Pots and Hosta size question

capehornSeptember 9, 2010

Good morning. This inquiry is inspired by a post in which dhaven z5 IA wrote (Aug 23):

......As far as size, my mature GE run 31-34 inches tall, and 3 1/2 to 5 1/2 feet across, depending on how much crowding they are getting. . I plan to put a GE in a huge spot all by itself next spring and see what it does in 5 years--I'm guessing it will go at least 6 feet across, although I don't anticipate that the height will be much more than 34 inches......

My question may sound dumb but...for a potted hosta to reach 6' across, does that mean at the base so the pot would need to be 6' across, or measured across the full breadth of the top of the foliage? If it means the latter, (which I suspect) I am wondering how big such a pot might be to accommodate a hosta with that large a diameter? Thank you. From CapeHorn

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thisismelissa(z4a-S Twin Cities MN)

I'd be really surprised if Great Expectations could reach that kind of size in a pot.... Let alone, in 5 years.

It's also my understanding that hosta should not immediately be put into a huge pot, rather, potted up as they need it.

I'm no pot expert (haha), but it would seem to me that hosta that are known to get rather large probably would not get as large if potted.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 1:44PM
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Babka NorCal 9b

I up-pot mine from 1 gal to 3 gal size and the larger ones get 4 feet across. I am limited by space and my own ability to lift them and move them around, but if you are young and strong...

I think you could get a very nice large plant to be happy in a 5 gal container for many years. Think of those 7' trees that are in 15 gal containers that are only about 18" wide.

Putting a small plant into a large pot right off is risky, as the potting mix might remain too wet and cause rotting. BUT I think there is someone here on the forum who has put a 1 gal. sized plant into a 1/2 barrel and it has done just fine. Good drainage would be a key.


    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 2:26PM
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The pot has to be able to contain the roots and provide enough air and some room for growth. Given that you have a mature GE, I suggest using a pot where the plant fills about two-thirds of the pot. The size of pot you will need really depends on how big the root system is. I have dug up huge hostas with small systems and small hostas with huge root systems.

That said, I suspect that you will need at least a 3-gallon pot.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 3:00PM
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This is such a confusing topic for me. I've read posts where people have a huge hosta growing in a 5 gallon bucket. Yet, when I dug up a two year old Tom Schmid yesterday, the root ball was already massive and could not be stuffed into anything smaller than a 15 gallon pot, and it filled that pretty much completely across the width. I presume the bigger roots must now grow down instead of out the way they do in the ground.

I've also read that you should plant it in a pot that will accomodate the roots as it grows to maturity- in other words, a big pot for a hosta that will be big. Then you also hear the opposite advice, to repot as it grows into bigger and bigger containers.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 5:12PM
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jel48(Z4 Michigan)

I don't have a lot of potted hostas.... well, at least not intentionally :-) although despite my best intentions, I have at least 25-30 that will overwinter this year in pots.

I do have maybe 8 that have been in roughly 2 1/2 to 3 gal pots for the past 3 years. They are nice size plants, though nowhere near mature size.

I can't see where potting a hosta in an extra large pot or tub while the hosta is still small would actually hurt it. A lot of people have tubs or other large containers with mini-hosta gardens in them (several minis in the same container) and that seems to have worked just fine.

On the other hand, I think a hosta would live quite happily long term in a 2 or 3 gallon container, but I don't think that hosta would ever reach mature size. I think the size of the pot would limit the size of the hosta.

Coll, there is a lot of variety in individual hosta's root systems. Your Tom Schmid had a huge root ball, but a different variety might not ever have such a huge root ball. Or a different Tom Schmid might not have such a huge root ball, depending on growing conditions (location, amt of sun, fertilizer, type of soil, etc).

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 6:28PM
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I'm certainly not expert, but grow my few hostas in pots. As Babka stated, if the pot is way too big, they have a tendency to stay too wet. I got a Barbara Ann (classified as large) and a Paradigm (classified as medium large) in the early summer. (they were single eye) I put each of them in a 12" pot, assuming they would grow quickly. Neither plant has done very well. It was suggested that a problem with Barbara Ann was that she was too wet.

So, as soon as we have our first frost, I'm moving both of those plants to a smaller pot with lighter soil.

In the same shipment, I got an invincible (classified as small, 3 eyes). I put it in an 8" pot. It has done very well. So, I'm moving it to a little larger pot this winter.

