The long term effects of drought on Hostas

Steve Massachusetts Zone 5bAugust 17, 2012

Josh Spece at In the Country has a great article on this. Here's a bit from it.

"A dry summer and Fall is often the cause of a hosta that shrinks in size from one year to the next. Multiple unusually dry summers in a row can be especially devastating for hostas, as they are unable to replenish their depleted energy reserves."

I read somewhere that the lack of water, particularly in the fall is the most common reason that a Hosta diminishes to the point where it simply does not come back in the Spring. A good reminder that these plants need to remain well watered, unless Mother Nature does it for you, through the Fall up until frost.


Here's the link to the entire article.

In the Country Garden and Gifts

Hostas and Drought

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hosta_freak(z6 NC)

I would believe that,except.I have had many droughts here,and even this year,and yet my hostas were bigger than ever this year. Just my opinion. Phil

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 2:45PM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b


Is that true of those Hosta that are in some direct sun also? Is your Parhelion in sun?


    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 3:00PM
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hosta_freak(z6 NC)

My Parhelion is in a lot of sun,and it's one of the few that still look good. I guess drought makes hostas send down deeper roots. Most of my really big hostas still look pretty good,considering the lack of rain right now. This has been the hottest it has ever been since I started growing hostas, but other years have been dry,too,and they always survived,so I'm not worried. I just know it's over for this year. Phil

    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 8:26PM
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This type of study would require a really extensive and wide-spread effort to validate, I think.

Sort of like the Seti study where many thousands of participants agree to let their computers do analysis of data gathered from deep space radio telescopes looking for E.T.

One comment mentioned in a prior post here talked about Hosta roots reaching deeper for moisture if deprived at the surface.

Having had to dig up a lot of Hosta to fix tree root strangulation problems, I've not yet seen where a Hosta developed deep roots, and our light soil would surely permit it.

Formal 'perennial' wisdom says 'water deep', but I'm fairly certain that Hosta do not benefit from this idea. All the many root systems I've dug up are awfully shallow, so I'm convinced that less watering BUT OFTEN is better for us.

All that is, like my comments about sun, predicated by my zone 4 and light soil experience, of course ;-!

Just thoughts,


    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 11:27PM
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Babka NorCal 9b

What you see come up this year is directly related to what the plant was able to store last year. If you have a great Spring and Summer, but then dry up early, you will probably still have some good looking hostas next year.

I predict that Phil will have some fabulous hostas come next Spring, and so will you other folks who had some great growth this year but then heat dormancy knocked them out.

Time will tell. Stick around and see...


    Bookmark   August 17, 2012 at 11:44PM
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We have had no significant rainfall for 4 months here with triple digit temps that baked the moisture out of the soil as fast as it went in. Soaking the root zones of the plants has been the only way to keep them alive, just barely. Most of the hostas shed a lot of leaves even so, to conserve what energy they had and are considerably smaller than they were this spring, in top growth, anyway. Many went dormant early. I have dug down a bit to see if they were still there and found dormant crowns, but some of the more newly planted ones withered away to nothing, even with all the watering, cooked by the extreme heat. I believe that we could have managed the drought if it had not been for the heat.

In fact now that it has cooled off some, watering is a lot more effective and the soil actually stays moist for a day or so.

As for sending down deeper roots, even if that was their habit, and I agree with hh that they don't appear to do that, after two years of drought, there is no deeper moisture. The subsoil is powder dry 10' down at least. (They are building a huge new hospital here to replace the one destroyed in the tornado and you can see that there is no moisture where they have dug out for the basement, at least 40' down). We are losing oaks that are 200 yrs old or more.

Many of my hostas came up this past spring considerably smaller than last year following last summer's drought. I expect to see the same next spring unless we get significant moisture this fall and winter. We have begun to see some rain in the area but it is spotty and scant. None at all where I live.

And NOAA predicts that the drought will continue into November for this region. Great. :(

Trying to stay optimistic but it ain't easy. We may be growing cactuses and creosote bushes in a few years if this keeps up.


    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 7:32AM
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One of the things I really enjoy with GW/HF is how many topics end in informal polls. I agree with our resident redneck that there are many, many variables and we here can proffer our comments. I have to garden my hostas different than Sandy and Steve, with my almost perfect drainage soil (coal dust loamy dirt). That said my Parhelion, under the deep rooted black walnut is huge and gorgeous without a crisp edge in sight. Her grandmother Sum & Substance in sun from 1am until 2pm is so crispy she looks like she has been on my charcoal grill too long. She gets water from my hose or fish tanks daily. S&S has been there in her present location for 7 years now and each year has gotten larger even though she has suffered badly from scorched leaves. If I finally can move her next spring like I'd planned for this spring I expect great things for her future. After all, I am hostaholic. :)

Many of us had our hostas break dormancy weeks earlier this year. This gave them extra time to develop root systems for next years growth. And THEN the water and heat problems arrose. As far as next years growth, one may have offset the other.

