IYO what is the best potting soil for hostas?

Brandys_garden(6)April 23, 2014

So I am thinking maybe Miracle Grow had something to do with my high loss rate this winter. I am thinking about switching the soil I use for my hosta garden. What are your suggestions on the best type or brand to use? I need to get some soon, this weekend... So please help me out here! Thanks in advance!

Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i am sure the potheads will chime in ...

but my gut tells me the miracle.. in MG.. is fert ..

you are much better off being your own fert master.. rather than relying on some mystery stuff .. in a bag ...

i will also note for the do-it-yourself gang... she doesnt have space to store a big wad of home made stuff ... though she can correct me if i am wrong ...

what i learned to do .. in this circumstance.. is to visit a couple greenhouse operations... and discuss with them.. what they use in their greenhouses ... as giving you a list of suggestions is rather useless.. if you cant do it ... and that is how.. back in the day .. i ended up with promix 360 ... and later sunshine something or another ... [also discuss with them ... outdoor use.. rather than in the greenhouse .. its all about drainage.. and water management ....key words for the discussion]

i will wander down to the pole barn later.. and tell you what i currently have ...

but even if you go with a professional mix.. you would still be better off cutting it with something like mini bark chunks ... i once made a batch .. all dry ingredients.. and kept it dry.. in a plastic garbage can.. for years ... and moistened what i needed separately.. as i repotted stuff ..

thought the budget may be limited.. media .. is not where you save money ...


    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 6:54AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
jadie88(7 MD)

I have heard good things about promix, but never tried it.

I make my own mix (I grow tomatoes in containers as well, so I use a lot of it and would break the bank if I were buying bagged). If I were you, I'd just buy a couple bags of pine bark fines (pine mulch that is in small chips and shreds). Mix it with your regular potting soil, about a 1:1 ratio so your mix ends up half pine bark, half MG. Cheap, easy, and the roots always seem happy. I look forward to hearing from Mocc, bk, and the rest of the crew!

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 7:25AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
funnthsun z7A - Southern VA

Brandy, you need VERY GOOD drainage and you can only get that in a pot if there is no soil involved at all in the mix. You really need a soiless mix. The easiest thing to do is to buy a bag of the the finest pine bark mulch that you can find, a bag of perlite and a bag of peat moss. Mix together with a ratio of 5-1-1 and whalaaahhh! The best mix you can get for hostas. Top your pot off with some slow release fertilizer granules and you've made their year. Most that grow potted hosta use some derivation of this formula.

You don't have to get large bags and do a big mix. Just toss out the larger pieces of pine bark, as you mix. I just use a plastic pot and scoop out 5 pots-full, then 1, then 1, following the formula for each ingredient. Then I take my hands and toss them until they are well mixed. Don't overthink it, this is a very simple way to get a good mix.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 8:53AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Brandy, my current potting mix begins with the MiracleGro without the moisture additive....

To that I mix about 50/50 pine bark MINI NUGGETS, which comes in a bag from Lowes (maybe Home Depot too, but Lowes is more conveniently located for me).

To that I also add my personal choice of crushed crab shells, some perlite but not enough that it makes things look funny. I don't add the Osmocote timed release fertilizer, which dumps its goodies too quickly to be much use for me. Instead, a weak solution of the liquid fertilizer when I water about once a month works fine, and I stop in August.....you may choose to stop earlier in the summer.

Now, I am participating in a test using Devon Smith's personal mix. I have three pots with his mix and three with my own, newly purchased hosta in all instances. I'll tell him or show him how the results compare. He can tell you about his mix.

If you have a bunch of pine bark mini-nuggets, it makes great mulch for around the entryway of the home. It is not like some mulches with splinters/sticks in it, very unfriendly to bare feet. It is a nice rich brown and looks good wet or dry. I like to use it or pine needles (our needles are quite long, not stubby little things) to mulch the streetside flower beds. For my Back40 hosta garden, I use the shredded cypress mulch, and place my stepping stones on it.

If that is too much information, just ignore it. I'm not a very scientific person.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 9:35AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
jadie88(7 MD)

I definitely second what funn says...that is the recipe I use as well, and truly the best way to go in my experience! :)

As I understand it, Brandy, you already use a soil-less potting mix (MG). The basic components of MG are not bad in and of themselves, but they are in the wrong proportions for good drainage (ie, more peat, little bark...too fine particle size...). I have had good results from amending bagged potting mix with lots of pine bark. It's a way to use what you already have instead of throwing out one year old potting mix.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 9:45AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

As my hosta keeping is fairly new I am confused as to why there is such a debate about what a hosta grows in inside of a pot, i.e. all of this special mix, as opposed to how we just stick them in the ground with whatever makeup the earth happens to be where we live. I would also think that the soil/soil mix needed would vary according to your climate. I know we are the minority by 1000 to 1, but in my case and others who live in hot areas I would think that something like MG would be better for us as our pots dry out really quickly during the growing season. Am I off on that assumption?

