Post Mortem

bkay2000(8a TX)April 6, 2014

I lost lots of hosta this winter. I can't figure out why, though. It's no surprise that I lost lots of those liners I bought. However, I lost some that I should not have lost. There doesn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to most of the losses. Most were fairly young plants, but not babies.

Background: We had a really cold winter this year. It was the highest number of chilling hours ever recorded. It was also very dry, with no rain in January or February. I did not water hosta during that time, except an ice cube once. Things just started to grow in early March and we were hit with a 16 degree morning. The flowering quince were in full bloom, the early daffodils were blooming and my fragrant hosta had just begun to show pips. I have lots of cold damage on some and some show almost none.

I'm trying to figure out what went wrong and how to dodge the bullet next time.

Cathedral Windows was never a strong grower for me. However, I believe the cause of it's demise was being continually knocked out of the pot as the squirrels turned it over. (I'm not taking up shooting squirrels, at least as long as my elderly neighbor is alive.)

First questionable loss:

I had a plant I called Step Son. It was supposed to be a September Sun, but obviously was not. It looked as good as it ever did last year. It just didn't come back this year. It was a three or four year old plant.


This was July 2013

This post was edited by bkay2000 on Sun, Apr 6, 14 at 20:07

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Ohhh, BKAy, yours is the saddest tale .... there is full sympathy for your problem right here. I'm wondering too, about some I've lost. Just I am not as logical nor organized as you are in processing the information.

Not seeing the crown of that StepSon, I cannot say. You had a dry winter....boy we had a wet one. I've seen some roots and dried crowns laying on the ground, think that was what happened to Little Jay, bless his heart. Then I had some that are just too wet, the crown rotted from the bottom. Some green remained on top, but not much. One like that is my Princess Anastasia, which had been a beauty since 2012. This year, not a hint of growth. Wet wet. Picture below from August 2013

You had a dry winter, but did you have low humidity as well? Were there many "fire" days, when you could not build fires etc?

I'm very interested in what other folks offer up.

    Bookmark   April 6, 2014 at 10:02PM
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bkay2000(8a TX)

I did not notice any fire warnings, but I'm in the city, so they are not as noticeable as if I were in a rural area. The days I checked the humidity, it was between 35 and 50 percent. We are in a prolonged drought, so everyone is very careful about fires.

I think the problem may be that they got too dry. We are so careful to try to prevent rot that maybe I erred on the other side. I lost several Wide Brims a few years ago that I attribute to that. They were in a planter box that gets no rain. I didn't water them and lost 3 out of five.

It has to be rough on a plant to be dry and 16 degrees. The losses were pretty bad here. There are dead Oleanders everywhere. The garden editor of the News lost roses. The guy at the nursery said he lost lots of plants.

Water or not to water is the question.


    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 10:27AM
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BK - I feel for you. I'm in such a different zone (4/5) I don't know if my experience would help you. I don't think one cold morning would do more than damage whatever foliage is actually up. I often find potted hostas I've stored for the winter that are bone dry and it's never hurt them at all.

One year I lost over 60 but it was because of too much water when then hostas went to sleep. I had been putting the potted ones in an unheated garage for a few years and feeling like they were safe. That one year we got lots of rain in the fall and finally I had to put them away anyway. I also used too dense of a potting medium for the fall planted ones.

Since then I try to leave them as dry as possible to go through the winter. I tip over those that are too big to be moved so the frozen moisture/snow etc. doesn't collect on the crown in the spring. I have about 3 or 4 this year I'm watching since I didn't get them tipped and the bottom of the pot froze to the ground (allowing no drainage). The top half of the pot was swimming in sludge. We'll see what happens about them.

I really hope you'll find some will come back anyway. Good luck. Myrle

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 11:21AM
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BKay, as another far south hosta grower, I'm adding to my considerations the possibility that the long term survival of any specific plant may not be as good here as it would be further north. However, you ARE further north than I am, and so it would seem survival long term would be easier.

So far nothing says it is impossible to grow them here. The "long term" part of it, though, is yet to be experienced. But I want to ask long in # of years, have you grown hosta? Are the problem hosta among the older ones? It is something I must consider also, since I have some from 2010, 2011, my most mature plants. Thinking along the lines of climate incompatibility, I take lots of pictures of the troubled hosta.

In my garden I lost more tropicalesque plants this year than every before, even covered and protected. I also lost several hosta. I won't replace the tropicals. I've already replaced the hosta you might say, because I knew all that wet weather was not good for them in a dormant state. But of those remaining, a goodly % (I won't reveal the number of unique hosta in my garden yet), some look puny, but most are eager to grow.

