How late would you transplant?

tomahawkclaimSeptember 21, 2013

I'm unhappy with a two-year old hosta garden. The greens are totally lost. I need to switch all the greens with chartreuse, yellows, and whites. How late in the season can I undertake this? Nance

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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

IMHO.. its a winter heave issue .. if you live in ground freeze z5 ...

if you take a big enough wad of soil.. so that it weighs enough. that it will stay in the ground ALL WINTER LONG... you can do it whenever you want ...

if you are talking smallish plants that might pop out of the soil on some march day.. and you dont find them until a month later when the soil thaws... you lose ...

the alternative.. would be to mulch well enough to keep the soil frozen all winter long ...

and since they pop out of the ground on energy being stored... right now.. in those roots.. i would hope you dont plant on cutting off all the root tips ...


    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 9:34AM
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harryshoe zone6 eastern Pennsylvania

I agree with Ken. I transplant all winter long. Taking the biggest root ball possible reduces the risk of winter heave. In my part of zone 6, it rarely stays cold long enough to freeze the soil below 3 or 4 inches.

Late September through early October is my preferred time to move plants. Earlier this week I expanded my main hosta bed to alleviate crowding. I was able to get Touch of Class, June and Shall We Dance out where I could appreciate them.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 10:32AM
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newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada

I have a question for you Ken---

So if I were going to plant "smallish" plants at the proper soil level now, putting a good layer of mulch over the top of the plants (after frost?) would be helpful to protect the plants from heaving in winter? And then in the spring, I would remove this mulch or at least remove it around the crown of the plant?

    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 10:38AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

the mulch acts as an insulator..

so any random sunny winter days ... do not warm the soil ...

its the repeated warming and cooling of the soil.. that pushes rocks up out of the soil in winter... and it will do the same to small plants ....

the mulch does NOT have to be directly on top of the plant... leave the pips exposed.. like they are supposed to be.. but make a one or two foot circle around the plant ... so the soil is covered ... [depends on the size of the plant ...]

if you do insist on covering them.. you would cover them AFTER the soil freezes.. and remove it after the soil thaws ..... or just before it starts to thaw ...

the rule would be : get them dormant.. keep them dormant ...

none of this going in and out of dormancy .... due to heat accumulation in the soil .... which is also a function of the heave issue ...

the best insulating stuff is white.. and falls from the sky ... and is free .... snow cover will retard the effects of mid winter sun.. on dark soil ... as you all in the great white north should know ..... we rarely lose stuff when snow cover takes care of zone appropriate plants.. its those mild winters when the temps swing back and forth ... that stuff dies ... and to sum it up.. mulches winter job is to temper fluctuations in cold soil ...

and none of this is hosta specific.. same rules for all plants .. trees.. conifers.. you name it ...


    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 10:52AM
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Ken explained really well. In my zone 5a (Chicago), Mid Sept - early October has been the best time for me to transplant or divide hostas. All came out next year nicely with good winter like 2011 (lots of snow coverage) and bad winter (not much snow). I do not use special precautions, just mulch like you would normally do (~2-3 inches) for any new planting.


    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 11:18AM
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Is a 6 inch layer of shredded leaves an adequate mulch? N

    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 11:25AM
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ConnieMay(6a - Canada)

Tomahawkclaim - 6 inches of leaves sounds perfect. How do you shred them? Do you have a chipper?

I keep all of my leaves in the fall and once the ground freezes I cover all of the beds. I have purchased / moved hosta right up to November with no issues at all. The ground doesn't typically freeze until December / January where I live. I have also put new plants, still in the plastic pot, right into the ground "as is" to deal with in the spring and have never lost any plants doing this either.

    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 12:49PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

well shredded ... so they dont mat down ... but i would go no more than about 3 over the plants themselves..

and by spring.. the 3 will be down to one.. or gone ... so mo removal ...

leaves that mat down.. do not allow air to move back and forth.. leading to an anaerobic condition.. which leads to rotting ... like the stench when you clean the gutters out in spring.. that rotting death scent ...


EDIT: also.. leaving depressions.. where the hosta are.. helps you to know where they are.... to avoid stepping on them.. if per chance you have some reason to trod thru the garden before they poke thru ...