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 10:03AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I, too, mix a large bag of MG potting soil and a bag of the smallest pine bark mulch I can find. I spread out one of those plastic dropcloths (about a dollar) in the yard. I dump both items and then mix it. It will fit in a large garbage can (55 gal., I think). I throw the big pieces of mulch out as I pot stuff.

I used the same system when I mixed my own potting soil, but it was a disaster. The recipe I received was 3-1-1 and I lost a lot of plants that year. I was unable (and still am) to find pine bark fines or any approximation of it. A nurseryman suggested I use landscapers mix from Lowe's. It's pretty fine. Anyway, 3-1-1 is too dense, and using landscapers mix in that ratio was a mistake.


    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 10:21AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

yes you are santa ... way off .... moc ... bkay and babs.. all do pots ... and they outdo you.. in zone ...

funn's words.. dont match what she meant to say ...

one needs to clearly delineate.. and understand the difference between SOIL .. aka mother earth .. which is also sold in bags.. and potting MEDIA... yes.. i know.. the trade calls it potting soil .. but that only confuses peeps.. learn to think of it as media... and you are on the right track ...

as she said .. meant to say.. I THINK .. there is no mother earth in a pot ... EVER!!!!

the whole point of media.. is water management ... on a predictable level ... so if your mix.. holds water for 5 days... after learning.. you can water every 5 days.. dirt in a pot wont lead you to conclusion ...

a good draining soil .. CARP!!!.. media ... also means it wets thru the whole pot ... not good media.. or soil.. you can end up with say.. 50% of the center.. bone dry ... as the water will pool and run down the side of the pot .. and that would lead to crown rot in hosta ...

so.. again.. its all about predictability ...

the problem i see with funns recipe ... it that all the bags of various products are going to lead.. to a huge amount of stuff.. and i dont think brandy has a garage.. pole barn.. etc... to store a 5 by 5 foot pile of potting MEDIA ...

and something else crossed my mind.. if you change media... you would probably be best off changing all your pots... to lead toward the predictability i am alluding too ... so if you did end up with a lot of it.. that would be one way to get rid of a lot ...

i will walk down to the barn.. and be back in a minute.. pretend the jeopardy theme is running thru your head .. and sit there dumbfounded for 5 minutes.. pretending you are waiting for me ... right click the link and open in a new window ... i found the 10 minute version.. BRB ...

there.. wasnt that refreshing.. lol ..

i have a 3 cubic foot [85l] bag of berger BM8, seen at this link:

http://www.berger.ca/products/mixes/bm8 [highlight, right click, and open in new window]

oh God.. enough of that tune... i will kill it now ...

anyway.. this bag is huge.... bone dry.. weighs nothing [which is another bonus to media... depending on pot size.. it doesnt weigh a ton when wet] ... and i got it from the best nursery in adrian [there is only one.. lol] ... and they sold it to me for what they paid for it.. which means wholesale ... maybe $18 ... if i recall.. a few years back...

do note.. though it has compost.. i would NEVER use homemade nor city made compost .. in making a mix ... you lose the predictability ....

anyway ... i have also bought the mini chinks at the same place... and i would take pot of media... and then a half pot of chunks... and see how it mixes ... if i were doing trees.. i would go more than 50% chucks.. cuz i want little or no retained water ... but for hosta ... i would probably go 60/40 favoring the media ... [which BTw.. already has perlite in it ...i didnt look to see if it had vermiculite also ... but no fert]

i would then take the time to properly moisten it.. and pack it in a pot.. and water from the top.. and see how it works.. and maybe remix if i didnt like it ...

also ... when you have a good media... you can tell when to water.. by simply weighing the pot in your hand... a good water retaining media.. will double or triple the weight of the pot ... so one day.. one you go to hoik one up.. and you nearly throw it over your shoulder.. lol.. its pretty dry ... lol... this alludes to another reason.. that nurserymen use all one pot ... because if one is dry.. then they all are dry.. so its time to water ... again.. ad nauseum... because its predictable ....

enough for now


Here is a link that might be useful: link

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 10:43AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b

Yes, funnthesun's advice to use the 5-1-1 mix is good advice. I used that mix for quite some time, and for your small garden, Brandy, that mix probably would work well. I made the 5-1-1 for a number of years, but then I looked at the mix that I saw from Cochato Nursery. It had drained really well and had lots of small bark pieces in it. I found that they were using Fafard 52 mix. It has 55% aged processed pine bark, 30% peat and 15% of perlite and vermiculite with wetting agents. It comes in 2.8 cubic ft bags for about $17 each. I use two bags a year. It can be hard to find, but it's worth the amount of time I spent finding, sifting and mixing ingredients to just be able to buy it pre-mixed.


