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Re: Fall planting

  • Subject: Re: Fall planting
  • From: "Bill Meyer" <njhosta@hotmail.com>
  • Date: Thu, 23 Sep 2004 13:01:18 -0400

Hi Chick,
     I don't know of any reason to hold plants in pots for the winter rather
than planting them in the ground. They do seem to survive better even in
raised beds. If I have anything valuable still in a pot come Fall, I plant
it in the ground. Since I don't have a greenhouse to store potted plants in,
many do not do well over winter. Plants that are pure sieboldiana/tokudama
do the worst. My losses in the ground are usually the result of a vole,
Southern Blight, or frost heaving. The only advice I could offer is to step
the plants in firmly before frost and check them again for heaving during
the winter.
     The roots issue is the interesting part. Hostas make clearly different
roots depending on what they are growing in. I think we've all seen that.
The ones grown in very light "Southern" mixes that are all pine bark and air
make the most dramatically different roots. While it varies by cultivar and
species background, they all adapt their roots to what they find themselves
in. If you are going to make a dramatic shift in a hosta's growing medium,
the effect will sometimes be dramatic. Going from a very light mix to a
heavy soil will actually kill some hostas and cause others to be set back
      As this usually happens during the spring planting season, what I
think happens is similar to taking a plant that was in deep shade and moving
it into full sun. With that, the leaves usually burn off within a week or
two. If you start plants early at warm indoor temperatures then they make
soft thin leaves that usually burn off by midsummer. With roots, the same
thing happens with some plants. The huge mass of fine roots produced in
light mixes is so poorly adapted to a heavy garden soil that they are nearly
worthless. Some plants will shed these roots and start making new ones that
are better adapted and this causes the plant to be badly set back. Other
hostas seem to be able to keep those roots, so I guess those are not quite
as specialized.
     Changing the soil in the late Spring season forces the plant to adapt
during the time it is trying to make it's growth to build itself up for the
following season. If it has roots on it that won't function in the ground,
it has to halt its normal progression and start building functional roots. I
think this is what's happening to a greater or lesser degree when you
transplant at the time you are buying most hostas.
     So back to Fall planting, I think it actually works better than Spring
planting from what I've seen, but I haven't really experimented with it. I'm
thinking that once a plant has made new roots in a potting mix, it does
better if allowed to go through the season with that mix. By Fall, those
roots aren't so important because the leaves are about finished and the
roots don't have to keep supplying them with water. Next Spring, if the
roots are badly adapted to the soil, the plant can put up fewer and smaller
leaves in tune with the roots' ability to supply them. I think this is what
happens when newly planted hostas come up the second year small, but put up
bigger new growth in June. By June the plant is making roots that are
well-adapted to the new soil, so it can make big leaves and supply them with
water much better.
                                                 ..........Bill Meyer

> I always get a few questions this time of year about how late you can
> plant hostas.  I usually give some standard advice about a month before
> the first hard freeze or whatever, but it occurs to me that I don't know
> why there should be any reason not to plant as late as you want.
> With our plants anyway, which are all grown and shipped in containers,
> and if we don't sell them, survive perfectly well sitting in pots all
> winter in frames, why do they need time to adjust to planting before
> winter?  They're essentially dormant, or will be before they can do much
> in their new site anyway, so what's the danger in planting them the day
> before the ground freezes?  It seems to me that any changes involved in
> going from pot to ground are all to the plants benefit, assuming that
> they are planted in well drained soil - more insulation for the roots,
> less variation in moisture level, and there is probably less freezing
> and thawing below the soil level than there is in pots. Since we have
> very few losses in pots over winter, which seems like a much harsher
> environment, why would it be risky to plant late?
> I suspect that the vast majority of losses over winter are caused by
> voles or poor drainage leading to crown rot.  Seems to me that would be
> just as big a problem the second winter as the first, so what difference
> does planting time really make?
> Comments and opinions are invited.
> Chick
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