hostanistaFebruary 1, 2013

My hostas are the in-the-ground variety for the most part but I see that a number of you are pot-heads. Sorry, you know what I mean: most of yours are in pots. So you must fertilize periodically, right? I'm guessing once in the spring and then again at flowering time? Maybe more often than that, say once a month? I rarely fertilize my in-the-ground hostas unless I'm feeding a neighbouring plant and I have a bit left in my waterning can. Once I made the mistake of splashing the leaves instead of the soil around the plant and they all burned. So do you use an all-purpose 20-20-20? ......that reminds me of a gardening joke where someone grew a monster plant with 3 eyes and its vision was 20-20-20....but I digress....

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bernd ny zone5

I read in AHS news, that for hostas in the ground we should fertilize hostas with something like 20-20-20 in early spring when they need it most to build foliage. One expert spreads it like 'chicken feed'. Thereafter, using a foliar spray like tomato fertilizer is good, but in colder zones we should stop fertilizing in July. In case someone wants to use slow release fertilizers, that does not help early in the season because it is too slow, and only the 3-month formulation should be used in colder zones, or it will create soft growth when the cold season sets in.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 1:13PM
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Babka NorCal 9b

I'm a pothead. I give mine a weak solution of Miracle Grow with every third watering, if I remember. We get no rain so I have total control over the moisture they get. I use 90% mini bark bits for potting so the goodness flows thru quickly.


    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 1:55PM
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Almosy all of my hostas are in the ground,but I never fertilize. They get all they need from nature,since many leaves from tree fall on them every year. Phil

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 2:01PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5


there is no difference between any cubed fertilizer ... BUY THE CHEAPEST ONE ... i think 50# sacks are around $16 ...

the ONLY TRICK is that you would use twice as much 10-10-10 .. as 20-20-20 ..

so if you are a cheapskate.. and can find 20 cubed.. buy it.. and use half as much ...

if you can only find 19 cubed.. so be it.. use the same as 20 ...

if you can only find 16 cubed.. close enough ... same as 20 ... etc ...

i will yell... DO NOT GET CAUGHT UP IN THE NUMBERS.. ON A CUBED VARIETY ... there is nothing special about 20 cubed.. compared to any other cubed ...

can someone correct me.. its something like 20 pounds of available nitro per what.. 100 pounds ... so 20 cubed has 20 pounds.. 16 cubed.. 16 pounds etc ... [and the same amount of the other two components]

the point is it is a BALANCED fertilizer in the cubing sense ... as compared to a nitro fert.. such as lawn fert.. which might be 31-3-3 .. no balance there.. and way to much nitro for a hosta ...

another way to think of it.. each number represents a different part of the plant ... nitro.. the first number favoring green vegetative growth [such as grass] ... AND I ALWAYS MIX UP THE NEXT TWO NUMBERS.. LOL..] .. but one number favors flowers.. and we dont really care about that.. as compared to say rose growers ... and the third number favors root growth ...

so a perfect hosta fert would be nitro and root growth .. but why in the world you would pay double or triple for a custom blend of hosta fert is beyond me.. so we simply default to the balanced triples ...

now.. go have a few adult beverages and try to wrap your head around all that ...

so.. hit the link.. they offer 10 cubed.. and 12 cubed.. 40 pounds or $16 bucks... on the way home.. buy a 5 gal bucket with a rubber seal [i used to get pickle buckets from delis.. or frosting bucket from the bakery for a buck to two] ... dry fertilizer will store.. in a sealed bucket.. for 100 years ... but becomes useless as soon as it wets ... [actually its still useful .. but has chemically welded itself into one single bucket shaped mass.. lol]

and i know my local mill.. offers 16 cubed.. and 19 cubed ...

for God's sake.. just dont go wasting money on foo foo fert ... i will hate you .. lol ... [unless you are the type that think a Gucci purse is somehow better than a regular purse [though there arent a lot of gardener woman who play that game]]

anyway.. pot peeps HAVE TO FERT.. because they tend to wash all the nutrients out the bottom of the pot.. its the whole point of having a good drainage potting media ..

in ground peeps.. would be much further ahead .... IMHO.. by simply adding a couple inches of compost in spring and fall.. and building a good soil .. than wasting money on fert ...

however.. this year.. i am spending money on fert.. because my sand is basically unamendable.. based on the thousands of yards of manure i would need.. due to the size of my hosta beds ...


ps: after tonights adult beverages.. try to re-read this on sunday.. after the hangover.. to refresh those damaged braincells ...