If you start it in a huge pot, it doesn't have the root structure to use the water you give it, so you'll have to use a really light soil so it can drain. If you use a really light soil, then when it gets bigger, you won't be able to keep enough water on it. So, then you'll have to change out the soil.

So, IMHO, you should start in an appropriate pot to the size of the plant as it is now. Increase the pot size as it grows.


    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 6:39PM
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Ack! Now I don't know what to do. I've been moving most of mine into pots over the past week due to vole issues that I've never had until now. They've gotten six hosta so far and I was afraid I'd lose even more over the winter. I've been using a really well draining potting soil with a lot of pine bark in it, but didn't realize that might be a problem down the line when it comes to keeping them watered. But geez, I really don't want to be potting and repotting some of these big ones. I just want to leave them and forget them (except for water and fertilizer). I don't even fertilize the ones in the ground, but know I'll have to get better about that for the potted ones.

I did lose a couple potted ones last year due to rot that were in Miracle Grow soil....so that's when I learned about the importance of good drainage to get thru the winter and early Spring. I'm going to be very nervous this Spring to see if everything makes it.

I find it hard to even put the bare root ones I get by mail into a small pot sometimes. When the pot is small, you can't make that cone in the middle to spread the roots over.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 7:23PM
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The ones I discussed earlier in this thread are in Miracle Grow soil. None have rotted so far(knock wood). That soil holds a lot of moisture. If the plant can't take it up, it stays pretty wet. I picked up a bag of bark mulch to lighten it up.

As I said earlier, the one in an appropriately sized pot is thriving. The ones in the big pot are not.

When I used to grow house plants, I learned that lesson of pot size, but forgot it somewhere between then and early summer. If the pot is too big, it stays too wet. If it's too small, it's always thirsty. You want everything to need water at once. You don't want one plant that needs watering twice a day and another one that needs it twice a week. It doesn't make for a good garden, whether it's a potted garden or an in-ground garden.


This is the Invincible in an appropriately sized pot.

This is Barbara Ann in a too-large pot.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 8:44PM
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just put it in the ground lol....

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 9:45PM
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My Barbara Ann doesn't look too much better in the ground! Well, it was looking pretty good before the hail. This is the third year for it, and it's been moved a few times. Last year it looked pretty much just like that, with a lot of drawstringing. Ugly! I told it if it did that again, it was outta here, and I guess it listened. Actually, I deliberately did not water that one at all this Spring (it just got what fell from the sky, which wasn't much). My understanding is that excess water or fertilizer can cause the drawstringing.

I agree that when you have a garden full of plants with mixed water needs, it can be problematic.

    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 9:55PM
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John, they are difficult in the ground here. We don't get a lot of chilling hours. In a pot, they will get the chilling they need.

Although I have read that some folks grow hostas in the ground, I also understand they are very good gardeners. They are the ones they profile in the gardening section of the local paper. I haven't ever seen a good hosta in the ground here. The typical hosta in Dallas has 3 or 5 leaves, is some sort of white edged green that has suffered a slug attack. (You can argue that I have not looked enough.) I've never seen a hosta in Dallas that would incite me to buy a hosta.

They make wonderful potted plants. They come back every year and are beautiful. They don't take much work, just water them and fertilize occasionally. They are pretty from May, at the latest, to the end of July. If I'm really good about watering and fertilizing, they will last longer.

You take what you can get. The hostas don't get as big. They don't last as long, but they are still gorgeous.


    Bookmark   September 9, 2010 at 11:06PM
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aahostas(z5 central Il.)

In theory,
By placing a hosta in a smaller pot ,when the roots fill the pot it will encourage top growth. a potting method practiced by Growers and labs. The idea of putting a TC in a 5 gallon pot is that it will just sit there. Re-potting and teasing the roots will encourage new growth. I have witnessed this myself. If a hosta is too low in the pot it can get crown rot if subjected to too much moisture and lack of air circulation.. If caught early enough Southern Blight and crown rot can be put in check with a simple 10% bleach solution sprayed on the plant and the surrounding soil. Even if the plant drops all of its leaves, it will usually start again unless it is a severe case. When I plant a Hosta in a pot in the ground I use native soil and compost and pearlite.When I plant over the top of the pot this discourages settling wich in turn discourages crown rot. As far as size goes... A ten year old Hosta is not a single Hosta, it is many Hostas in most cases. When you transfer an older Hosta that has been in the ground simply thin out some of them to fit the pot. You can tell a mature division because it can easily be pulled away from the crown and usually doesn't even require a knife. A 15 gallon pot would require a lot of effort to dig in. I have put some 10 gallons in and it took half a day to dig in my clay soil. I have not lost a single hosta in a pot since I began this practice several years ago. Maybe you do sacrifice a little size, I don't know, but it is well worth the comfort in knowing that they will be back next year unless the constant worry steals this from you..Then, are your Hosta a source of pleasure or constant worry? I choose answer one...As Frankie says "RELAX"..:>


