to go look at your hostas. Some hostas I would continue growing even though they don’t look good in the fall. Others are in places where I have compensated for their disappearing act. I have used ‘Golden Tiara’ as a groundcover in a bed and when it looks bad I cut if off and Italian arum comes up and takes over. Carolyn

  10. Beautiful hostas! I wish I had more shade to put more in! I have several ‘June’ hostas which are still beautiful.
    I love the golden hued hostas. Thanks for the info!

  11. My gosh you have a beautiful array of hostas. I only have 2 and am looking to add more to our yard, I will be using your post as inspiration.

  12. I almost missed your hosta post and that would have been a shame. You have quite a selection. We have a world renown expert up here on Hosta and I should do a post on his garden sometime. I highlighted his wife’s daylily garden and she is a well known writer on daylilies, but really did not show his collection. Hosta up here are so commonplace and grow like weeds. They really are pretty and have a lot of garden interest, even though I tend to overlook them because we have so many.

    • Donna, Hosta are commonplace everywhere as far as I know, especially here, and most of the old standbys do multiply quite rapidly. However, there are some really special hostas out there that are not widely grown and that’s what I try to draw attention to. I would love to read a post on your local hosta expert. Carolyn

  13. You have so many Carolyn. I really like your Paradise Joyce. I am enjoying your Fall flowers in the garden.

    • Lona, I love ‘Paradise Joyce’ and it is much admired by gardeners touring my display beds. It is not available wholesale though so I rarely sell it. It is the perfect example of an excellent hosta that has been forgotten in favor of whatever is new. Carolyn

  14. What a wonderful blog of plants! So beautiful. You have done a good job!

  15. Great post! I appreciate good guidance on slug resistant hostas. I’ve been experimenting at home and have found Halycon to be one of the few that doesn’t succomb to our abundance of slugs. There are so many varieties that it’s difficult to wade through information on them all. You’ve offered some great choices that I will keep in mind for at home as well as for spec’ing on jobs.

    • Chris, I too find it difficult to keep all the hostas straight. I am so glad that you found this post useful for your landscape design business. As I said, I have been meaning to get this information “down on paper” for years. Also glad to have my view of ‘Halcyon confirmed. Carolyn

  16. I agree with you that hostas can be great looking plants in the fall garden.
    Recently, I admired the ‘Praying hands’ hosta in a local nursery. I like the uniquely thin, somewhat twisted leaves. I only wish it was not so darn expensive!
    In the same nursery visit I also saw hostas that supposedly turn blue in fall. Have you any experience with them? Are they really blue or just a bluish green?

    • Jennifer, ‘Praying Hands’ can be quite expensive, but it’s worth it. If you put it in a container, it will multiply rapidly. I have never heard of a hosta that turns blue in the fall–does that mean it’s green in the spring or only that it gets bluer. I would be interested in knowing the name. Every blue hosta I have turns greener in the fall. Carolyn

  17. One clue as to which Hostas will look good in the fall is bloom time. In my experience, Hostas which bloom late in the season tend to look better than those that bloom earlier although as you noted there are numerous exceptions with respect to the earlier bloomers. I was glad to see Paul’s Glory featured in this blog since I think it is a truly outstanding plant, but unfortunately it does not come into its glory until late in the season and as a result it is a hard sale for nurseries in the spring when most people buy their Hostas. It is also probably worth noting that the offspring or sports of long lasting Hostas also tend to hold up well. For example, you list a number of sports of H. ‘Halcyon’ such as H. ‘Remember Me’, ‘Paradise Joyce,’ ‘El Nino,’ and ‘June’. Other sports of ‘Halcyon’ look just as good such as ‘Sleeping Beauty’, ‘First Frost’ and ‘May’. Always enjoy your blogs.

    • Wayne, I am sure you are right about bloom time. I couldn’t feature late-blooming, fragrant hostas because deer got inside my netting and selectively ate every one: H. plantaginea, ‘Guacamole’, ‘Fragrant Bouquet’. They also ate ‘First Frost’. I would have had to show a photo of stalks. It is amazing how the deer found them in all their locations and skipped all the other hostas–they weren’t even in bloom yet. You are exactly right about ‘Paul’s Glory’–it just doesn’t have “pot appeal” in the nursery sales area. Carolyn

  18. Sum and Substance has to be the best looking hosta in my garden, all year long. I was surprised to read that your customers feel that it is too big for their garden, that is exactly what I love about it (besides the colour), it is a statement plant. I am finding that I have too many small leaved plants, I don’t want it to look ‘weedy’ , very large hosta leaves are such an amazing contrast.

  19. Just read the comment before mine and I am very suspicious of claims for Hostas with blue leaves in the fall. As you probably know, the blueness is the result of a wax which appears on the new leaves of blue Hostas. This wax wears off as the summer progresses to reveal the green leaves underneath. It is very hard to imagine a Hosta that would build up wax over the summer rather than lose wax. Also I am pretty sure I would already know about such a breakthrough and I have not heard about it so far.