This post was edited by ken_adrian on Sat, Sep 21, 13 at 18:49

    Bookmark   September 21, 2013 at 12:50PM
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Thank you for all the helpful information in this post.

Beautiful garden photo Harry. I have a question though well illustrated by your photo. Can errosion be a problem with light soil in a hosta bed where there is the degree of slope as in Harry's photo? I have wondered about this because of the loss of vegetative cover in winter.

The oaks here appear to be losing soil at root base, evidenced especially where soil level under rocks is about 1" more than around the rocks. I wonder if a hosta bed would be better errosion control than good coverage of fescue.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2013 at 11:47AM
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newhostalady Z6 ON, Canada

Thanks Ken for answering my question about mulching. Great answer! I've experience a bit of winter heaving, but never really thought about why that happened. Luckily I caught it soon and was able to cover it up the roots with some bagged soil. But now I have been accumulating hosta and I got to protect my babes! So thanks for the info.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2013 at 3:33PM
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Haryshoe, great-looking hosta bed!

Don B.

    Bookmark   September 22, 2013 at 4:07PM
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mikgag Z5b NS Canada

I just came in from moving 4 of them. Never had an issue.

    Bookmark   September 23, 2013 at 5:59PM
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jel48(Z4 Michigan)

We're Z5 and I usually stop moving plants (or planting new ones) hostas and others, by early in October. I've never lost anything due to heaving under our typical 2 1/2 to 3 feet of snow cover (as ken says, the best insulator) but why push it? The plants will still be there, and just as movable, in the spring.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 6:45AM
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See my comments on the other current thread about late season transplanting tips.

I do not care for leaves as mulch anywhere but in the soil as compost.

Stepping on newly emerging pips in the Spring, planting them too deep with mulch, too much winter heave and moisture are all good reasons to prepare the soil well first and then plant hosta.

Otherwise you may be doing it all over again next year.


    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 9:27AM
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harryshoe zone6 eastern Pennsylvania

thanks. My front beds are raised beds. I feared some erosion as the water ran off during storms. Surprisingly, even the mulch stays put. I guess keeping soil at a moderate height lessens the flow.

The soil here is a nice loam with enough clay mixed in to keep things in place. Used to be farmland. Hosta grow great as do azaleas, holly, dogwood, etc.

    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 10:50AM
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Harry, what kind of mulch do you use? Glad that bed stays put for you. It really is lovely.

Bruce, thanks again for your thoughts. Leaf mulch here is just part of living here. Our pin oaks and water oaks hold leaves all winter and they are huge enough that the final clean up does not happen until spring. I'm sure I would just love having a leaf shredder. Better if it came with an operator! ;o)

I don't clear the leaves at all from the daylily beds, and they have done so well. My favorite mulch. I'm sure to some it looks ungroomed, but the daylilies are totally happy, and it makes life so much easier. That means more to me every year!

    Bookmark   September 24, 2013 at 10:53PM
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We plant until the snow comes, or the ground freezes. I have literally planted hostas into late December when weather permitted in my own and in clients' gardens. I cannnot remember ever losing a hosta this way. Frost heave is rarely an issue in the shade gardens.
I pile leaves on the gardens as deep as I can - often several feet if I can get than many. The leaves are never shredded as I lack the equipment. I wait to pile the leaves on until I'm sure everything is dormant. It's a great treat in spring to part the leaf blanket away from the hosta - leaving the seedheads up is an easy way to identify their exact location. Keep the leaves in place till all danger of frost is over. Peeking is definitely allowed. Although the parting of the leaves is fun, it's not necessary. The hostas grow through their loose, unpacked cover quite easily. Weeding is a matter of minutes. I do move the leaves away from the hosta base to make life a little more difficult for the slugs.
I'm about to plant a new hosta garden as soon as the soil is prepped.

    Bookmark   September 25, 2013 at 12:34PM
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Wow Nina! That's encouraging! Maybe I'll just wait until the mosquitoes are frozen and then go do the deed! I really think this is a micro climate and it would surprise me if the ground freezes. I'd love to plant a fig tree to test my theory.

    Bookmark   September 26, 2013 at 12:04AM
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gardens1(5b ON)

Hello, Nina! Is this WildThings Nina? Have a great day!


    Bookmark   September 26, 2013 at 11:07AM
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