    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 10:03AM
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Thanks, everyone, for great insights into the issue of hostas in pots. You have all been most helpful. One question>>>>
Coll_123 used the word 'drawstinging' to describe a problem that may be caused by exceess water and fertilizer."
I am not familiar with this term. Would you explain what a hostalooks like when it is affected in this way? Thank you.
From CapeHorn

    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 10:18AM
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aahostas(z5 central Il.)

It looks like it has been pulled with a drawstring. I have seen it happen with Hostas that have a thin white margin and a green center. It is caused when the inner leaf expands faster than the margin. I kind of like the look myself. Some Hostas have the look without a cause .See Stetson or Cowrie. In the HL.


    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 12:06PM
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Yeah, I've decided I can sacrifice a little size now that my small garden is getting pretty full anyway. I do like the look of mature leaves, though- the size, texture, pebbling, etc. That I don't want to lose. I'd rather have them in the soil, but if being in the soil means that a nasty little vole can come along and eat all the roots while I'm not looking, then the pot is looking like a better option.

My soil is not hard to dig to accomodate a large sunken pot because all the soil is was brought in for my raised beds and it's very loose because I made sure not to walk all over it. The loose soil also makes it easy on the voles, from what I gather. Denny, you don't find that your container potting mix gets too compacted?

Today I repotted two hosta that were bought last year (and never planted in the ground. Lakeside Ripples and Lakeside Cha Cha. About the same size right now. LR was in a nursery pot within a larger ceramic pot with some mulch at the bottom of that pot (unintentional). The roots were way, way out of the drainage holes when I lifted it and I had to cut it out of the pot. Cha Cha had a tiny root system by comparison and the soil seemed like dense mud. I believe that one was left in last year's Miracle Grow and Ripples was potted earlier this Spring in my looser mix. So either one is just a better grower, or the looser mix really allowed the roots to go wild. Not sure which is better for long term potting?

CapeHorn, I don't know how to post pics on this board but drawstringing is when the center of a leaf grows faster than it's light margin, resulting in leaves that look as if they had a drawstring around the edge of the leaf that got pulled. My Barbara Ann did that last year and it looks like bkay's did it too, from that pic. This year Barbara Ann was ok for me, but Tom Schmid did it to some extent (not bad), and Blue Ivory had terrible drawstringing. So I plan to not water any of my blue leaved ones with white margins in the Spring from now on.

    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 12:22PM
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Thanks, Coll_123 for explanation about drawstringing. I have observed the condition in my own hostas but never realized that it had a specific identity or cause. Great info. Thanks!

    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 1:41PM
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aahostas(z5 central Il.)

The container plants do not get compacted. I use pearlite to ensure air circulation and prevent compaction. I did not admit that the hostas are smaller I just said "maybe" for the sake of simplicity. The leaves and the height and the rugosity are not affected by growing in pots.It is just a matter of physics that a 10 foot wide Hosta won't fit in a 12" wide pot.A ten foot wide Hosta isn't a hosta it is a group of many individual ones. Lakeside Cha Cha is an excellent grower so that would'nt explain the small roots. Roots that grow in heavy soil are much rope like with less small feeder roots.Hostas grown in lighter soils such as commercial mix have thinner but much more complex root systems.Commercial mix is notorious for shrinking and decomposing. That is why I use the natural soil instead.

What am I ? chopped liver? :)


    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 2:28PM
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Being smaller may have to do with our climate. I have a Sum and Substance that is several years old. The leaves are, at the most, about 12 X 9, but the hosta database says 18 X 15.

I grow in pots above ground, not in-ground. I would think that would make a difference. I didn't realize you were talking about in-ground pots. I've never done that. Although I have thought of double potting them (1 pot inside another) so I could have them in my beds and bring them out of the ground in the winter to get more chilling.

I would go with with Denny says, he's the pro.


    Bookmark   September 10, 2010 at 5:49PM
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