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Re: Hosta Growth

Boy -I go away for two days and my mail box fills up.  Well, since I see there
is a mild debate about pot grown verse field grown Host, I will add my meager
two cents worth. I preface this with this statement 'This is MY experience and
I do not hold it to be absolute' i hope this is enough of a disclaimer.

Pot grown Hosta have better and healthier roots than field grown cut
divisions, But this is not true for many growers.  The reason is the soil they
use in their pots. 
Bark/peat soilles mixes are not the best for root growth. If there is to much
peat the roots are short and stunted, I have received some pretty bad looking
Hosta in almost all peat soils. If one plants these plants in the ground just
as you get them -- you are going to have slow take off.  Hosta are very tough
plants and they will out grow the soil they were in but it might take a few
years. To answer a question "can you kill a Hosta by being too root bound"-I
would say no. Hosta have large roots that will break out of the root mass
after being planted. But if you have the habit of finding root bound plants
and you cannot break apart the root mass. Plant 2 inches deeper than what the
soil level is for the pot, this will force new root growth near the soil

To clarify a point-what I mean by potted plants: I am talking about trade one
gallon sized pots or 5.5 inch square pots. The potting soil I use is one made
up of a 50/50 mix of peat and perlite mixed into a very organic fine river
bottom black dirt. 
The soil is 50 percent peat/perlite and 50 percent black dirt. This mixture
works very well - with most of the plants I grow. It drains well, is soft for
two years, and holds moisture well.  Its draw backs are poor nutrient content
(all that organics makes the soil nitrogen poor), I over come this problem
with the addition of a product called NUTRACOT, a slow release fertilizer like
OSMOCOT which is said to be better at controlled release at higher temps. 

The source of the  plant materil makes abig diffrence on your results the
first year. Most wholesellers that sell bare root material dig the Hosta in
the fall and store them over the winter. Or sell them in the fall with the
tops cut off.  These are the plants you find at most retail centers and big
chain stores. They do not have a good root system yet and the foliage looks
stunted and plants are short growing-you might get 4-6 eyes but plants do not
perform well for a year or two. Plants should be removed from their pots and
the soil broken off of the roots as much as you can without breaking the
roots. ( roots do respond the physical stimulation but growing thicker but I
do not believe any one is interested in the physiological reason for this) DO
NOT cut the roots or "root prune" them-no benefit here for the plants. 
OK-what I do when I get these type of plants is cut them up into single eyes
and plant them in the ground for one year or maybe two years.  After this time
frame they are ready to be planted into the pots, I would say that roots grow
a good 30-40 percentage better when planted into the pots, I plant in early
spring all throughout the season. Remember Host put on most of their root
growth at two time periods during the growing season. The first is after the
leaves have expanded out completely in late spring/early summer. The second
time period of good root growth is late summer/early fall.  At this stage the
plants look just like plants that have been in the ground for a couple of
years. The trick is to limit the number of eyes and to promote good root
growth.  The average Host that I take to the markets for sale in one gallon
pots have 12+ inches of foliage. (dependent of the Hosta) and one or two large
"stems." This gives the customer the best Hosta for the landscape this year-it
looks good and will take off and produce many more eyes in the fall for the
next year. 
I know that some people think that the more eyes that a plant has the better
the plant will grow-this is not true.  What you are getting with a short
stunted multieyed plant is a cut piece of rhizome with little roots that has
been stored over the winter and potted in the spring or a plant that is old
and mistreated.
I have some of these things in a bed that still do not have any size after
three years.

When I buy in potted plants they are planted into larger pots right away.  The
trick is to remove ALL potting soil that they come in and plant them in the
Since we are now buying in a lot of tissue culture liners for some of the
newer Hosta, it is a job removing all the potting soil form the roots-but it
is worth the work in your results. When I sell the small liners to those that
do not want to spend money on a good sized Hosta I make sure that they know
that they should remove as much soil as they can and to break up the plug.  If
you plant the plug-as you get it-you will lose time and growth, plus plants
tend to dry out faster than the surrounding soil and do not receive any
moisture when it rains or you water. So break the smaller plugs up without
breaking the roots if you can.

The contrast between potted plants and field grown plants I think can be
broken down into this.
 If field grown plants are shipped as soon as they are dug and they are not
cut up, they will do very well. Not as well as the one gallon grown Hosta of
the same size though. But a lot better than a smaller potted plant that has
been growing in mostly peatmoss. If the plants has been stored over the winter
and shipped in the spring it should grow good roots next summer and fall but
may not have the best looking leaves the first year. But should be nice the
second year.  Those plants that are shipped with the tops cut off or as large
rhizome chunks might take a little more time to establish them selves.  the
most important thing to look for is not the number of eyes but the size of the
eyes and the amount of roots.  If I want a nice Host for the land scape I will
take a plant with one large well developed eye over a plant with 3-5 smaller
eyes.  If I want to have more than one plant I will buy the multi-eyed plant
and cut it up.

What I like about the one gallon plants is that it is like getting the best of
a field grown plant and the complete undamaged root system of a potted plant.
My customers can plant them right in the ground the way they are and they will
take off.
But more important they will look good the year they plant them.  I have
noticed that in the pots the roots have more root hairs than those that are
grown in the ground.
The roots look different in different soils...I love the long white fluffy
roots that develop in the pots. When a plant is shipped mail order it is
removed from the pot and the dirt is removed.

I would say that half the Hosta I have are in large pots and the other half
are in the ground-and if I had to say which ones do best when planted - I
would say the potted ones easily win. 

This is all my experience- I do not make claims of universality for the
I have not purchased two many plants from other retail growers, the few times
I have I would say that half the time I have been happy with the plants and
the other half I was not. But mail order is a lot of work and expensive so I
take that into consideration.

One product line that has been very popular the last two years are what we
call our "landscaping Hostas" Last year we had August Moon, Gold Drop, Green
Gold and Moonlight offered in two inch pots for three dollars. They were
potted up the year before and were nice plants ... we sold all five hundred
plants in four weeks. So this year I am going to make a strong effort to
produce more of these smaller plants for a low price.  I have two types of
customers-one wants inexpensive stuff and the others want any thing new and
the smaller pots appeal to the people that want inexpensive plants but need
like ten of each.  If you are a grower and have a retail operation I would try
some of the faster growing plants in some smaller pots and find out if you can
generate more sales for those customers that want to buy Hosta but do not like
to spend a lot of money for larger pots. It's been a success for me. 

Paul Henjum
Specialty Perennials
zone 4

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