Here is a link that might be useful: Fafard 52 Mix

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 12:01PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Brandy can't get it. She is in Missouri. It's only sold on the east coast.


    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 3:36PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

OK well I don't have a lot of room to make and store a bunch of bags of my own mix so I need to keep it as simple as possible. Thank you Ken. I did ask Ed and his suggestion was that because Southern Missouri can and does get so dry and hot, that Miracle Grow is probably the best right now. He actually thinks the moisture control is better, too. (I stopped using it via everyone's advice last year and just use the regulare MG potting mix. I do add bark on top.) He said that was good but I can add it into the mix as I'm putting it in the pot and he likes to either put some styrofoam or a handful or two of bark on the bottom before adding any potting soil. He said what some people do is they actually get some soil from the ground and put it in pots though he wouldn't recommend it from where I'm at, the drainage would be terrible.

I asked the local garden on Hwy 76 what they recommend and they said MG, too. They had Stotts and they said it's OK but it's better for flowers and annuals. They also have an "organic mix" in a bag but it's really expensive. They said that's their number one choice but most people like a name brand so they recommend MG along with the bark and mulch suggestions. They said the styrofoam is a good idea, too.

So has anyone seen organic mix bags at garden greenhouses or stores and have an opinion on that?

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 6:05PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

you use.. what you can get or make ...

but given all the suggestions... you need to LOOK at them ... feel them.. smell them ...... and you will SEE how they are alike .. or not...

study ever pot you bring home... think about what the grower used for what plant .. etc ... think about how perhaps they used pure peat.. but grew them in greenhouses .... etc ...

why you would need water pellets.. when you are out there fondling them every night for stress relief.. is beyond me ... lol ... such are a marketing panacea.. for peeps who want to go out there every third week.. and hope the plants are still alive... why pay the premium for such ..???

i wonder if any professional grower use water crystals for any plants???


    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 6:43PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Bkay, I'm, in SW Missouri, and we use Fafard 52 exclusively at the hursery where I work, so yes, we can get it here, through a local distributer. We pot all our hostas and perennials in it, and they do fine, even over the winter, outdoors. We plant a lot of hostas in the fall, and I don't think we lost a one. I also use it for all my pots at home, just adding some sand to it for a succulent mix..


    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 7:04PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
funnthsun z7A - Southern VA

This splitting of hairs/words is getting very tedious...yes, literally, don't add "Mother Earth", is what was meant by soiless mix. The container forum has huge long informational threads on why you don't put dirt (is that OK to say?) in a pot and you want to use a better draining media.

No pole barn is needed, fyi. Here's a pic of what I am talking about, for informational purposes.

3 bags, that is all, no huge storage issue. I buy the larger bag of peat moss b/c of volume for me, but you can get that in smaller bags, too. Then you can use the remainder of the mulch around the deck, etc.

Brandy, you have lots of good advice, I'm sure you'll get a good one that'll work for you. My clarification is for anyone else reading this post in the future.

I am attaching the link to the container forum, also, for anyone, like Santa, who wants to know the why of it all. Keep in mind, in the linked thread, if you read 3-1-1 ratio, that was later corrected to be 5-1-1.

Here is a link that might be useful: Container soils and water in containers III

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 7:09PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
bragu_DSM 5

i like a gritty mix approach ... a la ... tapla ... on container gardening forum

hours of excellent reading there.

i use mg ... with my own compost ... with perlite ... a bit of bark mix ... amended with that wonderful all purpose floor dry (it absorbs water and slowly releases back into the soil)

most of my pots end up in the ground

i like to run my hand through the mix, and if it feels like something i think i would like to grow in, it is ready

may sound goofy to some, but i have had good success


    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 7:29PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
tsugajunkie z5 SE WI

Brandy, the only bark to put into the mix needs to be pine or fir bark. Other types of bark will tie up nitrogen and you'll need to use ferts more often.

"he likes to either put some styrofoam or a handful or two of bark on the bottom before adding any potting soil."