Here is a link that might be useful: link

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 3:28PM
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I'm exhausted.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 4:39PM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b


Sometimes you have to run Ken's posts through Google translate.

Let me try to simplify for you. Some people don't use fertilizer, but it's pretty well accepted that Hostas will benefit from fertilizer. It's recommended whether or not you use pots.

If you want to use synthetic ferts use something like a pelleted Osmocote 20-20-20 or 14-14-14; or Miracle Grow 10-10-10. It's slow release and will last for 3 months. You can also use regular ferts (non-slow release). These should be reapplied every 3 weeks or so. Don't fertilize after July 31st.

If you want to use organic ferts use Plant Tone or Milorganite, or Soybean Meal (from a feed store). Organic ferts are all slow release and come in different percentages like 5-2-2 or 6-2-3. The numbers just mean the percentage of Nitrogen-Potasium-Phosphorus in each fertilizer.

Whatever fert you are using put a small amount around the perimeter of the plant (not too close to the petioles) and then scratch it into the soil. Cover with mulch if you use mulch. It's really not complicated. Make sure, however, you read the labels on any fertilizer.


    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 5:50PM
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Thanks Steve.

Google Translate chewed up Ken's post and spit it out. Google will never be the same. ;)

I'll probably fertilize everyone this spring since this was their first winter in the ground. I'm wondering if maybe just a healthy dose of rich compost around each plant would be just as good. I guess adding both wouldn't hurt.

Thanks for all your advice and explanations. Really appreciate it.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 8:05PM
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irawon(5a Ottawa)

Hostanista, thanks for asking the question. I needed the refresher course on fertilizing. I used a 2 month slow release fertilizer last year because I applied it late. I believe it was one intended for tomatoes.

I thought I'd try using soluble Miracle Gro on my hostas this year, so thanks for reminding me to dilute to half strength and do it evey three weeks. I also have to remember not to get fertilizer on the leaves when it's sunny. Did that last year.

UK hostaman says he top dresses his pots with alfalfa pellets each year. Does anyone else do that? I've added a handful of alfalfa pellets to the hosta planting hole and it seems to help. I've been contemplating doing the same for my hostas in the ground, ie top dressing with alfalfa. Does anyone know whether this is not a good idea?

I have a bottle of fish emulsion that I bought last summer and never used. Does anyone use it?

I've always had problems remembering what the 3 numbers mean (Nitrogen-Potassium- Phosphorous) and what they do for plants. A nice old man working at a nursery explained it to me this way: Up, Down, All Around. Nitrogen= Up= Leaves, Potassium = Down= Roots, Phosphorous=All around= plant's all around health. Does that make sense?
I'm not sure I got the third element's use right.

    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 8:05PM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b


I know a person who runs an organic landscaping design and maintenance company. All they use is fish emulsion. They buy it by the gallon. BTW, this is one organic fert that is not slow release. It's available to plants immediately. The downside is the smell.

Liquid foliar feeding is greatly misunderstood. Firstly you can water plants in the sunshine. That thing about it burning the foliage like a magnifying glass is a myth. Don't tell Ken. Secondly foliar feeding works fine, but not any better than granular ferts. Plants take in very little if any nutrients through their leaves. Liquid foliar feeding simply drips or runs down to the soil where plants take it in through the roots. Using fish emulsion as a liquid feed is a good way to give your plants a quick shot of nutrients.


    Bookmark   February 1, 2013 at 10:06PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

the ONLY reason to pay a bit more for a given balanced fert.. would be if the bag had other 'essential micro's'....

and i am still not convinced it would be worth the investment ...

IMHO ... timed release fert.. was ENGINEERED for the greenhouse POTTING TRADE ... and not for mother earth ... again.. its a wild waste of money.. to be using it as such..

i nearly killed half of my collection using a 5 month formula.. in z5 MI ... which since it doesnt release.. by temp.. until soil temps get high enough in mid june.. meant that i was fertilizing hosta in OCTOBER!!! .. which is the time they are supposed to be going to sleep and hardening off.. NOT ACTIVELY GROWING IN A LUSH PHASE ...

this is one of those situations.. where you are trying to love your plants to death.. and have the ability to actually kill them ...

i dont have time to scroll up.. but if steve gets away with it.. you better be sure that your have an equivalent experience level .. or be willing to risk it all.. if your garden is not EXACTLY like his.. including.. zone.. soil.. watering.. etc ...

time release is sold in 3 .. 5.. and nine month periods.. and frankly .... bigboxstore is not going to ship alternative formulas to different areas across the US .. you buy the wrong one..thinking they are all the same.. you face your own future ...


