Transplanting Hostas

Hosta Gardening

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As one of the stalwarts of the shade garden, hostas can grow for years or even decades with little attention: as long as the plants have an ample supply of water, which is like fertilizer to hostas, they will multiply into handsome clumps that can reach an impressive six feet across. However, this characteristic of permanence can be a challenge when it's time to transplant hostas. Sometimes gardeners need to move their hostas, because the plants have outgrown their spot, or a new patio installation is happening, or it's moving time and you don't want to leave a favorite variety behind. What happens when you start digging up a plant that has been marking time in the same spot for years?

Should You Transplant a Hosta?

Hostas are tough plants, but in response to a stressful event like transplanting, they will exhibit a passive-aggressive reaction like your least favorite co-worker or frenemy. That is to say, they won't do something bad, like turn brown and die, but nor will they do much to increase their beauty and value in the landscape either. The question of whether to transplant a hosta is worth consideration for jumbo varieties especially, as they may pout in place for several years before resuming their slow march to maturity. The best reason to transplant a hosta is to save its life (in the case of hardscape installation) or to take it with you when you move to a new home. Another good reason is to move a hosta from a bad growing environment, like a sunny spot or the dog's favorite barking/napping zone. Otherwise, it might be wise to leave a healthy specimen in place and purchase a new plant for the second garden spot.

When to Transplant Hostas

The best time to transplant a hosta is in the fall, while air temperatures are cool and soil temperatures remain warm. In late September, hostas are done with their active growth for the season, and are preparing to enter a winter dormancy phase. You may tear a leaf here and there when digging up a hosta in the fall, but it won't damage the beauty of the plant, because new leaves will grow in the spring. When you disturb the roots of hostas in the autumn months, they have a window of time in which to recover and adjust to their new home before the ground freezes. Even if a frost or freeze knocks the foliage back, as long as the ground hasn't frozen, the roots can continue to acclimate to the new surroundings.

The second best time to transplant a hosta is in the spring, after the new shoots have broken through the surface of the soil. Plant metabolism is slow during this time of cool soil and cool air temperatures, allowing plants to recover faster from the insult of digging and moving. There are two downsides to transplanting during the spring: First, the digging you must do may damage one of the unfurled leaves, causing a tattered appearance for the remainder of that growing season. Second, you are racing the clock to get plants over their moving stress before the heat of summer bears down on plants, which may have already lost some rootstock to the digging process. However, spring transplanting is a better choice than summer transplanting, when hostas are forced to use their roots to find a purchase in a new home while also struggling to support all of that leafy top growth.

Spring Hosta Emerging Shoots
Peter Moons / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

How to Transplant Hostas

It's D-Day: ready your shovel, and your back. The more rootstock you can preserve of your hosta, the better your plant will adjust to its new home. Prepare the hole in the new spot before you remove the hosta from its old place. You don't want it to linger in the yard like a fish out of water. Add a few shovels of compost or leaf mold to the new home, but don't over amend: The hosta must be able to flourish in the native soil.

Choose a cloudy day after a rain, or at the least water the plant to make digging easier. Insert your spade straight down around the plant, making a ring. Next, angle your spade toward the plant and begin to pry it upwards. You will get an idea of the size of the rootball as you pry. If it's large, the removal may become a two-person job. Lift the plant from its place and knock off as much soil as you can to make the move less burdensome. Place the hosta in the amended hole, making sure the crown is level with the soil surface. Tamp the soil back around the plant carefully, and top with mulch.

After You Transplant a Hosta

Now that the hosta is in its new home, water the plant thoroughly. This will reduce shock, and also help foster root-to-soil contact for every root. Continue to irrigate plants when natural rainfall isn't present for the rest of the growing season. You'll know after one growing season whether you provided enough care for your newly moved hosta. Neglected plants will return with fewer shoots in the next growing season, while pampered plants may begin to resume their slow expansion.