Do NOT do this. This is a myth that will not die even though science has proved this wrong. You want a mix that has similar particle size top to bottom. Your easiest, cheapest, least space using and biggest bang for your buck would be to simply buy some perlite and mix it 30% perlite to 70% Miracle Gro and you will be fine.


Edit: This is assuming you have the MG already, if not, just do the Fafard 52 if you can find it.

This post was edited by tsugajunkie on Wed, Apr 23, 14 at 19:37

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 7:31PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
jadie88(7 MD)

A picture is worth a thousand words! Great contribution, Funn. I always assumed mixing my own would be a hassle, until I actually did it. Then I realized how superior it really is! After a while, you really do just get an instinct for what the roots will be happy in. My husband thinks I'm crazy when I run my hands through my potting mix or raised bed soil and say "yummy!" But gardeners get it. :)

Brandy, I'm sure you have good reason to trust your "hosta guy," and I don't want to keep harping on and on... but I've never seen positive reviews for moisture control, and it is not true that mulch (or gravel, or rocks, or whatever) in the bottom improves drainage.

The solution for dry weather is not soil that stays damp, it is watering deeply and more often. You want to be constantly moving water THROUGH the mix, if that makes sense...

This post was edited by jadie88 on Wed, Apr 23, 14 at 19:46

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 7:43PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mikgag Z5b NS Canada

You can try all kinds of combinations, but I like to keep it simple. I've been growing some of mine in pots (about 15-18 of them) for years and they grow fast and I've never lost one. I use the $1 a bag black earth from Walmart. Drains great, has lots of pine bark mulch in it, and it's a buck a bag. Works for me...I overwinter all mine in a dark shed, no probs...

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 8:14PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

Cool, almost everyone on this thread can pass on advice and info without being either insulting OR condescending. That's awesome! Thanks for all this great information, peeps. I have a just a few hostas in pots, but I'd like 'em to be in as good a situation as possible, and I'll be making up a mix gathered from the info here. Thanks for starting the thread, Brandy. Much valuable info can be harvested from a good question.

Don B.

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 8:16PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
jadie88(7 MD)

mikgag...you've intrigued me. I'll have to stop in at Walmart tomorrow!

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 8:44PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
josephines123 z5 ON Canada

Brandy, have you ever heard of the KISS principle? I remember it from high school. One particular teacher loved to use it.

"KISS is an acronym for "Keep it simple, stupid" as a design principle noted by the U.S. Navy in 1960.[1][2] The KISS principle states that most systems work best if they are kept simple rather than made complicated; therefore simplicity should be a key goal in design and unnecessary complexity should be avoided. The phrase has been associated with aircraft engineer Kelly Johnson (1910��"1990).[3] The term "KISS principle" was in popular use by 1970.[4] Variations on the phrase include "keep it short and simple" and "keep it simple and straightforward".[5][6]. end quote

Whatever you decide to use, Brandy make it easy on yourself :-)

Funnthsun - i agree, not only is it getting tedious, it is unnecessary.
Who doesn't understand "soilless mix"? Your post was clear, informative and didn't need clarification IMO. By the way, I would hire you as a salesperson...what you just did there with the pic! :-) perfect execution of KISS!

Bragu Dave, what may be goofy to some gets around! Me goofy too, as that is exactly what I felt when I mixed mine. :-).


    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 8:51PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
paula_b_gardener 5b_ON(5b)

When I think of potted hosta, I immediately think of uk_hostaman as his hostas are amazing and so big! Granted he is in the UK, however; when he shares advice about growing hostas in pots - I listen.

If I may quote a post of his earlier this month, I would like to share his words of wisdom.

"I've been growing Hostas in pots for years in the uk
I'm not the best one to give advice as I live in a very
different climate to you but I have learnt many valuable
1 get the right mix 50% peat 50% small bark/pine chippings with alittle slow release fertiliser
2 pot up slowly,keep the roots pot bound as much as you dare
3 feed early on with alfalfa pellets later with bonemeal
4 I like to have the crown about 2 inch deep from the top of the soil
5 water with ammonia 10-1 early and stick copper tape around top of pot
6 if you can keep pots off the ground I use old tree stumps
7 water well when hot and avoid black pots
8 keep in semi shade where you can
Hope some of these tips will help you on your way"

The ammonia, copper tape and keeping them off the ground is to help deter slugs which are enormous and plentiful in England (I am originally from there).

