Tag Archive | Hostas

Battling Invasive Tree Roots

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

When I moved to the country and a home surrounded by beautiful, mature trees, I was thrilled at the prospect of filling each corner and pathway with beautiful woodland perennials. I thought I found my paradise for growing what had become my obsession — hostas. What could be better for growing this tough, shade-loving perennial than towering trees that provided high, filtered shade? So, with shovel in hand, I began digging. In some areas, the soil was a beautiful, rich loam. But, to my surprise, I had difficulty slicing through the ground with my spade in some locations. While the soil was still beautiful, there was a mass of fibrous roots. Despite my concern, I decided to plant my beautiful established hostas that I brought from my previous home.


Within two years they shrank to one-third their size in the new location. The competition from the tree roots was too much for my beloved hosta to endure. Through the years I became accustomed to this battle in certain areas of my yard and have made adjustments with some success. Here are a few tips that will hopefully help if you battle a similar problem.


Container Gardening


Cobalt blue containers make a beautiful counterpoint to the hosta leaves

I have a new fondness for hostas in containers. I am especially fond of cobalt blue containers, which contrast beautifully with the many shades of hosta leaves. I am overjoyed at the results. If you choose to plant hostas in containers, make sure you give
them enough room, keep them well-watered, and after they have died back in the fall, bring them into your garage. I had some hostas double in size in one season using this method. I love placing them out in the garden among other perennials. The added height and color of the containers adds interest and a great focal point.


Where I’m determined to plant hostas in the ground in competitive root situations, I have resorted to planting them in two gallon (or more) black plastic pots and burying them right in the ground. I left several in the ground over winter and they came up beautifully this spring. Obviously, this can eventually limit the size of your plant, so bury as large of a pot as you can and plan to lift it out every few years to divide. There are large pliable mesh containers used in the nursery trade that are coated with copper hydroxide on the inside. The chemical regulates and deters roots growth of the nursery stock planted inside the pot. When hostas are planted in containers that are turned inside-out (so the coating is on the outside), exterior roots from surrounding plants and trees are deterred from penetrating the mesh. Some online forums rave about this method and I hope to trial it this year.

Planting the Right Tree

If you plan on planting a tree with the hopes of beautiful perennials beneath its shady canopy, keep the following good and bad in mind.

The Good: Top picks for friendly tree roots
• Oak – White, Pin, Burr, and other varieties
• Ash – although the threat of the Emerald Ash Borer makes this a futile choice
• Japanese Maple
• Magnolia
• Shagbark Hickory
• Japanese Chestnut
• Ginkgo
• European Larch
• Japanese Tree Lilac
• Crabapple
• Pagoda Dogwood
• Honey Locust

The Bad: Trees with invasive tree roots • Box Elder
• Maple – Silver, Norway, and Red
• River Birch

• Beech
• Hackberry • Spruce

If You Can’t Beat ’em, Join ’em

In some locations in my yard, I have become resigned to the fact that I cannot grow hostas. I have dug them out and relocated them to a friendlier location. Rather than abandon the perennial bed completely, I have found some plants that seem to coexist with those pesky roots. While these varieties don’t thrive, they do well enough to warrant their placement:


• Japanese Painted Fern
• Lady in Red Fern
• Brunnera
• Lamium (ground cover)
• Sweet Woodruff (ground cover) • Perennial Geranium


Give some of these techniques and recommendations a try. I’m still battling in some areas, but I’m determined to win!


The Hosta that Started it All

by OCMGA Master Gardener Tammy Borden

Some people collect figurines; others acquire cars, stamps, coins, dolls or vinyl records. It always starts with one, right? Before you know it, your hobby becomes an obsession.

I have over 100 hosta varieties in my yard today. Yes, it’s time for an intervention. Some of my hostas are highly sought after by hosta enthusiast friends of mine: War Paint, Ice Age Trail, Fried Green Tomatoes, Rainbow’s End, Brother Stefan and many others. Others are not as impressive. Among them is the first hosta plant I acquired with the purchase of our first home more than 23 years ago.


