Gilt by Association

Green Hill Hostas
New Hostas for the Wholesale and Retail Trade

A division of GREEN HILL FARM, INC. Bob and Nancy Solberg
P.O. Box 16306, Chapel Hill, NC 27516 Phone: 919-309-0649
E-Mail: Fax: 919-383-4533

Bob Solberg's Hosta Gardening Tips

Ginsu Knife
Hosta 'Ginsu Knife' (right)

Click here to view:
Landscape Tips
How late is too late to plant hostas?
Running out of space? Try small hostas
Preparing the Garden for Winter
"To Divide or Not To Divide"
Tips for Hosta Gardening in February and March
Early Emerging Hostas, a list.

Bob’s Landscape Tips:

Most of the hosta gardens we visit are hosta collections. Every clump in the garden is different. They are all neatly labeled and arranged generally with the big ones in the back and the small ones in the front. It is a collection of specimens, each one given its own space, but even a collection can have a “landscaped” look. Here are a few tips.


Try grouping several small and miniature hostas in a bed of their own. This creates a mini world of hostas on a very small scale. Try raising the bed, either with landscape timbers or stone. This helps bring these little guys up to hand level. Also try a mulch of small colored gravel or larger river rock to add some motion to the bed. Very dwarf conifers and tiny perennials can be grown along with your baby hostas to add color and texture.


Speaking of rock, try using rocks as specimens in the hosta garden. If you have a large rock, plant a large hosta beside it. Allow the leaves of the hosta to cascade over a corner of the rock, softening the contrast. Then plant a small hosta in front of the rock. This gives you the classic grouping of three (a triangle) without using three hostas. If you have a small rock, try placing a single small hosta beside and slightly behind it for a similar effect.


Try breaking up the symmetry of your specimen hosta collection by adding curved lines to the garden beds. I used to lay out a garden hose along the edge of a new bed and run in the house to each window overlooking the garden to position it just the right way. A curved line invites the eye to follow it, so try planting a special hosta at the end of the curve as a special treat.  Also, try planting a border of small green or gold hostas along the curved edge of a bed. This will not only tie the bed together but mimic water flowing along the path.


For effect, try planting three plants of the same large hosta together to create an impressive clump instantly. Place each plant about one foot apart in a triangle so they will grow together and look like a single aged clump. In a couple of years you can remove two of the clumps without disturbing the third, if you would like. Also try planting  them up on a 6-8” mound to accentuate their height. Hostas at eye level are always more impressive.


Finally, try fertilizing your hostas at least once this spring with a liquid fertilizer. Even if you use a slow release granular fertilizer, foliar feeding can make a big difference. You can use a 20-20-20 formulation or one with a higher nitrogen amount (the first number) but try to find one that has some added Magnesium. It is best to apply this bonus fertilizer just as the second set of hosta leaves are starting to flush, or 4-6 weeks after the hostas emerge. This little extra boost will help that second set of leaves expand to a size similar to those first big leaves.

Here’s hoping you have a great hosta year!

Toy Soldier 2
Hosta 'Toy Soldier' (right)

To Top| To Bottom

How late is too late to plant hostas in the fall?

August is a great time to plant hostas almost anywhere in the country. You can safely plant them all month in the Midwest and North and the latter half of the month in the South. My standard rule is you want to get them in the ground 4-6 weeks before the first frost. This allows them to make some new roots while the soil is still warm and then have some time to prepare for winter.

Most of us, though, have planted hostas in the ground later than that with good success. I have planted them as late as the first week of November without any noticeable ill effects. You do run a risk with late planting however. Hostas are completely dormant during the winter, and they will not produce new roots until after they have made new foliage in the spring. They literally sleep through the winter.

Late planted hostas may rot over the winter if 1) the ground is frozen and stays frozen shortly after they are planted, 2) they are very dry when the ground freezes, 3) the soil stays too wet because of poor winter drainage or 4) heaving occurs during cycles of the soil freezing and thawing. Snow cover or a covering of mulch will help with all these situations. Remember, blue hostas, as well as many gold hostas, with H. sieboldiana and H. ‘Tokudama’ parents as well as some H. longipes types are the most susceptible to winter kill. Miniature hostas may also completely heave out of the ground, resulting in cold damage to the crown.

So, with late hosta planting, first make sure the plants are full of water when the first hard frost hits. Then try a little mulch to protect the hosta crowns and moderate soil temperatures. (Beware! Deep mulches may entice mice and voles to make their winter homes in your hosta garden.) With a little luck from the winter weather you can probably extend your planting season another month or so, even after the first frost.

To Top| To Bottom

Running out of space? Try small hostas

Unfortunately, none of us have unlimited space to plant hostas. Even the largest gardens finally begin to fill up. Frequently, however, our ability to maintain the garden limits our need for new hostas long before the space runs out. Small hostas solve both these gardening dilemmas.

Obviously, planting hostas whose ultimate size is two feet wide or smaller reduces the amount of lawn that must be converted to hosta beds each spring. Looking at it another way, selecting small hostas allows you to buy that extra plant or two without worrying where you are going to plant them. You can always find room to tuck another little one in somewhere. Large hostas require more planning.