Time will tell, won't it? I expect in general those of mine that haven't crisped too badly to be bigger than this year. If those that are most dessimated by the drought are as large as this year, I will be happy.

Sandy, I can't see where your ground could be much different than mine in "Rockansas". When you do get percip so much runs off. Down there it was normal in the summer to have 2" of dessicated topsoil, maybe 5-6" of ammended dirt, and then nothing but powder below. Thats why there are few maples in the forest. The deep rooted oaks are dying? That doesn't surprise me! Might want to replace them with mesquite - lol, or maybe :(. All of our Missouri hostaholics, along with anyone else who grows hostas in similar soil conditions to the Ozark and Ouwashita Mountains are in dire trouble this year.

I can't argue with the contents of the report. Any fault has to be only that in such publications the results have to be abbreviated or no one will read them. I just don't know how it will apply to my gardens.


    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 8:15AM
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Jon 6a SE MA

I hesitate to mention this but here in SE Massachusetts the minnie drought in April and May has been followed by 5% above normal rainfall.

Right now it is raining heavily and the weather radar shows another soaker is sliding over the area. The authorities here are lowering pond and reservoir levels in the hopes of fending off Spring floods.

My heart goes out to those in drought stricken areas, especially those who's livlihood is being affected. I truly hope the cycle breaks soon.


    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 9:16AM
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Les, our soil here may be similar to Arkansas, both being in the Ozarks, but with the exceptions of hollows and bottoms with deep soil, we have the same 2" of top soil, then maybe if we are lucky, a bit of subsoil or clay, and then rock, rock, and more rock with powder between the rocks. We plant with a pick and a bag of topsoil to replace the rock we dig out. We now have a long rock wall and gabion fence posts on this small ridge where I live.

The rain does indeed run off if it rains hard and fast. Flooding is very common. We always wish for a long, soaking rain. Right now our wish is for any rain at all.

That is if we get any. Rain, that is.

I expect we will lose more big trees in the next few years, too. What is hanging on now are surviving on their reserves, and without rain, when those reserves are gone, so will the trees go. We may not see the true damage for a year or so but this is year two of the drought for them and they did not get a chance to build up much in the way of new reserves before this year's drought descended, with that nuclear heat that scorched the moisture out of the leaves faster than the roots could take it up. Our hostas suffered the same problem, as well as the crops in the fields.

Can't help but notice, tho, that in the vacant acres behind us, the eastern red cedars and wild junipers have thrived. Not a one out of hundreds has died.


    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 10:14AM
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hosta_freak(z6 NC)

In defense of my neck of the woods,my soil here is nothing but red clay,all the way down to north Florida,and being in the woods,it still holds water pretty well. No Oaks or Poplars,or Dogwoods are going to die,as they have survived for hundreds of years before I lived here. I don't know how it is in the Ozarks,as I've never been there,but here in the Great Smoky Mountains,things are still pretty good,and not all of North Carolina is in drought,it just seems that where I am it is dry. I know things will be OK next year,but right now,it is dry. Phil

    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 12:55PM
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The powder I spoke of was layers of a greenish clay with centurys of limestone fines accumulations, part of the hardpan and often layered between limestone shelfrock. It has the color of wet Portland cement. I never went out to plant anywhing without a mattock and rock bar among my tools. Often they were needed to break through the shelfrock to get to the next layer of clay. It felt more like growing in pots that we've made out of the ground. Many plants prone to crown rot like azaeleas and heucheras had to be placed in raised beds. If they weren't raised just a little rain would fill the planting hole and never drain. Then of course most of what water that did come in the summer was run-off.

Many unthinking people die every year from being washed off low-water bridges by flash flooding. As a youth during a vacation to Lake Norfork my sister and I took out horses for a ride only an hour after a gullywasher, where run-off on the dirt road had flowed like a river. Our ride was shortened because we were chocking on the road dust our horses kicked up.

That's typical Ozarks. But when it gets rain it is beautiful. I miss it. Sandy, I really pray that you get some nice gravely needed rains. Not tornadic rotations but what is needed is a week of slow steady drizzle. Hopefully next year you will be able to post positive response regarding the long term effects on your hostas.

Phil, in the Ozarks what weather one gets is greatly affected by the presence of water, like larger rivers and the Corps of Engineer
reservoirs. The cooler air heavy with moisture seems to steer rain away as rain comes from wasrm moist air rising into the cooler upper air. Wrapped around me when I lived there were the huge reservoirs of Bull Shoals and Lake Norfork and the cold waters of the White and North Fork Rivers. It could be frustrating watching rain pass to the north and south while we baked. But I grew hostas and as all the forum remember Sandy had simply wonderful hosta gardens. She doesn't complain much but I haven't seen a pic of her gardens since the Springfield/Joplin (and Branson)MO. areas were tornado ravaged a couple of years ago.

As I have already said, my heart goes out to all suffering the drought.


    Bookmark   August 18, 2012 at 3:00PM
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