Wondering what you should do with your hosta plants before winter arrives? Should they be cut back? Do they need protection to help them through the winter? And what about hostas that have grown too large – can you divide them this late in the season?
As the cooler temperatures of Autumn settle in, hosta plants usually begin to show a lot of wear and tear. Leaves that were once bright, green and upright begin to fade to yellowish brown. And as they do, their foliage collapses quickly to the ground.
If that wasn’t enough, snails, slugs and other insects take a final toll on the plants, chewing hole after hole into the leaves that remain. One thing is for certain – it leaves hostas and the flowerbeds they grow in looking anything but their best!
So that leads back to the question, just what should you be doing with your hosta plants before winter arrives? As it turns out, right before winter is actually one of the best times of all to work with your hostas.
Not only will it help to clean up and freshen the look of your flowerbeds, it is also the perfect time to prepare hostas for the coming winter. Even better it can set the stage for them to grow better than ever next spring and summer!
How To Care For Hosta Plants Before Winter Arrives
When it comes to pre-winter care of hosta plants, there are 3 main tasks that require attention:
- Cutting back & removing the leaf canopy and remaining bloom stems.
- Dividing and transplanting overgrown hostas.
- Mulching the crowns for winter protection.
Below is an in-depth look at each of the three, along with a few extra tips for helping your hostas grow better than ever next year.
Cutting Back Hostas – How To Care For Hosta Plants Before Winter Arrives
One of the most important tasks you can perform for your hostas is to cut them back at the end of the season. Not only will it keep your flowerbeds looking tidy, it also plays a pivotal role in keeping them healthy.
As soon as the foliage begins to die back, cut the hosta down to an inch above the soil line. By doing this, the plant can stop wasting resources on trying to heal dying foliage. Instead, it will begin saving it up for future growth – and bigger blooms!
The longer dying or damaged leaves stay on a plant, the more resources it spends trying to heal it. But once removed, the plant’s roots begin storing the energy for next year.
This is exactly why removing the spent bloom stems of a hosta as soon as they finish flowering during the season is so important – as the plant can then use those resources on keeping the foliage of the hosta healthy and strong until late fall.
Additional Benefits – How To Care For Hosta Plants Before Winter Arrives
In addition to helping the hosta conserve energy, cutting back the old foliage can also play a key role in keeping disease and insects at bay. Both for late fall – and next spring and summer as well.
Spent leaves create excellent cover for a long list of insects. Not only can the dying leaves be a food source for pests, they also provide protection from winter for their eggs. Eggs that then hatch the following spring to become next year’s insect problem!
Finally, all of those decaying leaves can keep the ground underneath moist and damp. That can make the soil and plant base an easy target for mildew and other diseases to develop and grow.
Unfortunately, by leaving all of the old leaves and stems in tact all winter long, both disease and pests can not only survive, but thrive. And by the following spring – both can come back to harm your plants more than ever.
Dividing & Transplanting Overgrown Hostas – How To Care For Hosta Plants Before Winter Arrives
Not only is Autumn a great time to cut back your plants, but it also happens to be the absolute best time to dig up and divide overgrown hostas. Although hosta plants can be divided at nearly any point in the growing season and survive, fall dividing brings with it a slew of advantages for your plants.
For starters, in late fall, it is easy to know which plants have grown a little too large for their space. You can see the size of the plants easily at this point, as well as a few areas of your beds where new transplants can help fill in.
But even more, by dividing in late fall, you set your hosta transplants up for instant success! They can adjust in the soil before winter, and then be ready to grow in full come early spring. Unfortunately, if you wait until spring, the plants will lag behind while they re-adjust to the soil.
The end result is a plant that simply doesn’t grow as full and might not bloom in its first season. The same goes for summer dividing since the plants have to regrow their foliage.
The good news is that dividing and transplanting hostas is a breeze. Simply dig the plants up, divide into the size you like, and replant! For more on dividing and transplanting, check out our article: How To Divide Your Perennials In The Fall And Create More Plants For Free!
Mulching For Winter Protection – How To Care For Hosta Plants Before Winter Arrives
Finally, it is extremely important to provide a little protection for your hostas before winter settles in. Especially if you have created new divisions and transplants.
Although hostas are an extremely hardy perennial, they are not immune from winter damage. Crowns left exposed to bare soil are susceptible to all sorts of damage – from heaving out of the ground with thawing and freezing – to even completely freezing out if left too exposed.
The way to provide protection is with mulch. For best results, spread a few inches of compost on top of the crowns. Adding compost to the crowns in the fall not only helps protect them, it also will provide them with a low and slow nutrient feeding in the early spring as they come out. Product Link: Bagged Compost
Once the compost is in place, finish by topping off your plants with a few inches of mulch. The mulch will help hold the compost in place, and provide extra protection throughout the winter months.
A Few Final Care Tips – How To Care For Hosta Plants Before Winter Arrives
If you divided a few of your hostas into new plants, it is a good idea to water them a few times in late fall if experiencing a dry spell. Although the hostas are heading into dormancy, the water can keep the crowns moist as they re-adjust to the soil and set roots.
Last but not least, the question of fall fertilizing often comes up with hostas and other perennials. Beyond covering with a bit of compost and / or mulch for winter protection, fertilizing should be avoided in the fall.
Unfortunately, fertilizing late in the fall can spur unwanted late season growth that is both fragile and weak. Not just above the soil if the plant tries to produce new leaves, but new root growth to the crown below. Instead, wait until early spring to apply fertilizer.
Here is to preparing your hosta plants for winter this fall, and to gorgeous plants next spring and summer! Happy gardening, Jim and Mary.
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