Large hostas also require more maintenance. Aside from the additional initial bed preparation time and effort, large hostas are just hard to handle. If grown in containers they seem to always be sending new roots out those little holes in the bottom of the pot. Small hostas need not be repotted as often. And thoughts of procrastination begin to creep into our minds when those old giant clumps need dividing. That is, unless there are three strong, young boys down the street or your neighbor has an electric wench on the front of his 4 X 4.

Small hostas are easy to divide. Many do not even require a knife, they just pull apart with your hands and they do not need a crane to lift them out of the hole. Also, frequently they increase faster than large hostas so there are more surplus divisions to pass on to other hosta friends. Dividing small hostas every two or three years also keeps them small. And it keeps them cute.

In the garden I like to see small hostas grouped in areas by themselves, away from their bigger brothers and sisters. Frequently these beds are raised, bringing these smaller plants closer to eye level. I have seen several of these “mini beds” mulched with gravel or small river rocks. The effect is both clean and eye-catching.

We used to see small hostas regularly used as border plants. Long rows of ‘Golden Tiara’, ‘Gold Edger’, and ‘Kabitan’ still fill my mind’s eye. As collectors, many hosta growers cannot afford to allot so much space to any one cultivar, But for landscape effect, a border of almost any small hosta will define space as well as carry the eye around the garden.

We have listed several small hostas this fall for you to try. We will be glad to answer any questions you may have about their growth habits. Remember, small hostas make great container plants too.

To Top| To Bottom

Preparing the Garden for Winter

With the all the cool wet weather we’ve had this summer, (if it was so hot and dry in the plains it had to be cool and wet somewhere), I fear we will have an early winter. As the hostas in the garden are already looking forward to their long winter’s nap, my mind drifts off to winter cleanup. Here’s a checklist:

1. Label, label, label. Don’t wait until those plastic tags have faded or been scattered by the leaf blower, re-label all your new hostas now. I like to bury a plastic label with the hosta name written in pencil at the same position for each hosta clump in the bed, say 3 o’clock as you view it from the path. They will last for years underground.

2. Make one last check for pest problems, especially voles and foliar nematodes. In the latter case, remove badly damaged plants from the garden.

3. Leaf removal, both tree and hosta. If it is not an overwhelming task, try to remove the dry hosta foliage from the garden, (do not compost), after a couple of nights of hard freezing weather. This will help decrease next year such pest problems as slugs, fungal infections, and foliar nematodes. Also, cutting scapes will prevent unwanted hosta “weed” seedlings from appearing in the spring. Piling the fallen tree leaves will provide a good winter mulch for the garden but will also make excellent winter housing for voles. It is probably best to remove those leaves from the beds by gently raking or blowing with a leaf blower. Then a thin layer of mulch, (pine bark is my favorite), can be applied to prevent heaving and protect the hosta crowns.

4. Stop watering the garden. Sounds silly but hostas would rather be dry in the winter than wet. Also the lack of water will encourage newly planted hostas to go dormant and not keep throwing up new leaves.

5. Plant early spring bulbs for early color in the garden. Crocus and tulip foliage will be out of the way by the time the hostas start to spread.

6. Finally, or maybe this should have come first, plant all the hostas you bought this summer in the ground. Hostas overwinter much better in the ground than they do in pots and if they are not in quite the right spot when they come up next spring, they can be easily moved. This also removes any lingering guilt that you may have next spring when it comes time to by more hostas.

Hopefully, it will be a long warm autumn so that we can get all our gardening chores finished before the snow flies.

To Top| To Bottom

To Divide or Not to Divide?

One of the most often asked hosta questions is, "When do I divide my hostas". Traditionally the answer has been, "In the spring, just as they are coming out the ground".

Spring may be the easiest time to divide hostas with all their foliage out of the way. And spring is the time of year that we are all in the mood to clean up the garden and envision the way we want it to look in summer. It is only natural to want to dig those hosta clumps and spread them out all over the garden especially when we see how many more divisions there will be in each clump this year then last.

Honestly, spring is not a bad time to most hostas, especially those that multiply the fastest and are in the greatest need of being divided. But there are dangers. So what is the best time for the hosta? Let’s look at how a hosta grows and see when it might like to be divided.

Hostas sleep all winter, they are dormant. They do not make new roots like other perennials do. In the spring their buds swell and the leaves emerge first. If the hosta was mature, these will be large mature leaves. If the hosta was grown in the sun, these will be narrowed leaves adapted for sun. A hosta grown in deep shade will have larger more rounded leaves adapted for shade. These leaves will emerge, expand and harden off in about three or so weeks depending on whether the spring weather is cool or warm.

As the first leaves harden off and second flush of leaves begins to appear, the hosta will be making new roots from the base of the new shoot. Thus hostas do not make new roots until the first foliage hardens off or about three weeks after they emerge. Cool spring soil temperatures may slow or delay this root formation even longer.