Hosta ‘Warpaint’

Back in the early days of my marriage I didn’t even know what a hosta was, and to be honest, they didn’t seem very impressive to me. “It’s just a bunch of leaves,” I thought. Our first home as a young couple didn’t have much in the way of gardens, but the previous owner did make some attempts in the small strip of soil that bordered the outside of our home. Nestled between a concrete walkway and the fieldstone foundation were tiger lilies, spiderwort, coneflowers, creeping phlox and a smattering of annual poppies that seemed to find their place in the cracks of our sidewalk. The big lanky leaves of that mystery hosta didn’t seem to compare with those delicate blooms. To describe that hosta, I would say, “It’s green.”

With the old home came old trees that towered fifty feet or more into the sky and cast shadows over much of the rest of the property. As my interest in gardening grew, and the sunny spots surrounding my house were filled, I realized my only option was to venture into the shadows and plant shade-loving plants. Back in the day, the only shade perennials available were hostas, so I started looking for those that offered more than the plain old green kind I had. I added ‘Drinking Gourd’ with its blue corrugated leaves, and the massive ‘Elegans,’ later acquiring the stunning variegated ‘Great Expectations’ and ‘Paul’s Glory.’ Hostas began to grow on me, both literally and figuratively, and before I knew it, I had more than 50 varieties. For years, I didn’t know what variety of hosta that first one was, but later learned it was called ‘Ventricosa,’ one of the few hostas that will come true from seed.


Hosta ‘Abiqua Drinking Gourd’

Our first home was over 100 years old and was purchased as a fixer-upper. It lived up to the challenge with its warped floors, outdated kitchen and knob and tube wiring. Like many young, eager couples, my husband and I had a dream of fixing it up in a couple years and selling it for a huge profit so we could purchase the home we really wanted. Needless, to say, it was fifteen years before we finally put it on the market. In that time, many hostas were acquired and many memories made, both joyful and incredibly painful. There was the joyous time with family, the bonding of friendships, the connection between neighbors, and way too many stories about being awoken by the flutter of bat wings in the middle of the night than I care to tell.

And then there are memories of those whose footsteps would never again be heard creaking atop the old maple wood floors, like that of my dad who spent countless hours helping paint the old cedar shake siding, my father-in-law defeating everyone at cribbage after a Thanksgiving meal, and my husband’s mom laughing at a family gathering. That house held so much joy… and so much grief as I recall sitting in numb silence at the kitchen counter after hanging up the phone, hearing of their passing, one by one, to that great garden in the sky. I still hold a place in my heart for that house, despite the toil, expense and even painful memories that it brings back. Now we’re making more memories in a different home, but I still have a piece of that first hosta placed prominently in one of my shade gardens. It’s one of the few original items remaining from that home. Each time I pass by, I’m reminded of the history it holds, the memories it conjures up, and the love that it has witnessed through the years.


Dividing Hostas

by OCMGA Master Gardener Holly Boettcher

HostaThe million-dollar question for serious gardeners is whether it is better to divide your hosta plants in late fall or the early spring. At our vineyard, we have massive perennial gardens which are home to hundreds of hostas. When you see me staring off into space while relaxing in one of the many sitting areas on our property, what I am really doing, is contemplating which hosta need to be divided, and where the gardens will expand into the next season.

From past experience, I have learned it is easier to “wrestle” the plant in early spring, when those tender buds are swelling through the warm spring earth. If I divide at this time, I don’t feel as though I am committing an act of violence against them. BUT, early in the spring, it is difficult to remember what that hosta looked like. You see, I am one of those gardeners who obsess over planting hostas so their colors, variegations, and shapes, will both contrast and compliment those around them.

For that reason, I am with the divide in the fall group! Yes, you will most certainly damage some leaves, and it may seem as though the plant suffered a setback, but in the next season they will “spring back” to put you in awe of the project which you completed.

