'Up-Potting' - Jes What Is That All About?

hostahillbilly(4)December 8, 2012

For the about 20 years I've been a hostaholic's bubby I've always been curious about the whole 'up-potting' thingy.

It seems that is is 'common' knowledge that it is proper and 'right' to start little plants in little potYe bigger pot, then again to an even bigger pot, then YEt again to YET another bigger pot, and EVENTUALLY to their final resting ground in a garden.

Sooooo, what's up wid all that root aggrivation?

As an experiment, without my wife's knowing it, I planted my first 'approved' Hosta bed by sticking them in the ground right out of the pots, without doing all the spread the roots out, remove all the original soil, and so forth.

I just laid out the bed, made holes about the size of the pots they were in, and dropped them in.

Now a few years later, these are big, bad, mean, overdoing the area I thought I'd planned for mature ones to occupy.

So, what the heck is all the fuss about disturbing the roots of plants to up-pot them.
I'm just so DUH about this. Perhaps I was just dumb lucky with the few dozen Hostas I've just 'dropped in'? Wouldn't be the first time, and hope it's the last.

Now the 'scientist' side of me wants to inquire about why so many folk do all the 'up-potting' routine?

I'm thinking that it may be an 'ol' wives tale' kind of thing, sorta like that Hostas are 'shade plants', but as so often in the past, folks in higher USDA zones are fond of reminding me that Hostas I can and should put in full sun would puke in their gardens.

So, does anyone want to go hog-wild about the seemingly crazy practice of disturbing Hosta roots several times to 'up-pot' them?

Let's let this be a 'fire-away' thread, no holds barred. Old school 'it's always been done', please say if you know why. Dumb lazy why should I do it if it works to not, like me, well, ummm, dare we question wisdom?

Don't get me wrong, I think I appreciate the wisdom of age old experience, but then again, there are 'ol wives tales', and there are reasons for such ol' common sayings (to be 'safe' and 'PC' and recognizing my life experiencing, I'll admit and recognize that there are just as many 'ol 'husbands' tales'/


What's up with 'up-potting'? Is there a real explanation for this common practice?


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Babka NorCal 9b

Yes. And this is from an old wife...who killed a lot of hostas by putting them in too large a pot at first. IF YOU GROW THEM IN POTS, you need to begin small and progress to larger...slowly. The reason being is that the soil in the pot can easily stay WAY too wet and become "sour". That means rot. IT is a POT thing.

Growing them in the ground is different.

OBTW, I don't disturb the roots when I POT Up a size. I just plop that sucker into a 1" larger POT with roots still formed into a POT-like shape.

Enough POTs?????? * Big Smile*


    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 2:30AM
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ilovetogrow z9 Jax Florida

Babka has got it right. I am a 'pothead'. Have been one all my life and I would not know how to grow otherwise. When I get an order in then I start to plan my pot size according to the root ball. 1" (one inch) is all I go larger. It does not sound like much but it is all they need. And do not get too fancy with the design of the pot as you will have to get this gal or guy back out. Use a plastic pot inside the designer pots.

As far as disturbing the roots I let the root ball decide that. If I got it and the roots have been circling the bottom for a while I will loosen somewhat. If I get a liner I do spread them out a little as they seem to grow in all directions even up. Otherwise I pretty much leave them alone. I have a belief that the less traumatic it is for the plant the better.

I also believe pot head hostas do not get set back by the move. They go in established and do not have to reset up home base. Have a great grow day, Paula

    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 7:58AM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

IT is a POT thing.

==>>> and she wins the gold star for the day ...

though i will qualify it a bit ...

its all about how water moves thru the MEDIA in a pot ...

we all should have seen a perfectly potted hosta.. the roots grew laterally ... to the edge of the pot ... and then down the side of the pot ... and when the roots try to escape out the bottom ... its time to up-pot ...

with this type of perfect plant.. we can un-pot.. spread the roots.. plant.. and be done with it ...

we have all seen the plants.. wherein.. you wonder how it lives.. due to the roots filling 90% of the pot ... it seems there is no media in there.. to even hold any water ... we have seen the same .. with in-ground plants.. when you move a big one .. but that is mother earth.. and we arent talking about that ...

i once asked falstad about this ... as walters gardens has a bit of experience in growing things in pots .. lol .. and his simply answer was that it was all about the dynamics of how water moves thru a potting MEDIA ... conversely.. how the MEDIA is engineered to allow the movement of the water ...

i have also seen large pots.. where you water it.. and the water pools and then runs straight down the sides.. and out the bottom ... and this is usually when the pot is too big for the plant ... and when you break the MEDIA apart ... you find the center is bone dry .. and again.. that is a failure of the MEDIA ... to allow water to flow.. evenly.. thru the whole pot.. or root mass ...

which means.. over time.. media fails.. it is not permanent.. so anytime.. you can flush out old media .. by up-potting.. you are doing things in the right direction ... this falls in line with babka claiming the soil is sour ... which i mean to read .. again.. the MEDIA is failing .. in this case.. to drain properly ... and again... its tied up with too big a pot with too small a plant ... its like if they work together.. pot/media/plant.. it works out.. the plant using excess.. etc ... but when the plant it too small .. the whole equation becomes out of whack ...

what.. did i miss the whilst????


