The basic hosta colors are green, blue, and yellow. White can be a center or margin accent color but there are no white hostas (with some Viridescence exceptions). These four colors can appear in any combination of centers, margins, and streaks, and there are hosta that go through hosta color changes.
Color and Genetics
Genetics play the most important role in the color of hostas. Genetics determines the leaf’s texture, shine, amount of green chlorophyll and location of any plastids that affect leaf color.
The leaf’s surface texture affects the color reflected off the leaves. Hostas that are corrugated, have deep veins, and are twisted will cast a different color than hostas with smooth leaves. Some hostas have different types of wax in the epidural tissue (called the cutin) on their leaves that create shiny green leaves or glaucous blue or gray leaves.
Color and External Factors
Hosta ‘June’ grown in different amounts of sunlight.
H. ‘June’ with more sun
H. ‘June’ with more shade
The amount of sunlight and its intensity also determines the color of a hosta. Too much sun can have a range of effects, including burning, lightening (bleaching), browning and shriveling the leaves. Some hostas such as H. ‘June’ (see images) can show drastically different colors based on the amount of sunlight. Hostas prefer morning sun. Some varieties, mostly yellow and some green, can do well in afternoon sun if they are watered regularly and grown in organic, water-retaining soil. Blue or gray hostas will turn green as the wax on their leaves melt. Hostas that do not receive enough sun will eventually shrink and die.
Learn more about how sunlight affects hostas in our hostas and sunlight page.
Hostas grown in soil low in nitrogen and magnesium might have less healthy leaves that are yellower than they should be. Both nitrogen and magnesium are needed to create healthy green chlorophyll. Growing hostas in soil of pH 7.2 or higher can cause a hosta to have difficulty absorbing iron, manganese, and phosphorus. An iron-deficient green hosta will turn chlorotic between the veins making a yellow patch. Iron-deficient blue hostas tend to look muddy.
Seasonal color changes in hostas
Seasonal color changes are different than the color change that can be brought on by sunlight. As an example, ‘Guacamole’ can appear to be at least three different colors depending on the amount of sunlight, not because of viridescence, lutescense, or albescence.
A small percentage of hostas predictably change colors during the course of the season. These changes are:
Hosta emerges white or yellow, and becomes greener. Some hostas with viridescence include: ‘Amy Elizabeth’, ‘Chinese Sunrise’, ‘Dawn’s Early Light’, ‘Eskimo Pie’, ‘Fortunei Albopicta’, ‘Gold Edger’, ‘Golden Oriole’, ‘Guardian Angel’, ‘Heart Broken’, ‘June Fever’, ‘Little Sunspot’, and ‘Manhattan’.
Hosta emerges green or chartreuse and turns to yellow or whitish yellow. ‘August Moon’, ‘Bright Glow’, ‘Gaiety’, ‘Gold Standard’, ‘Golden Gate’, ‘Golden Scepter’, ‘Golden Sculpture’, ‘Golden Tiara’, ‘Golden Waffles’, ‘Little Aurora’, ‘Lunar Magic’, ‘Midas Touch’, ‘Paradigm’, ‘Piedmont Gold’, ‘Sea Dream’, ‘Shade Master’, and ‘Zounds’.
Hostas emerges yellow, yellowish green, or with green areas that turn to near white. A few hostas with albescence are: ‘Celebration’, ‘Emerald Crust’, ‘Fan Dance’, ‘Grand Prize’, ‘Paul’s Glory’, ‘Red Hot Flash’.
To purchase hostas (including viridescent, lutescent, and albescent hostas), please visit our Buy Hostas Page.
Why are there solid-colored leaves on my variegated hosta?
Variegated hostas are hosta mutations of cells in one or more layers of the leaf. These variations are found within the plant cells, which are called “plastids.” Plastids contain different colored pigments, and largely determine the color of leaves. Plastids can be orange, red, yellow, brown, white-ish, and colorless. When a mutation occurs, the normal ratio of plastids is rearranged. Some colors become more abundant, and the leaf takes on a variegated look.
However, not all hosta mutations are stable. As such, this means that hosta mutations can revert back to their original pre-mutated state (often a parent, or plain green), or they can continue mutating.
If you’re seeing plain green leaves developing on a variegated hosta (and want to keep it variegated) you’ll have to remove the affected parts. This can be as simple as removing the green leaves. If they keep coming back/the hosta keeps sending up full-green shoots, it means the crown/basal plate is affected; the recommended treatment is to dig and divide (carefully noting and discarding the reverting/responsible section) and replant the variegated section(s).
For more detailed instructions on how to dig and divide hostas, see our Hosta Divisions Page, which includes video and photo tutorials.