Here is what you will need to get started:

  • A wheelbarrow, shovel, cutting tool, some organic matter, and water. Start out by assessing which plants need to be divided, then decide where you will plant them. Keep in mind that hosta leaves will scorch in full sun, so be sure to select an area that gets only a few hours of morning sun.
  • Next, dig around and below the hosta being careful not to damage too much of the root system. Lift the entire plant out of the ground and don’t be shy about asking for help if it is too heavy. With a garden hose, rinse as much of the soil from the root system.
  • Now is the time to get tuff. You can take your shovel or cutting tool, and slice all the way through the roots, and divide the plant into one or more sections. If the roots are not too tangled, it is best to pull the sections apart by working with your hands.
  • Next, add the organic matter or compost in the hole and replant one of the sections where you just dug it up. Place the other sections in your wheelbarrow and take to the area you will plant. Dig holes at least twice the size of your root system. Again, add organic matter or compost to the hole, and fill in around the plant.
  • Be sure to water all generously and regularly.Hosta33Another tip when planting is to either plant a “specimen” or in groups of 3 or 5 for an attractive look. If you have room, consider adding some companion plants such as Astilbe, Baptisia, Bleeding heart, Dianthus, or Pulmonaria (lungwort.)Above all, be patient. The hosta may not look very attractive at this time, but after it has had a long winters nap it will emerge in the spring looking as beautiful as ever!

Transplanting Hostas

HostaIt’s spring and those hosta shoots are rapidly emerging and unfurling. If you find that an established hosta is struggling to thrive, feel free to dig it up and transplant it. This is best done in the spring as the shoots are emerging, or in fall as the leaves are dying back. But truth be told, I’ve transplanted sizable hostas in the middle of summer on a cool day with great success, as long as I’ve kept them well watered and they spent minimal time with exposed roots. My rule… if a hosta’s not happy, move it. It will thank you in the long run.

by Tammy Borden
excerpt from the Summer 2009 edition of the OCMGA Newsletter

Posted by Kim

Don’t Throw it Away!

Master Gardeners Judy Miller and Jaime Potopinski welcome you to the garden yard sale at the 2013 plant sale.

Master Gardeners Judy Miller and Jaime Potopinski welcome you to the garden yard sale at the 2013 plant sale.

The lovely weather we’ve had off and on over the past week has inspired me (and I’m sure you, too) to get out and start cleaning out my garage and storage shed.  When you come across those pots, plant stands, bird houses, gardening tools, etc. DON’T THROW THEM OUT!  The Outagamie County Master Gardener Association is a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization, which means that every dollar we make on our fundraising activities is put back into the community in the form of education, community service, education grants, etc.  All of that “trash” that you’re accumulating could be exactly what someone else needs.

At our Annual Plant Sale on May 16, we will be having our ‘Yard Sale’ and need donations to make it work.  Each year we ask our members and members of the community to consider donating their lawn and garden items which, then, represents pure profit that we can use for any one of our many community service projects (for more information about our Community Outreach, visit our website).

If you have items that you would like to donate, you can drop them at the UW-Extension office the day before the plant sale (May 15) when our volunteers will be setting up everything for the sale.  If you absolutely must get rid of things before then, please contact Gail Clearwater or Marilyn Davis (plant sale co-chairs).  Email addresses are embedded in their names so just click on either name to send the email.

Information about the plant sale will be available both on our website and on Facebook.

Posted by Vicki

Determining a Location for Hostas

Hosta GardenIn general, most hosta varieties like a shady spot in your garden. But just like the sun, shade can vary in intensity too. Hostas prefer dappled shade rather than a dense canopy of shade. For example, the filtered light offered by a high canopy of trees is much more suitable than the dark recesses of a low growing evergreen. Some varieties actually prefer some sun, but never the blazing heat of afternoon sun. Some examples that can handle morning sun are the impressive Sum and Substance, On Stage and Gold Standard. A touch of sun allows their beautiful coloration to fully develop. Another consideration when sighting your hosta is the exposure to wind. Because they have such a large leaf surface, hostas are more readily subject to scorching and drying out in an unprotected area. So consider placing your hostas in a sheltered location. This can be done with an existing tree line, companion plantings of shrubs or tall perennials and other natural or man-made wind breaks. Lastly, you may need to consider how much your hosta will have to compete with shallow-rooted trees or shrubs. If you dig your planting hole and discover a mass of competing roots, consider another location for your hosta and choose to plant more shallow rooted, shade loving plants there, like lamium or ferns.

by Tammy Borden
excerpt from the Summer 2009 edition of the OCMGA Newsletter

Posted by Kim