    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 8:30AM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b


I know some peeps that keep new plants in pots for 2 or 3 years before putting them in the ground. Is that what you are talking about? I think they do it just to have larger plants to put in the garden. I don't think it's a cultural benefit to the plant.


    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 8:33AM
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gardenfanatic(MO zone5b)

Not sure if this is what you're asking about, but spreading the roots out is more necessary with plants that are root bound in the pot. When the roots have been growing in circles in the pot, if you plunk them in the ground like that without either nicking the roots or spreading them out, they'll most likely continue to grow like that without spreading into the surrounding soil. This is true of any plant, not just hostas.

This isn't just "something I heard", I've seen it for myself. I've plunked rootbound plants into the planting hole without doing anything to the roots, either because I was in a hurry, or just forgot. When dug up a few years later, I was shocked to discover the roots were still in the shape of the pot they had been in.


    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 1:32PM
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gogirlterri(5 IL)

gardenfanatic: That has a lot to do with the soil you plant in. I lived in Rolla for a while and plunking them in the ground is just like putting them back into the pot because of the hardpan. I wonder if a larger hole with looser soil would have worked better.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 1:50PM
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bernd ny zone5

I learned from dwarf conifers that you want to plant in the soil it will grow into over the years. Therefore, plopping a hosta growing in a pot with a well draining mixture into a clay soil will probably let the hosta drown, or the hosta will never bother to grow into the clay because the potting mix it is in right now is so nice.

Also you do not want to plant tight root balls, with some roots girdling the crown. Roots of those plants I will untangle and then spread. But if after buying a conifer or bush I discover a tight rootball I am not able to untangle, then I slit the outside of the rootball vertically in 4 places before planting.

Therefore, after I have amended the soil as we should do for hostas and the soil mixture of the pot with the hosta is about similar, and the roots are not tightly knotted, then I plop it into the hole too.

    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 2:30PM
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gogirlterri(5 IL)

I have scored root balls also, 4 per ball and believe new root growth wil develop outwards from both sides of each cut. I would like to hear others experience.
I feel if you don't score the outer encircling roots the center of the crown will not compete and suffer. I only upsize one pot size though-from say an 8" to a 10" on any kind of plant. I suspect on young nursery hostas it doesn't make much difference whether the plant is rootbound or not and you should be able to up-pot a new bought plant-then leave it or plant it in the ground the next year.
I am a 'cadet hosta pothead' though and haven't earned rank yet!

    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 2:56PM
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ken_adrian Adrian MI cold Z5

i had 1650 potted hosta in the big move ...

here i have basically beach sand ...

i simply tipped them out of the pots .. and stuck the POTTING MEDIA root mass into rototilled sand...

12 years later.. i can still see the fairy circles.. EXACTLY the size of the pot ... and anyone who has visited.. wil have seen the tutorial of me sticking my hand dead center of the fairy ring.. and pulling out a clump of dead hosta crown and peat media ...

the sand.. wicked ALL moisture out of the peat based media in july/august ... and if you dont know.. once peat is dry.. its nearly impossible to rewet ...

the key was that WIDELY DIVERGENT SOIL VS MEDIA.. is a killer ... if your soil is close to potting media.. you win ... if not.. unpot.. and plant in native soil [i am not going into the personal hell known as CLAY SOIL in this post.. lol]

because in my case.. if the hosta was vigorous enough to grow out of the media.. they thrive just fine in the sand.. given enough water ... but again.. it was the divergence of soil types ...


    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 3:10PM
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Babka NorCal 9b

I was (am) under the impression that a cut hosta root won't branch, and that it only grows from the root tip. Can anyone confirm that? Makes at lot of sense to untangle them and spread them out when they go from a pot to the ground rather than scoring them as you would do with other plants.


    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 3:30PM
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Steve Massachusetts Zone 5b

You are correct, Babka. The following is from Bob Solberg on Hosta Physiology.

Monocots have fibrous root systems while dicots have netted root systems. A hosta root grows from the tip. That is why there are only a few roots in the pot that seem to circle around and around. If they were stretched out, each one would be quite long. An individual root can live for 3-4 years. Breaking or damaging these roots during transplanting will stress the plant until it can grow more roots at the next flush of growth. Dicots with netted roots form new and branched roots when the roots are cut. Root pruning is a positive for dicots. Monocots with long, generally unbranched roots, are not as efficient as dicots in extracting water and nutrients in the soil.>


    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 5:53PM
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gogirlterri(5 IL)

Thank you for straightening it out for me. It's best to learn it now while I'm still a 'babe in the woods' and haven't destroyed any hostas yet - I don't think!

