Container Gardening for Hostas

by Judi on March 5, 2014

Find tips and ideas for growing Hostas in containers and keeping them over winter. I have included information on soil preparation and container selection as well.

About a week ago I had to get the car serviced and knew it would be at least an hour waiting if not more, so I always take some reading material along and some paper to write things down for this newsletter.

This time I took a Hosta Journal along, which in February of this year, was really a stretch because we have had so much snow and cold this winter, that it is a long time until we will see any Hostas emerging from any frozen tundra!  I had taken a Hosta Journal along that is a publication of the American Hosta Society and has the very best Hosta information!  Well, by the time our car was done I was almost ready for spring in reading all the good articles on planting and growing Hostas.

I was at least very enthused about planting Hostas in containers.

I have had Hostas growing in pots in previous years on a trial basis, and have had good results and have kept them over winter in a cold garage….very cold, about the same temperature as outdoors. (I say this, as we built a new garage a year or so ago on to the house, and even though it isn’t heated, it never gets below 45 degrees and that isn’t cold enough for hostas to freeze and have the rest they need.)  In the garage they are out of the elements, but the soil stays frozen until proper growing time in the spring.

I have read and heard from others that it is possible to leave the pots out in the garden, but you have to tip the pot on its side so that water doesn’t sit in the pot with the freeze/thawing temperature fluctuations and also to get the pot out of the winter winds. (I would not try this with anything that cost over $20.00!)

It is also a good idea to put them in a corner where it is more protected.

Hosta Choices for Container Gardens

With growing Hostas in containers I stick to the older more aggressive varieties such as Krossa Regal, Gold Standard, Sagae, Regal Splendor, Halcyon, Liberty, June, and the Green Montana Species. These are just a few off the top of the list that would work good. Sum and Substance is a stunning Hosta in a pot too! Praying Hands is a gorgeous one for pots, as it is upright growing and looks quite elegant. You can also find a few more design ideas for perennials here.

Soil Quality is Important

Soil is very important and it needs to be well drained!! (Much of this is for winter so the soil isn’t water logged and you end up with root rot.) Use a general purpose mix like Miracle Grow. It has good drainage and excellent moisture retention and are relatively inexpensive.

Fertilize the pots in the spring and through the growing season with a slow release fertilizer Osmocote. Stop the fertilizer by the end of July.

Hostas or other perennials in pots need to be watered more often or course, as the soil will dry out faster, especially if the pot is smaller than 16″ in diameter. However, with Hostas you would put them in at least partial shade, so that is not like a pot of petunias in full sun that needs daily watering.

How to Plant Hostas in Containers

All of what I have read on growing Hostas in containers, says that you pot them about like house plants, in that you use a pot about 1″ larger than the root ball. This means that you probably have to re-pot them next year into a larger pot, if you want the plant to stay looking good, but this is the general consensus.

For about 3 years I had a Krossa Regal Hosta in a 12 inch pot and it did seem to do okay.  It was a small plant when I put it in to try the process out.  The end of the 3rd growing season I took it out of the pot and the whole soil ball was full of little fiberous roots reaching out for moisture and food.  I really didn’t see the nice full roots like Hostas are supposed to have.  This was all before I knew that the pot should be larger size and that they needed fertilizer in the summer!, well duh, and that the pot was too large for the plant I put in.

Each year in the spring, take the plant out of the pot to see if the roots are root bound, and if so, loosen them and trim them if needed, and add more soil to the bottom of a larger pot and the sides and a couple more inches on the top. This article also has some tips for dividing and transplanting hostas.

And, then you are ready to go for another growing season. (You may also plant the Hosta back in your perennial bed in the fall if you don’t want to keep them in the garage over winter.)

Once the weather warms up to the 40’s and 50’s the hosta will start growing and you will be able to see the small new leaves coming up out of the soil level. So start bringing them out a few hours each day so they get used to the new weather conditions. This may all sound like a lot of extra work, but unless you have many pots, it is only a few to move each day.  The new shoots are tender and if it gets below 30 degrees at night, will get frost bite and that will damage the leaves.

I don’t water any of the pots during the winter, as the soil is frozen and they are dormant. I will water in the spring in March or early April if I see some growth, but only about half a cup. The spring of 2012 that was warm so early I watered two or three times as everything started growing, but it was way too early to move them out of the garage before towards the end of April.

Container Gardening has long been around in yardscapes, but has become much more prevalent in the past 10 years or so. And, putting perennials in pots is really gaining in popularity too, as well as the usual annuals.

Selection of Pots for Container Gardening

These days you can purchase large pots at nurseries that are all color coordinated, or you can improvise and use what you might have around your home and garage. Anything that holds soil and has a drainage hole can be used as a carrier for a plant! Vintage items are very popular as planters, both for annuals and perennials.

I like to use vintage strainers as they have plenty of drainage. I put in a piece of landscape fabric in the bottom of the strainer, and then add the soil. I roughly cut it to size and then cut slits in it too, so that it will  fit in the rounded shape and then trim off the top after I add the soil.  The landscape fabric will keep the soil in the container.

I have two very large 20″ vintage strainers that are a type of metal that look real good with trailing vines hanging from them. All of these of course need a lot of water with it draining out so fast.
Colanders and strainers are real good for succulents and Hen and Chicks to be planted in, as they like dryer conditions.  I also will put these pots in the garage over winter.  You don’t have to for Hen and Chicks, but they do seem to do well out of the elements.

I have purchased enamel cooking pots too and drilled holes in the bottom for drainage. They many times have handles to help carry them to different areas of the landscape.

I hope these ideas have helped get you in the spring mood, even though today, March 3, it was a minus 15 degrees in the a.m.! That is very unusual even for zone 4, however, maybe not so unusual, as my sister mentioned that in 1962 they moved on March 1 and it was a minus 26 degrees that morning! Sure glad I don’t have to move!

Happy Gardening! (Or at least dreaming of gardening!)

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