How to Grow and Divide Hosta Plants
Hostas are hardy, shade-loving perennials that are easy to grow. Dividing them is a simple process requiring just a few steps. A staple in northern shade gardens, there are hundreds of different varieties of hostas, from the common types that are readily available at home centers to the large selections offered by garden centers, to more unusual varieties available from online specialty growers.
Hostas are prized by aficionados for their interesting foliage, and some varieties can grow absolutely huge to form clumps of textured leaves up to five feet across. Other varieties are diminutive and can spend their whole life comfortably in a container. And there are many, many shapes, shades and sizes of varieties in between.
All of these wonderful varieties can be divided in just a few simple steps. Dividing large and overgrown plants is easy and provides more new plants for your shade garden.
When Can Hostas Be Divided?
They can be divided successfully throughout the growing season, however early spring is preferred time of the year. I prefer to divide the plants as soon as they break through their winter dormancy and begin to sprout from the ground.
Once bitten by the hosta bug, collections can grow to include named varieties beginning with every letter of the alphabet.
Hostas can pull it off alone as a specimen plant, but they really add impact to the shade garden when planted in mass. Divide your clumps in the early spring to increase the number of plants and create a stunning shade garden of color, shapes, and texture.
Growing and Dividing Hostas
Dig Out the Root Ball
Hostas are hardy and resilient, and they can be divided at any time during the growing season. I prefer dividing them in the early spring to give them the entire season to grow, but I have also successfully divided plants in the summer and early fall. Just be sure to give the new transplants enough time and water to become established before the first hard frost.
This little plant is ready for dividing. The leaves just emerged from the ground, and the early spring sunshine has warmed the garden soil so that it is easy to work. Dig around the base of an established plant, and gently lift the plant out of the ground with a pitchfork or garden spade.
Dig down deep enough to get under the root ball, removing the plant from the hole without severing any of the roots. An established hosta typically comes out of the hole as a clump of shoots and roots, and is ready to divide.
Cutting Through the Crown
Loosen and remove the soil from the root ball, exposing the root system. Rinsing the root system in a bucket of water makes it easier to see where the shoots emerge from the crown of the plant.
Cut through the crown using a sharp knife, dividing the plant into sections. Along with a specialty gardener's knife, I also use an inexpensive drywall knife. Used primarily for cutting through sheetrock, a drywall knife has a long serrated blade that works well in the garden for dividing plants like hostas and daylilies.
Take care to ensure that each divided section has at least two or three leaf sprouts and a clump of established roots.
Re-Planting the Cuttings
Replant each section individually, loosening and improving the garden soil with sand, compost, and peat moss. To keep the roots from drying out, water the soil deeply. Keep the soil moist for the new little plant until it is established in its new home.
These little leaves may look small now, but hostas grow quickly in the early spring. Within a few short growing seasons, it will be large enough to divide again.
Create a Hosta Shade Garden
Hosta leaves range in colors from shades of pale blues and blue-greens to deep greens to creamy yellows. Some have large, broad leaves over 18 inches wide, while others are long and slender. Their leaves are often heart shaped; some are large and wide, others are elongated and slender.
Some have smooth leaves while other varieties are deeply textured and puckered. Solid colored leaves are common, while others are striped or variegated, or with tipped edges that look like they were dipped in cream.
Our shade garden includes over 40 different varieties of hostas, and I've lost count of the number of individual plants. One of our favorites is the large, yellow-green 'Sum & Substance' variety shown in the lead photo and positioned behind several smaller plants.
Though deer are daily visitors to our yard and occasionally help themselves to a meal of hosta salad, most of our prized plants have been spared. Voracious voles are more of a problem; these little rodents burrow under the plant to feed on its roots, and often pull the stem and leaf down into their burrow. We have learned to live with the damage, and replace the plants as needed. Dividing ensures that we will always have more plants!
Make a Statement
Hostas are often planted in quantities for impact, either massed together in large beds or lining paths and walkways. Make a visual statement by filling a garden bed with several different varieties, creating a mixture of texture, size and color where the foliage is the star of the show.
Some, such as the large 'Blue Mammoth' highlighted here, make a statement on their own. This beauty is nearly five feet across; planted under a shady oak, this Blue Mammoth is only three seasons old. When planting large specimens, make sure to give them lots of room to spread out and grow.
Hostas are seasonal plants, breaking dormancy in the spring and quickly sprouting leaves that spread out to absorb the sunshine. But as fall approaches and the temperature drops, they start to wilt and then fade away. By the time winter arrives, they are only fond memories of their summertime glory.
To make the most of our collection and provide year-round interest in our garden, many of our hostas are planted in and amongst the many rocks and boulders in our yard. Some fit into natural nooks and crannies. For others, including the small 'Patriot' hosta pictured here, we selected rocks and small boulders from our property in the nearby woodlands, carted them back to the garden area in a wheelbarrow, and carefully positioned them into the ground. After the perennials fade away and the first snows arrive, the rocks give texture and interest to the landscape.
Do You Have A Shade Garden?
A Short Tour Through Our Shade Garden
Make a Toad House for Your Shade Garden
Toads are welcome visitors to the garden, and a toad house invites them to stay. Offering protection for the weather and from predators, a toad house is easy to make from an inverted terracotta flower plot. Topped with a moosy roof, a toad house is a simple yet artful additional to the shade garden.
Gently chip out a small opening in the rim of an 8" terracota flower pot using a hammer or pliers. The terracotta is both tough and brittle, and is difficult to break cleanly. Try to break out a semi-circular opening about 2 inches across, though the size and shape is not critical. Cement the back of the saucer to the top of the inverted pot using an exterior adhesive, or simply place on top of the inverted flowerpot.
Place the finished toad house in a shady area of the garden, near groups of perennials or near the base of a small shrub. Bury the rim into the soil to stabilize the pot.
Fill the saucer with potting mix, and press pieces of moss into the soil. Keep the moss moist until it takes root in the soil. Over time, the moss will crept over the edges of the saucer.
The decorative toad house is ready for new tenants.
Will Hostas Grow Where Your Live?
The New Encyclopedia of Hostas
The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map
The USDA Plant Hardiness Zone Map is now interactive: Search using your zip code or click on your state to find the exact hardiness zone for your area.
Looking for more information on growing hosts? The New Encyclopedia of Hostas covers hundreds of varieties with detailed descriptions and tips for growing them in challenging conditions such as warmer climates. The stunning photos of plants in the garden makes this one of my favorite gardening books.
© 2011 Anthony Altorenna