    Bookmark   December 8, 2012 at 7:00PM
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I have no actual 'pot's,just some half whiskey barrels,and a couple of chimney flues that I grow hostas in. I always tease out the roots of any root-bound hosta I buy,and believe me I've seen some doozies! I never cut the roots of any plant,whether hosta,or not. I have to take exception on what Bernd said about planting in clay soil. All we have here in western Carolina is red clay,and everything grows very well in it! Although I have to qualify that statement by saying,my soil has been amended for years from falling tree leaves,so it is not exactly just hard red clay. That's what I do,and I'm stickin'to it! Phil

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 11:04AM
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Hmmmm, well, I have some of the larger containers and the hosta are new planteeeeees. So what I've done is put more than one hosta into those larger containers. I've teased out some looooong roots, and those hosta are the ones which wound up in the smaller diameter but deeper pots. As time goes by, I shall be removing the burgeoning hosta from the communal planting, and if I am lucky, they shall be the ones that go into the soil.

I got one hosta, a Venusta, which arrived with one rather fat but single 3 inch long root. I was really worried about it, and put it in a small container. I babied it for about three weeks before I realized....it died. I could not believe someone had actually shipped me such a bad looking hosta. Live and learn. It wasn't the pot.

I really don't have enough money to put all my hosta into containers that are "too big" for them. But I love large containers for large shrubs that will create some shade for my hosta. Perhaps by the time spring arrives, I'll have a few requiring new or larger pots. But I think not. If any come up smaller than they were when originally planted, I'm leaving them as they are. However, would you believe that in my pot moving this fall, I discovered some roots peeking out the bottom? Now, those dudes may have to be given deeper pots. It's going to be neat to see what happens, my first real spring with hosta EVERYWHERE. .....wheeeeeeeeeeee

    Bookmark   December 10, 2012 at 5:36PM
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Howdee all,

First, sorry but I forgot, I guess, to check the box about having post replies emailed to me, so I had no Idee of all the great, yet wildly varied, responses to my original post.

I've been going through a 'divorce myself from 'normal' computers' phase, trying to live on just a smarty-pants phone, and doing quite well I might add, though not without considerable effort, and this is one of the thingies that creeped under the radar.

Overall, after perusing the many and appreciated thoughtful responses to this post, I believe that 'the jury is still out'.

I think the many responses address so many issues regarding this topic that we all could try to further clarify the issue.

Thanks to all of you who took the time and effort to share your thoughts on this topic, as it's one that has roots (sorry, heheheh) deep in Hosta and plant-dome that I still feel deserve further careful investigation.

I now see a check-box below to receive posts from this thread and will check it!

I have a few other 'saved-up', perhaps controversial topics I'd like to, when I think I have finally composed a careful enough subject line, try out here. I'm thinking northern hemisphere winter may be a good time to go to discussion mode from woo-hoo pic posting mode, waddayuall think?

A fellow hostaholic,


    Bookmark   December 12, 2012 at 11:52PM
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gogirlterri(5 IL)

hh-absolutely right! Winter is the time to learn from others and the in-season the time to 'prove', or 'practice', what we "think" we have learned.
Isn't it strange that it seems all gardening and hosta publications seem to have a list of hostas that do well in pots, but offer no explanation why some don't?

Should this be another subject?

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 8:21AM
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Hmmm, Theresa, I had no idea that some did not "do well" in containers, that might be the issue with a few which quickly faded away on me. Then, others did swimmingly well.

I was thinking HH was referring to hosta from seed, and upping the size regularly. I forgot that HH also has some hosta in containers.

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 11:50AM
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gogirlterri(5 IL)

moc-I like to believe that any hosta will do well in a pot, if we provide the right conditions. Is anyone interested in collaborating with me in writing a book on growing Giboshi in pots? Does no one in Japan read this forum? I feel this must be a Japanese specialization.
With my families lack of success with Great Expectations in the ground I am gong to try to grow it in a pot. It is a gorgeous hosta. How can one not adore it when it is prospering. Another new posting: growing GE in pots?

    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 6:17PM
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Babka NorCal 9b

Yes, Theresa, I agree that any hosta will do well in a pot(with the right conditions). Many hosta growers grow hostas is pots, and have for years. In fact it is so common that they will mention "field grown" as a plus, sometimes!

I don't believe that it is a Japanese specialization. Out here in CA, EVERYTHING is grown in pots at nurseries. Trees come in 36" tubs if you want a big one. The only things I've seen being "field grown" anywhere near here are fruits/nuts grapes and veggies.


    Bookmark   December 13, 2012 at 10:54PM
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gogirlterri(5 IL)

babka-I was thinking along the line where in Japan people can be given the honor of being 'Living National Treasures' and are supported by the government to perform and teach their heirloom specialties. The Bonzai horticulture is one of these I believe. I can see where Hosta Culture could be one also, being native to Japan, and be a 'potted' horticulture because land is so scarce.
Could you imagine being paid by the government for doing nothing but raising hostas in containers? I could think of worse things.

    Bookmark   December 14, 2012 at 8:12AM
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