Re: top dressing Hosta
Helen, after watching people mulch hosta for many years in Michigan/Illinois/Wisconsin/Minnesota with problems if NOT removed early in the spring, I can also attest to local East Coast folks who throw mulch on everything: some hosta clumps will grow through it but most suffer and perish.
I think remembering the peony bud idea probably helps explain: if there is too much resistance, the plant uses too much energy to get out of the ground and to the food production cycle of leafing out. Another way of saying 1" too deep and no flower, ever. You know what I am referring to?
If you need to mulch hosta for cold weather/ drying wind conditions, try to remove it just as the hosta growth points are starting out of the dormant clumps.
I have fun getting out in early March and checking the early ones like Chinese Sunrise. Once the sharp points emerge from the dormant crowns, I began taking all dead leaf debris and leftover soil mulch off to eliminate any problems. Lots of work because you can also have winter heave even with big clumps that go through the multiple freezethaw ccycles.
But I have also rescued poor old clumps from under 2-4" of mulch, from several years of well intentioned as well as cosmetic mulching, to find the plants severely stunted and deformed.
I know that Bob Solberg and many Southern gardeners with summer heat stress/moisture issues use mulch for different reasons - I have limited experience with summer mulch, since I water when necessary.
Always a tradeoff between how much time you have to baby your young plants and the knowledge that the 10-20 year old clumps never had mulch and do just fine.
My wife Lois, who didn't have the early hosta growing experience of our family, would often comment on the fact that all the landscaping services here in Delaware yearly heap 2-4" of mulch on all flower beds for cosmetic and weed control - then a couple of years later come in and revamp the beds where most of the perennials have died. After a few times watching this cycle she realized that mulching is not as efficient as it may seem!!! Good for the landscaping business - not really for gardeners, however.
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