Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks

Hosta “Gabriel’s Wing.” Courtesy of Green Hill Hostas.


By Kit Flynn

The longer I garden, the more I realize how much gardening knowledge I lack. For example, I used to happily spread Epsom salts around my roses, thinking I was doing them a huge favor. Little did I realize that by doing so, I was increasing the level of magnesium in my soil, a condition that can create a calcium deficiency. I only learned about this reckless behavior, based upon garden folklore, while attending a Zoom session with Tony Avent.

Therefore, whenever Bob Solberg’s The Green Hill Gossip arrives in my mailbox, I rush to read it as I always learn something new that will benefit my plants. Holding a Ph.D. in Botany, Bob raises hostas in Franklinton, NC. Even if you do not grow hostas, I urge you to subscribe to this wonderful newsletter because what applies to hostas also pertains to many other plants in your garden.

Photo by Kit Flynn.

In the current issue I learned:

  • When hostas first break out of their winter dormancy, the leaf growth occurs three weeks before the new root growth. This is important information should you be tempted to divide a hosta. Unlike many other perennials, hostas don’t make new roots in the winter.

In the spring, hosta leaves appear in rounds of “flushes.” After the second flush, roots will start to regenerate although cool spring temperatures may slow this process. If you must divide your hostas, dig them up with a pitchfork in order not to damage their roots – but do this in late August or early September when the soil is warm and the air is humid. If they receive an adequate amount of water, these divisions will quickly make new roots.

Bob says it’s okay not to divide your hostas, that it can take large hostas five or more years to reach adult size. A divided hosta, especially a slow-growing one, can sulk. The truth is that some hostas tolerate division while others do not.

  • Roots travel around endlessly in a round pot whereas they grow down and then up in a square pot. Therefore, Bob only uses square pots for his very young hostas.
  • Hostas do well in containers but they like to be rootbound so do not place a small immature hosta in a large pot, thinking it will spread out its roots, eventually growing into its large home. A happy hosta will need to “step up” to a larger pot eventually. A hosta in a roomy container is not necessarily a happy hosta.
  • Do not use garden soil in your containers. If your potting soil contains some peat moss – and many of them do – cut it with a soil conditioner. Hostas like water, not saturation. Your aim is to create a mixture that drains well.
  • Hostas are “shade tolerant,” not “shade lovers.” If your hostas do not bloom, it is probably because they are either in too much shade or need some fertilizer. For hostas in pots, Bob recommends a slow-release fertilizer as all potted hostas need fertilization.
  • Potted hostas want to be dry during the winter so cover them with pine straw and place them either under the eaves of the house or in an unheated garage. Water them twice during the winter.

Photo by Kit Flynn.

By now you might be muttering to yourself, “This is all well and good but I cannot grow hostas because of the deer.” As Bob so aptly demonstrates, you can grow hostas in pots strategically placed out of harm’s way. Also, much of this information can be applied to other plants:

  • Plant division is frequently unnecessary or undesirable but it is far more preferable to perform this in the early fall rather than in the early spring.
  • Be fussy about your potting soil and mix it with a soil conditioner to achieve a good, well-draining medium. Remember, roots require oxygen.
  • Square pots are preferable to round pots when dealing with young plants.
  • Container plants need regular fertilization, preferably a slow-release one.
  • Do not place a small plant in a large container, expecting it to grow to an appropriate size. Rather, achieve the desired growth in a series of steps in appropriate-sized containers.

To subscribe to this invaluable newsletter, visit hostahosta.com or e-mail Bob at HostaBob@gmail.com. You’ll be glad you did.

After being an active member of the Durham County Extension Master Gardeners for 13 years, Kit Flynn now holds emeritus status. For five years she was the gardening correspondent for “Senior Correspondent” and shared “The Absentee Gardener” column with fellow Master Gardener Lise Jenkins. She has given numerous presentations on various gardening topics to Triangle organizations and can be reached at howdoesyourgardengrow@icloud.com

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1 Comment on "Old Dogs Can Learn New Tricks"

  1. Why doesn’t Kit Flynn promote native plants?

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