As one of the stalwarts of the shade garden, hostas can grow for years or even decades with little attention. If the plants have an ample supply of water, which is key to successfully growing hostas, they will multiply into handsome clumps that can reach an impressive six feet across, depending on the variety.
However, this characteristic of permanence can be a challenge when it's time to transplant a hosta. For a variety of reasons, you might have to dig, divide and move a hosta: when the plants have outgrown their location, when 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 or not to transplant a hosta is worth consideration for jumbo varieties especially because they might 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 a 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 that secondary place in the garden.
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 have completed their active growth for the season and are preparing to enter a winter dormancy phase.
You might 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 emerge and unfurl 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 destroys the foliage, if the ground hasn't frozen, the roots will continue to acclimate to their new surroundings.
The second best time to transplant a hosta is in the spring as the new shoots are just beginning to merge. 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. However, there are two downsides to transplanting during the spring. First, the digging might 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 recovered from transplant stress before the heat of summer bears down, plants which might have already lost some rootstock to the digging process.
Transplanting in spring is a better choice than doing so in summer because in summer the plants might be stressed from high summer temperatures, lack of moisture, and could be struggling to support leafy growth.
How to Transplant Hostas
It's D-Day: ready your shovel and your back. The first step is to prepare the new planting hole before you remove the hosta from its current location. You don't want the plant to linger in the yard like a fish out of water and expose its roots to sunlight. Add a few shovels of compost or leaf mold to the new planting hole but don't over-amend the hole: the hosta must be able to acclimate and flourish in the native soil.
Once the new planting location is ready, follow this process to dig and transplant your hosta:
- Choose a cloudy day after a rain or water the plant to make digging easier.
- Insert your spade straight down around the plant, making a ring around the entire plant.
- Next, angle your spade toward the plant and begin to pry it upwards. You will get an idea of the size of the root ball as you pry. The more rootstock you can preserve, the better your plant will adjust to its new home. If the root ball is large and heavy, this task might become a two-person job.
- Lift the plant from its hole and knock off as much soil as you can to make the move less burdensome.
- If the plant is mature and quite large, use your spade to divide the plant into more manageable pieces. Save the pieces of hosta you plant to transplant and gift extra plants to friends and family.
- Place the hosta in its new location, making sure the crown is level with the soil surface.
- Backfill the hole with the soil you had removed from the planting hole, and tamp down to remove air pockets and ensure good soil to root contact.
- Spread a two- to three-inch layer of mulch around the planting area to maintain soil moisture and reduce weeds., Be careful that the mulch does not touch the plant stems.
After Transplanting a Hosta
Now that the hosta is in its new home, water the plant thoroughly. A deep watering will reduce shock and also help foster good root-to-soil contact. Continue to irrigate when natural rainfall isn't sufficient. You'll know after one growing season whether or not you provided enough care for your newly transplanted hosta. Neglected plants will return with fewer shoots in the next growing season while well-maintained plants will resume normal growth habits.