really old, overgrown, never divided hostas..need some advice

lynbornmanApril 24, 2007

A girl on the ohio valley forum bought a house which came with a bunch of old hostas that are very overgrown and certainly have never been divided. Anyhow, she posted that she didn't want them so I went and picked them up (she lived very close to me). Now I have about 7 very large clumps of hostas (variegated and solid green, medium to small size) - no clue what kind they actually are. They are almost fully leafed out. They look a little ridiculous as the leaves are sooo crowded. I read the FAQ on how to divide hostas and I don't know if I should laugh or cry....there is NO WAY I could do that with these clumps. To be honest I inherited a similar clump from my brother last year and couldn't do a thing with it so I took a hacksaw (cringe) and cut the clump into 4. It was not a happy plant when I did that but all four of them are coming back fantastically this year. So not knowing a single thing about hostas...can I do this again and hope for the best or does anyone have a better suggestion. Thanks,Lyn

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hostamanfred(5 Ohio)

Lyn, I read some of those FAQs and they are very incomplete. All hostas are not the same when it comes to dividing.
Since your hostas as you said are very old, you must have plantagineas and several of the Undulatas. The plantagineas you can safely divide with a large axe. All others, if they are covered in wet dirt, try washing off as much as you can with a garden hose. If the soil is dry, try to knock of as much dirt as possible by pounding the plant a few times on the ground. Some hostas, like Tiaras, Ginko Craig and a few others can now be pulled apart wihtout effort. Most of the others require surgery. To that purpose use your fingers to locate a channel to apply your knife to. Make an incision about 1 to 2 inches from the top of the root base down. If you cut deeper, you will loose a lot of the all importand small roots. Now grab the two halves and start twisting them into opposite directions, in order to gradually pull them appart.

    Bookmark   April 24, 2007 at 9:50PM
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donrawson(Z 5)

If the clumps are growing in heavy soil, soak them for a day or two in a tub of cold water and then roll the clump over to pressure wash the dirt off. By the way, there is no hosta that hasn't been split (unless its the original plant that is still growing in Japan/China, or it's a hosta that was started from seed). :)


    Bookmark   April 24, 2007 at 10:09PM
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The plants are in large clumps of very heavy clay soil. I could try to shake some of the dirt off...its pretty dry. I think soaking them might help with the rest. I really don't know what I'm doing but maybe if I get them cleaned up a bit and then take hostamanfred's advice I'll get through it. Will there be some kind of die back after I do this? Will they lose their leaves?

    Bookmark   April 24, 2007 at 10:32PM
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lisasmall(7a NoVa)

I've always used a serrated kitchen knife to get through my clumps, but honestly, for some of these tough old birds, you could probably use a saw and it wouldn't matter. They'd come back looking good the next year (and wouldn't look too bad this year, either).

To help you i.d. these guys:

Hooijer's Hosta Undulata Explanations

Tigger's Hosta Undulata Identification &mdash The Usual Suspects

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 9:44AM
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Use the saw!

Just realize that clumps need some crown (the fleshy part) and some roots to grow well. Clumps that have minimal crown or roots may take awhile to thrive.

Lots of water covers a multitude of conditions.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 12:28PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5


you said: They look a little ridiculous as the leaves are sooo crowded.

that is kinda the whole point of a mature clump of hosta ...

no need to EVER divide a clump .... unless you need the exercise ...

but if you want to dig them up year after year ... feel free .. they are your hosta ....

most hosta start looking ratty in august .... so that is a good time to dig and divide .. yes.. they will look like heck for the rest of the year ... but will be just peachy in spring ...

dig up half the clump.. insert shovel.. jump on it until you get through it... then rip out half ... or quarter it ... or do surgery down to 1000 individual pieces ... as long as it has the leaves.. a piece of crown and a root .. it will probably grow ....

or just throw them on the driveway and run them over a few time.. and plant the bits and pieces .. and you will have a 1000 new plants ...

they are hosta.. you are going to have to try real hard to kill them ...

good luck


    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 1:02PM
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I guess I don't get the whole hosta thing then. I didn't really know "that was the whole point". I think the plants with several leaves that actually lay out are so pretty, but these clumps I have are so dense and crowded the leaves are standing straight up and are kind of curled in and I don't really find them attractive. But like I said, I am no hosta expert so I bow to your expertise. No I do not need the excercise and no I don't want to dig them up year after year for the fun of it....I just wanted to fix these clumps once before I planted them so they would look better. I suppose I don't understand why people divide hostas then.... hmmm... Much to learn.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 5:33PM
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lynn, people divide Hostas to make more plants, to share with friends, or to trade. I can honestly say that I rarely ever divide anything, unless it's for trade, not that I haven't shared, and plenty.

You also have to remember that it is very early in the year. Those clumps will eventually "lay down" a bit and look less crowded as summer looms upon us.

It's really up to you. I love a mature crowded clump myself, but I also know of other people that actually prefer 3-4 divisions.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 8:23PM
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I am wondering if the green and white are Undulatas. That's what I started with years ago. Didn't know the name then and didn't care--they were free and I had a lot of land to cover. A friend had a bunch to get rid of so we dug then put a shovel in the center jumped on it to split the huge clump and then split that in half again, They will never know what hit them. They can be a knarly mess when they get huge. That's what I would do. They are tough and should turn out fine.

    Bookmark   April 25, 2007 at 8:30PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

anyone have that link to the explanation of the undulata clan for her ....

shape and form of the ultimate clump varies from cultivar to cultivar .... there is nothing you can do to make an inherently ugly clump a pretty clump ....

but that ugly clump might have other functions .... the undulatas are nearly indestructible.. and can take a lot of sun .. depending how far south you are ... a giant clump of such might be divided down to very small pieces and used to line a 100 foot driveway ... for example .... whereas on the other hand.. a pretty clump my never multiply with such vigor ...

in a few weeks the pix will start coming ... study each plant ... and note the ages .. the shapes.. the forms ... you will learn ... ken

    Bookmark   April 26, 2007 at 8:33AM
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mainma(z5b MA)

Lynn, I agree that is a matter of preference. I too like large mature clumps. My neighbor was just lamenting over his need to divide (again) all the clumps of undulatta in his yard. Do you want to make more individual plants to eventually cover more ground? Sounds like these are tough mature clumps that would withstand you going at them the way you did previously-- my tool of preference is a big sharp knife. M-A

    Bookmark   April 26, 2007 at 9:08AM
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lisasmall(7a NoVa)

Maid Of Shade, look seven comments up  I already posted the Undulata identification links Ken mentioned. Go see.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2007 at 12:23PM
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I feel compelled to say there are times the clump dies in the middle and looks terrible. That inspires dividing. I suppose it is not NECESSARY, as once they leafed out they looked ok, but they were my sister's and they were in her front yard. I dug, and pulled, chopped and divided. All is now pretty before and after unfurling. At my house dividing is almost constant because I am filling up two acres, and do not have the funds for all different ones. Plus the all green ones do nothing for my shady garden.

    Bookmark   April 26, 2007 at 3:13PM
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Well in looking at those webpages, I think the closest match by picture is "Undulata Erromena mutation" although I think the edges are a smidge more yellow than white. The other one is solid green...not a blue green...kind of a limey green and pretty much the same size/leaf shape as the bicolored one. I don't really see a good picture of it on the webpage so still not really sure who he is. If it would ever stop raining I'd get out there and try to plant these things or at least take a picture of them and see what types you guys all think they are. Thanks for all the advice. - Lyn

    Bookmark   April 26, 2007 at 4:05PM
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