    • Wayne, Thanks for a refresher on why hostas are blue. If we are honest with ourselves, they aren’t really blue, but just bluer than other green hostas. I call it “horticultural blue”. I often run into the funny situation where I refer to a blue hosta and the gardener says where is it while looking right at it. It’s kind of like the emperor’s new clothes: blue is in the eye of the beholder. I too am suspicious of this marketing claim, but it would be great if it were true. Carolyn

  20. I really enjoy hostas, but I have not been adding any in the last few years because they are so attractive to voles. I have been able to save a few by adding small sharp pebbles around the base of them. Perhaps someday I will master the planting of them and control their pests enough to add more. They add so much lushness to the garden.

  21. Do hostas with white variegation tend to look more ratty at the end of the season? Or perhaps their light color makes the tears in the leaves just show up more?

    My white-edged hostas look pretty much like the sad ones at the top… though partly due to nickle-sized hail. Would ‘El Nino’ be your best suggestion for a replacement for something 2-3′ across?

    Wonderfully thorough as always. Thanks, Carolyn!
    (And also for your comment on my hardiness post today which helped me to refine it & say what I meant to say. Thank you!)

    • Julie, I am going to check tomorrow to see if all the hostas with white variegation in the center look ratty–my hostas with white edges look fine. My sense is that this is true. Hostas with a lot of white are generally weaker because the white part of the leaf doesn’t make chlorophyll. For this reason, I never sell ‘Fire and Ice’ and similar cultivars. Green and white hostas are “out” right now, at least with my customers, so I don’t sell that many or have that many in my garden (I tend to plant leftovers). I highly recommend ‘El Nino’, ‘Fragrant Bouquet’, or ‘First Frost’ if you want a medium hosta with light edges. Carolyn

  22. You’ve got a beautiful collection of hostas! I love the variegated ones. Perfect for shade gardens!

  23. Wonderful hostas! My own ‘Sum and Substance’ hostas are beginning to live up to their promise. They were tiny when I planted them several years ago. This year the leaves are HUGE. I also love their golden color.

    By the way, Carolyn, I hope you don’t mind, but I have shamelessly used your name in my post which will be coming out this morning. I appreciate you very much!

    • Deb, Many of the larger leaved hostas can take several years to reach their full glory. It makes them a hard sell in a pot in my nursery. I am always imploring customers to go look at the hostas in the display gardens first. Your post is very complimentary to me. I am honored. Carolyn

  24. Thanks, Carolyn, for some of the best Hosta advice ever.

  25. Carolyn, this is just what I needed to read. Yesterday walking through my garden I was noting how my hostas all look battered and ugly right now. Now I realize I need to mix in a few of your more sturdy hostas to bring the garden through to fall.

  26. Such a beautiful collection!

  27. No frost here as yet Carolyn, however the Hostas have gone over. Some seem to just start to die back naturally as if recognising that its time to go to sleep, others, or should I say majority have been decimated with slugs and snails. I do use what is referred to as wild life friendly pellets, I am having my doubts about them though. Paradise Joyce, that’s the sort of Hosta which I like.

  28. Great article. I forced myself to take photos of my hostas which looked BAD this year! In theory that will aid in my decision as to what to keep/propagate and what to throw or give away. of course I have to remember to look at the photos!

    I’m amazed at your Blue Angel. Mine has never done well – totally shredded by Seattle slugs.

    Love your mouse ears in a strawberry jar – must do that!

    One of my favorite hostas is the old Francee – reliable, sun tolerant, pretty slug proof and grows quickly enough to share. I’m with you – not everything that is new is best.

    • Karen, That is a great idea to take photos of the hostas that look bad so you remember why you want to remove them. They all look so nice in the spring. ‘Blue Angel’ may do better in our climate or you may have gotten one of the other large blue hostas like ‘Elegans’ that was labeled ‘Blue Angel’. ‘Francee’ does very well in my garden too except the white edges which get nibbled. However, green and white hostas (except miniatures) are “out” right now so I don’t sell it. Carolyn

      • My ‘Blue Angel’ is a real wimp! Not big and bushy at all poor thing. Every time it grows a leaf it gets shredded. I am familiar with Elegans but this leaf is a different shape. You’re right though – it may well have been mislabeled.

        How sad that green and white hostas are considered unfashionable!!! Mind you I’m a rebel and frequently ignore such things.

      • Karen, Good for you,rebellion is also trendsetting. Carolyn

  29. Carolyn, I have a number of these hostas (and also nigrescens and Krossa Regal) in my Gettysburg garden, and they do look wonderful when I return here in fall. I have to admit that this was just dumb luck on my part, rather than knowledgeable selection of cultivars. I could have used this kind of information when I was making my choices, so I think you’ve done a real service (again!) with this post.

    • Jean, To my knowledge, hostas are not rated specifically for their durability into the fall. Sources will say that they are slug resistant or have thick substance which may mean that they hold up well. Also the hostas that do hold up well tend to be popular, and therefore available, so gardeners buy them for their gardens. I wanted to make the process a little more formal and actually point out which hostas held up. I am glad readers are so happy wit the information. Carolyn

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