    Bookmark   April 23, 2014 at 9:49PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

First I would like to quote some lyrics-

Everybody's Free (to Wear Sunscreen)
by Baz Luhrmann

"Be careful whose advice you buy but be patient with those who supply it
Advice is a form of nostalgia, dispensing it is a way of fishing the past
From the disposal, wiping it off, painting over the ugly parts
And recycling it for more than it's worth"

This next bit is my opinion only and requires your patients to get through. I only offer it because it seems to be working well for me so far and I wish for all to have the success I seem to be having with it. I will post a couple of pictures at the end to show you what I mean.

I did a lot of research about potting media and amendments. Last summer was my first summer getting into hostas and growing them in pots. I started by making my own mix using pea gravel, mother earth and sand. Seemed to be working well, other than the very heavy pots, especially when they were wet and the fact that while I was repotting using my new and improved media I found the bricks I had been creating with the old mix in the bottom of the pots. I read somewhere that if the pot is full to the bottom and there are holes in the bottom of the pot and it is touching the ground, then the earth will act like a wick to pull excess water out of the pot. Water will always find the easiest route to travel, so once it has created it's own channel in the pot, down the sides, it will be hard to get the pot completely saturated. As I was repotting, though, I found enough earth worms in the pots that I could have fished for a week.

Although this is not for everyone and there are many paths to get to the same end, this is how I have been doing it this year. It requires the use of a chipper/shredder, a cement mixer and a cheap plastic lemonade pitcher. I did a massive amount of repotting this spring, so I bought in bulk to reduce my costs. I ended up creating my mix for right at $2.86 a cubic foot and have made over 12 cubic feet of mix so far.

I buy southern pine nuggets at Lowe's, comes 3 cubic feet in a bag. Perlite-4 cubic foot bags, peat-2.8 cubic foot bags. Greensand-36 lb bags, Alfalfa meal-50 lb bags and Bio-Tone-25 lb bags.

I run the bark through the chipper and end up with fines and small chips. I next mix 5 gallons of bark fines with 2 pitchers of perlite and 2 pitchers of peat. The next part is my own special sauce. I add 1/2 cup of Bio-Tone, 1 cup of Greensand and 1-1/2 cup of alfalfa meal to every cubic foot of mix. Alfalfa meal has triaconatol, which is a fatty acid growth stimulant. I read somewhere that it may increase the possibilities of sports and the worms love the stuff. I get mine at the local Co-Op, it is sold as a livestock feed. Bio-Tone contains Mycorrhiza which become symbiotic with the roots and helps the plants in their uptake of nutrients and the creation of fine roots. Greensand contains many micronutrients not found in most fertilizers. I also use a little sprinkling of Osmocote on top after potting, although it may not be necessary.

I am going around now and adding a ring of my special sauce with a layer of compost on top to all of the ones I have in the ground. I just pummel the same ratios of amendments into a powder.

Now for the pudding.

Here is a seedling that I repotted a week or two ago. I started my seedlings on January 3rd of this year and they were growing in 5 ounce cups using this mix for about 2 months at the time of this picture. This is what they all looked like:

Also, here is what it looks like inside my mini greenhouse today. Most of these are from last year after I repotted this spring.

The leaf damage on the Fire Island liners in the middle is due to them getting too cold one night before I added heat to the mini greenhouse. They were the only ones that suffered and it only got down to the mid 40s.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 11:09PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
Babka NorCal 9b

So, from all these many and differing responses, what it boils down to is use what you hope will work for YOU, in your location under your specific conditions... weather-wise, space-wise, and financially. Don't be afraid to try new stuff, (just don't try it on a $$$ hosta). What works for some won't work for others. Trial and error and in the end your experiences will be the best teacher.


    Bookmark   April 24, 2014 at 11:29PM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo
mikgag Z5b NS Canada

Exactly Babka, I tried fancy Farfard mixes, home-made 5:1:1 mixes and finally settled on the easiest,cheapest for me that works as good or better than the others. But that's what works for me.....

    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 8:00AM
Thank you for reporting this comment. Undo

I don't think anyone mentioned this, but the moisture control soil is a not a problem in the summer, but in the following spring. During the summer, it works great - at least here. It works the same in spring, though. The pots get wet and you can't get them to dry out. Wet and cold and spring equals rot, especially on smaller plants.

Been there, done that.


    Bookmark   April 25, 2014 at 6:05PM
Sign Up to comment
More Discussions
Not sure this has been posted in awhile Papou's Gardens
He was gone before I joined the site, but he had some...
Hosta Ruffled 2014
The kiss of the sun for pardon, The song of the birds...
ilovetogrow z9 Jax Florida
HOSTAS TOXIC TO DOGS (and cats too)
I just discovered hostas are toxic to dogs. How did...
People viewed this after searching for:
© 2015 Houzz Inc. Houzz® The new way to design your home™