    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 9:18AM
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bernd ny zone5

Ken, I agree with you, and that what I read at the AHS about time-release fertilizers. I do not use them.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 4:04PM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b

I don't know where you shop, Ken. At the HD here you can only buy 3 month slow release ferts. All HD, Lowes carry different products in differnt parts of the US. Do you think they're selling snow blowers in Jacksonville right now?

Bernd, I don't know what you read. Why don't you tell us? I do know that at 95 degrees F Osmocote will dump all the fert contained in those little pellets. So what. By the time it gets to 95 in my climate it's July. That's what I want it to do.

In any case I don't use much synthetic fert anymore. Mostly I'm using organic ferts like Soybean meal.


    Bookmark   February 3, 2013 at 5:36PM
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bernd ny zone5

Steve, I mentioned what The Hosta Journal editor Bob Olson wrote in The Hosta Journal Volume 43, Number 1, wrote this year, title 'How to Fertilize Your Hostas', pages 52 and 53.

- he recognizes that there is no 'best way' to fertilize hostas.
- 'One thing the experts all agree on is that early spring is the time to begin. The principle is to give a plant fertilizer when it is growing and not when it ceases growth. Just as the hostas are emerging is a good time to apply a balanced quick-release water soluble fertilizer.... The standard fertilizer to use at this time is 10-10-10, but others like 13-13-13, will also do'.
- 'The far more expensive timed-release fertilizers, like Osmocote, are actually not as good in the spring....,the rate at which Osmocote releases its nitrogen and other components is temperature dependent - slower at cold temperatures and faster at warm temperatures. By using a time-release fertilizer, you run the risk of little fertilizer being released in the spring when rapid growth takes place and lots being released in the summer when a hosta is becoming dormant'. etc.
- And then he talks about a second feeding of 20-20-20 'a little later in the season'.
- 'But don't apply it too far into the summer. Again, the principle is that it is desirable to deliver the fertilizer during an active growth period, so after July -- or June in the South, where hostas are dormant by early July -- additional fertilizer is not very productive. Many experts feel that giving nitrogen late in the season may promote excessive growth at a time when the hostas should be coasting into dormancy and hardening off for the winter.' etc.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 9:38AM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b

I'm sure that Bob knows that with slow release ferts a certain percentage of it does not have the slow release coating. For example, with Osmocote 14-14-14, that means the fert contains 14%Nitrogen, 14%Phosphorus, and 14% Potash. However, only 12% is slow release for each nutrient. 2% is available right away.

Perhaps Bob thinks that is not enough nutrients early in the season. There's no doubt that if you are applying fertilizer at specific intervals to correspond with plant growth cycles in your climate that the results will be optimum. But for most people throwing a handfull of MG 10-10-10 slow release around each plant in the Spring is the best way to go. It takes out guess work, eliminates fertilizer burning and prevents over fertilizing that pollutes lakes and streams.


    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 10:51AM
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bernd ny zone5

Actually in the AHS 'Hosta Adventure' brochure it says under fertilizers that if a slow-release fertilizer is used, then it should be supplemented with a quick-release fertilizer in spring to provide the needed nutrients when hostas grow most.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 2:26PM
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Aha! So the Osmocote was dumping its goodies around the time our temps reached 95 F.....which is why my hosta had a real summer flush of new leaves.

Nearly every container grown plant from my local nursery will have the residual signs of Osmocote beads in the pot. That is the fert of choice for retail plants. From azaleas and other shrubs, to gerbera daisies. I haven't looked that closely on the hosta sold by the big box stores, but I shall this spring. Surprisingly enough, the tables loaded with hosta are being sold to somebody in town, yet only ONE of my neighbors has a hosta....and it is the only one she has, a gift to her last Mother's Day. She kept it in morning sun, afternoon shade, all year, and it did not burn up--it was a green one and she did not know the kind it was.

Somewhere in my Teahouse I have a gallon of fish emulsion that I got late in the season, and saved for this spring. That should be more than adequate to kick start my 310 hosta, if they all survive the squirrel planting pecans with them.

Now that DH is back, the 90% shade cloth is going across my hosta sanctuary this weekend. With no leaves on the pecan trees, shade is provided only by the fence itself. Once that is taken care of, I'll wait for the pips, and dilute some fish emulsion for their first big meal of the new growing season, and stand back. I am hoping for a glorious 2013 for my fragrant hosta and friends.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2013 at 10:51PM
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