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Tips from George Schmid

Folks, we had our March Hosta meeting yesterday here in Atlanta and George
Schmid shared some information about caring for hostas that I thought I'd
share with everyone. The information below was a handout at the meeting
reprinted with George's permission. Hope you find it useful. Please note
this information is being provided to southern gardeners.


Simply put, hostas are at home in colder and wetter weather. In their native
habitat, they receive between 60 and 80 inches of rain each year. That
compares to about 48 inches in Atlanta. In the past few years, a continuing
drought has decimated our hostas. The main reason was a lack of rainfall.
Our drought officially began in 1998. In May of that year we already were
4.6 inches below average and our hostas started suffering. May 1998 until
May 1999 left us with a deficit of 12 inches and the following May-to-May
period added another shortage of 15.2 inches. That is almost 32 inches total
deficit and the worst part was the paucity of rain during the spring growing
season. Just as the hostas were fully leaved out, the rains stopped for
three consecutive spring seasons and not much rain fell during the
subsequent summers. Here is what happens to the hostas:

1. Spring growth is supported by the food stored up in the rhizome during
the previous year. After the plant is fully leaved out and about the time
the flowering stems develop, new roots grow from the rhizome to supply the
food required for next year's growth cycle. An early to mid-spring drought
period curtails or even ends the development of new roots and the food
deficit initiates an imbalance. Fewer fully developed roots = less available
stored food = a decline in the size of the rhizome.

2. Continuing lack of water during the hot summer months further increases
this imbalance and parts of the rhizome are sacrificed to maintain the
current top growth. This results in exhausting the food reserves stored
there and in much less available resources for next years growth. The
exhausted parts of the rhizome usually die and wither or rot away. That is
why your plants diminish in size during this time.

3. Multiply this lack of spring rains by the three years and many hostas
will simply disappear. Many gardeners have seen their hostas dwindle in size
and eventually fade into oblivion. During this drought cycle not only the
lack of water but also the high summer temperatures contribute to their
demise. In many cases in mid to late summer the leaves turn yellow when the
plant shuts down to preserve some of its viability for next years growth, if
there is any left.

Here are a few suggestions. If the rains stop in mid spring, use trickle
irrigation or soaker hoses to maintain soil moisture. Sprinklers waste water
and irrigate many areas that do not need water (like driveways, walks and
non essential areas). Deep watering will let new root growth to develop to
its maximum. Dry soil during spring growth initiates a growth imbalance with
less roots being able to generate food for future growth. Also feed with a
slow release fertilizer during this period. When the really hot weather
develops during early summer, put as much water on the hostas as
restrictions will allow. Their large leaves transpire al lot of water!
Forget about your fescue lawn. It will go dormant anyway and hot weather
grasses like Bermuda can stand a lot of dryness. The hostas can not.
Different areas in your garden may have more or less watering requirements
so test the soil often to see how dry it is and water accordingly. Hostas
(and many other plants) can stand a lot of heat as long as they have enough
moisture to balance their growth. The new roots will grow and develop until
August and cutting off the scapes to keep seed from developing helps
maintain food reserves. Remember, the worst thing that can happen is little
or no rain in May and June. Try to help out by supplying the equivalent of a
least 1 inch per week. Your hostas will thank you and no longer wither away
and die.
                    W. George Schmid

Lu (Atlanta, Zone 7B)

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