Chris responded to my thread IS THIS LEAF NORMAL? and now I am going after more potting mix and adding pine mini bark nuggets to the mix so it looks like nursery mix. And Devon Smith sent sample of his mix I am trying drains nicely. I'm headed to an appointment now, but when I get back I'll say more so you can check it out.

    Bookmark   April 7, 2014 at 12:14PM
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funnthsun z7A - Southern VA

Bkay, I think I'm having the same trouble as you did. We have followed all the rules, making sure we have a well-draining media and we make sure they are dormant and stay dormant and that they don't get wet and rot. Then, we go too dry! I have about 30 of mine that are dry as a bone and I'm having to rehydrate. Half of those are already showing green growth, but I don't know if they will come back the same size and I'm worrying for nothing or if this has set them back some. The other half, with the exception of a few, look like they will be OK when I dig down a bit, but haven't broke dormancy yet. The few exceptions will be a wait and see for me. I'm defin attributing this trouble to lack of water, though.

Here's the other thing that occurred to me this week, though. I know that if pine bark gets more than 30% dry, it actually repels water. I can assure you, mine is more than 30% dry and I wonder if this is an issue as well or was in the winter? This is something that I have been mulling over as well.

    Bookmark   April 8, 2014 at 8:46PM
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Babka NorCal 9b

I have been growing hostas as in pots since the late 90's. NEVER have I had a problem of them being too dry during dormancy.

I plant mine in pots with 100% bark. Zero water all during 6week dormancy until the pips are up an inch.

Caveat...none of my plants were potted up in Fall, and they all went dormant watered with fungicide before I put them under a tarp.


    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 4:05AM
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bkay2000(8a TX)

One other variable that I haven't discussed was "up off the ground". I made a section of "stadium seating" like Paula's last fall. I wanted everything except the big ones up off the ground so that they were not in Cleo's line of sight. The top shelf got too much sun last fall. I also had an old patio table that I used for the "nursery" pots (those that were Cleo'd in 2012 and the liners.). They did not get too much sun. I lost ONLY those that were on the table, top shelf or second shelf. I lost nothing on the ground or on the bottom shelf, although those are larger, older hosta.

I lost Cathedral Windows - Squirrels dumped the pot repeatedly off the second shelf.

Stepson - several years old, no symptoms in 2013, on the top shelf

Bridegroom - new late last fall, nice specimen from Green Mountain - second shelf

Orange Marmalade - three years old. top shelf, had a rough 2013 spring

Warwick Essence - new last spring from Lowe's, second shelf

Queen of the Seas - lost two, one new last spring, one new last summer (third one looks stressed), all from local nursery, on the second shelf

Fragrant Queen - on the table, two years old, seemed fine last year

Aphrodite - three years old, looked fine last year, top shelf

Also on the top shelf, was Fragrant Bouquet and Honeybells, (and Royal Standard on the second shelf) which were new last fall. They were huge specimens and I ordered two of each. They are much smaller than I expected. On the second shelf was Dancing Queen, which is smaller than expected. Dark Star (Cleo'd in 2012) was on the top shelf. I expected it to be close to normal, but it still has juvenile leaves.

On the flip side, Ann Kulpa was there and it looks normal, as does Blue Cadet.

Of the liners (had 18 varieties, two plants each on some of them), all on the table, lost 8 totally, 6 are barely surviving and 4 look good.

There are only so many variables. They did not rot, that's for sure. They got really dry over the winter. We had that 16 degree morning after the fragrants started to show pips (could they have been severely damaged by dry and cold just as they started to grow?) Then those that were lost were higher off the ground.

Or, they just committed suicide.


    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 11:34AM
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funnthsun z7A - Southern VA

Not sure about you, bkay, but dormancy is much longer here than 6 weeks. I think that could be what's making the difference for me. If it would have been only 6 weeks, I don't think dryness would have been the issue that I'm thinking it is for me.

Also, the experimental cloth pots were the worst hit, which makes perfect sense, if you think about it. They are wicking away water from all sides, not just the top.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2014 at 11:46AM
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funnthsun z7A - Southern VA

Bkay, I noticed on another thread that you said your hubby collected guns. I just wanted to tell you that mine does too! He's a competitive shooter. I just thought that was cool that we have that in common. It's a whole lot better than having hosta losses b/c of dry pots in common. :-) I have to say though, when it comes to us, my hobby is more expensive than his. I think it's all about how much restraint you have, really, lol. He has lots and I have none!

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 10:59PM
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josephines123 z5 ON Canada

Bkay, I don't know what else to say but that I'm sorry you sustained so many losses. A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do - retail therapy!

    Bookmark   April 10, 2014 at 11:32PM
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bkay2000(8a TX)

I'm still trying to figure out if/how a pot being 3 ft. off the ground would make it more likely to die/and or be diminished than one sitting on the ground.

