My garden has little sun but lots of weeds, so I’ve become a big hosta fan. I’ll never be totally convinced that foliage is just as beautiful as flowers, but I’ve yet to find flowers big enough to shade out the stiltgrass and other weeds the way hosta leaves do. By mid-June my plants are monsters, swallowing weeds and everything else in their path. By covering so much ground they save me a lot of weeding.
While I divide and transplant my hostas, I do little else for them, and they don’t seem to mind. “Hosta care” is almost an oxymoron. Few perennials are as tough, dependable and easy to grow. They give much, while seeming to thrive on neglect. Okay, slugs do love them. I’ve gotten around this by choosing varieties with thick, waxy leaves, which the slugs don’t eat.
I dug up and divided a bunch of hostas recently. They were years old and getting too big for their sites. It’s a job that’s easiest in spring, once the leaves start poking up but before they have completely unfurled. You can move them at almost any time and with enough water they’ll adjust, but by early summer the crowns of the plants are huge and heavy and the foliage is likely to tear. In spring they’re simply easier to handle.
A garden fork is better than a spade for this task. It is less likely to slice off roots and gives good leverage when you are prying the plant out of the soil. Plunge the tines of the fork as deep as possible under the root system and push down on the handle. Do this all around the plant until it “pops” out of the soil. This is the point where I sit down and catch my breath.
Shake some of the soil off, and drag the plant onto a tarp or big piece of cardboard. Decide how many sections you want to divide the plant into. Remember that the smaller the pieces, the longer it will take for the plant to reach mature size.
I split mine into two. I use a serrated pruning saw, since on a large hosta the crowns are usually thick and hard to saw through, but for smaller plants you could use a machete or even an old bread knife. Saw between the “eyes,” – the points where the leaves emerge – taking care that there are roots on each piece.
When replanting, set the hosta at the same depth it was in its former site. You may need to turn it a few ways to find its best “side.” Firm the soil and give it a deep drink of water. Then pat around the plant again to be sure no air pockets remain.
Keep the plant well watered over the next week to ten days and watch to be sure it’s happy in its new spot. A confession: more than once I’ve dug up hostas and didn’t get around to replanting them for over a week. The plants didn’t seem to notice.
For the happiest hostas, plant them in rich soil with lots of organic matter such as compost, topped with a healthy layer of mulch. Keep new plants well watered, and mature plants watered during drought.
I never fertilize mine, though I probably should, but the American Hosta Society recommends a slow-release granular 10-10-10 fertilizer in spring as plants leaf out, or a weekly application of liquid fertilizer.
By Delilah Onofrey, Suntory Flowers
Photographs courtesy of Suntory Flowers
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