So what is the danger of dividing hostas in the spring? Timing. In the spring when the weather is cool and the soil is slow to warm, your newly divided hostas will have large mature leaves and no new roots for weeks. What we call beautiful spring days, those of bright sun, cool breezes and low humidity, are very stressful for new hosta leaves. On those days the desiccation rate is very high and the new hosta divisions with their reduced and possibly damaged root systems, dry out rapidly. If the weather turns suddenly hot for even a day or two, the hosta leaves will burn. While this damage may not prove permanent, the clumps will certainly be reduced in size.

So, if you must divide your hostas in the spring, do not over divide them. Split the clumps in half or at most quarters. Divide only fast growing cultivars in spring that can recover quickly, avoid H. sieboldianas and ‘Tokudamas’. Dig them with a fork not a shovel so as to damage their long roots as little as possible. Hosta roots only grow at the tip, if you cut the roots they rarely branch and will not get any longer. New roots will have to come to take their place.

When then do I prefer to divide my hostas? I like to do it in August or early September, at least 30 days before the first frost date. The conditions then are more favorable to rapid root growth. The soil is warm and the air is more humid than in the spring. While people prefer the cool, sunny days of spring, hostas grow well on 85-90 degree days with high humidity.

Also, hostas usually put on a little growth spurt in August. Frequently, they will throw up a small flush of leaves as the temperatures moderate from the heat of July, especially if there has been rain. Many hostas at this time of year begin to actively grow again after their summer heat dormancy. Thus, hostas divided in late summer will make new roots quickly. Many fast growing hostas will make all new foliage before frost and hold it well into fall. Some may even bloom again.

The only danger in dividing hostas in August is excessive heat or extended drought. Keep newly divided hostas wet. Do not let them dry out for the first two weeks. Removing some of the older, larger leaves or cutting the foliage back at the time of dividing will reduce water loss. Any leaves that suffer burned edges will be taken by the frost in a few weeks anyway.

One other aesthetic point. I would rather have my hosta garden look "divided" as it goes into fall when hostas are usually past their peak anyway than to see it that way all season long. Hostas divided in August will come up next spring in their new homes with more divisions, better proportioned leaves and established root systems. They will look better too. So save your heavy hosta dividing for those humid late summer days. It will be tougher on you, but your hostas will thank you in the spring.

To Top| To Bottom

February-March 2000

The snow here has finally all melted, all two feet of it! Now the days are becoming warm, hinting of spring. As the crocus bloom and the daffodills begin to stretch, it is time again to go out and scratch around the garden for signs of life.

Let’s hope the hostas are still asleep for cold nights are sure to return. Hostas actually do just that during their winter dormancy, they sleep. Their roots do not grow during the winter as is the case with many other perennials and they will not make new roots until after their new foliage has emerged and started to harden off.

So as we wander the garden in this time of hosta pre-emergence what can we do to make our hostas happy when they awake in the spring? First and foremost, be on “vole patrol”, especially if you have had a good snow. Look for fresh holes about the size of a nickel. Poison can be put down these holes and then cover the hole with a something make the voles feel safe and to keep other animals out. In the garden we now use a piece of asphalt shingle with a heavy brick on top to cover the hole. Small mouse traps baited with peanut butter or apple placed under clay pots work well also. If you can reduce your vole population now, there will be less hungry voles to feed in the spring and more roots on your hostas.

The same population control theory works with slugs and snails. If you normally trap them with beer, grapefruit rinds, or newspaper or apply slug baits, start early, before your hostas emerge. There is less for them to eat at this time so baits may be more attractive and reducing the slug population now will pay off later.

Cleaning up the garden, removing old foliage and leaves, will also help reduce the populations of voles and slugs by removing those daytime hiding places. A thin course mulch like pine bark nuggets will also make the garden less hospitable for pests while keeping your hostas moist. A fresh layer of mulch always makes the garden well kept, like making your bed in the morning.
Finally, look for labels. This may be your last chance to read those plastic stick labels that came with your hostas before all the ink has faded away. Pencil will last much longer than markers, but both will last indefinately if the label is buried beside your hosta. They can be easily found if you put them in the same place for each hosta, say, at 3:00 as you look at the clump. Also, making permanent garden labels is a great late winter project.
To get you in the mood for spring, I have also included a short list of hostas that are some of the earliest to emerge in the spring. This should help you know where to start poking around the garden first.

To Top| To Bottom

Some Early Emerging Hostas:
H. montana ‘Aureomarginata’
H. plantaginea and most fragrant flowered hostas
H. lancifolia
H. sieboldii, ‘Kabitan’
H. yingeri, ‘Korean Snow’,‘Lakeside Looking Glass’
H. venusta
‘Undulata’ and ‘Undulata Albomarginata’
‘Sum and Substance’ and sports
‘Piedmont Gold’ and sports
‘Guacamole’, ‘Fried Bananas’, Fried Green Tomatoes’
‘Blue Angel’
‘Big Boy’
‘Golden Tiara’ and sports
‘Shiny Penny’
‘Peedee Gold Flash’

Copyright (c) Green Hill Farms Inc. 2003. Last revised: January 14, 2003