I did the stadium thing because I needed to get my hosta out of the way for construction of the workshop and to keep Cleo from knocking them over. Hopefully, next winter, all will be on the ground again.

I know there has to be a pattern, a reason for the losses, etc. I just can't see the big picture, though.


    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 11:03AM
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josephines123 z5 ON Canada

my .02 is weak but the thought occurred to me that the more-elevated hosta were subjected/exposed to more of the elements whereas the ones on the "bottom floor" would be more sheltered....especially from all those drying winds. .??


    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 11:11AM
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josephines123 z5 ON Canada

This has nothing to do with the difference in our zones ... just hypothetically speaking for discussion's sake..... I've been mulling over your situation and have another thought to follow the one I just posted.

I need to explain how I arrived at it so please bear with me... Last year during the typical freeze/thaw cycle in early spring I received a timely newsletter from a large nursery I frequent. They were warning of the impending heavy frost looming on the horizon and gave us some precautionary pointers.

The one I remembered was this: if the plants were dry, water them so as to provide some humidity for the surrounding area and thereby creating the microclimate they needed to withstand some of the ravages of frost. This made so much sense to me. I followed that suggestion, but I also hauled out every sheet and pillowcase I had and covered up all my hosta plus other prized perennials. I was happy to have had no incidents. Every plant was unscathed. Lucky I guess!

In regards to yours ... And I hesitate because I have no prior "potting" experience ... but generally speaking, zones notwithstanding, IF your pots were totally dry entering dormancy, would they not be more succeptible to winter desiccation?

I think elevation may have something to do with it. Metaphors come to mind a smoky room the lower to the floor, the less smoke; in a fenced-in backyard the more out in the open the windier - the closer to the fence the less windier...kind of makes sense? I wasn't a whiz kid in science but I made up for it with curiosity! Lol

I hope you find out what caused their certainly don't want a repeat performance of this kind. It's too sad.


    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 11:44AM
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bkay2000(8a TX)

I probably should have watered this winter, but was afraid of rot. Next year, I will water once a month in Dec. and Jan if it doesn't rain. (I leave mine outside and right side up on pot feet or something to promote drainage.) I also should have watered before that 16 degree morning. That way, the hosta would not have gone below 32 degrees. Spring rot is such a problem that everyone is afraid to water. I will be, too. I'll hold my breath, cross my fingers and do it anyway.

I would think that hosta in the ground in Minnesota don't get much below 32 degrees. Even if it's 0 degrees, there is a snow cover and the ground is wet under it, so the ground should remain at about freezing.

Does that make any sense?


    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 6:40PM
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Babka NorCal 9b

Mine go on "stadium seating" with no frost here. I keep the ones that are less than a 1 gal can on the top shelf and peek at them once a month and put a couple ice cubes on the surface to help maintain about 60% humidity in the soil. NOT scientific. (maybe twice while they are dormant). Think of carrots, (or grape storage) and how slowly they would dry out surrounded by even dry peat moss.

As mine go dormant in Fall, I give them a drink of liquid fungicide. That is the last time I water (most of them, except as mentioned above).

Late Spring frost or freezing temps shouldn't affect anything below the soil line that is dormant. It is my understanding that hostas don't start growing new roots until after the first flush of leaves. I begin watering when the new eyes (pips) are up an inch.

Bkay, I think you are right about something else going on with your top tier ones. Careful examination of the roots might help...were they dried up flat roots? Were they rotted? You would think that the roots would dry up before the crown suffered. Then there is the weird stuff. Remember when someone ordered a truck load of mulch that contained something that killed all her plants????

And last, but not least, there is the "sometimes sh** happens" for no logical reason. I've lost a bunch of them over the years, and mostly it was my learning curve, but not always. I get a new GE about every 3 years.

Buy more hostas! TGIF


    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 9:07PM
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zkathy(7a NC)

Yes, both Jo and bk, taken together you are making a lot of sense. Funnthsun, I can't remember how you keep your pots dry in the winter.

    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 10:20PM
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bkay2000(8a TX)

This is the only one I have hosed off. It showed a small sign of life, so I dumped it out and hosed it off. This is the best photo I have.The roots were encased in brown, papery sleeves. Other than that, I can't say.


    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 10:55PM
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Babka NorCal 9b

Those brown papery sleeves are rot. Hose it off (full force) more to remove anything brown, and then stick it in 10% Clorox and water for about 5 minutes, then re-pot and keep your fingers crossed. Nothing to lose and certainly worth a try. My wonderful Invincible, that I have had for so many years, began like that. ;-)


    Bookmark   April 11, 2014 at 11:23PM
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