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Get your hosta divided before it’s too late!

A healthy hosta of this size, still in the "point" phase, can yield up to a dozen new ones. John Zvirovski / The Sun

One of my favorite plants in the shade garden just happens to be the hosta. They come in all shades of green, blue, yellow and variegation. They can be dwarf in size only reaching up to 6 to 8 inches in size to over 6 feet across in some of the largest selections! There is a variety of plant types to fit any space within the garden. Their versatility alone is enough to hook me for life!

During this time of year, they are just coming up as points that will begin to unravel into the full and large leaves in which hosta are so well-known. Some are earlier than others of course.

One of the most common questions I get with hostas is when is the best time to divide them? Well, the rule of thumb is the same as with many other perennials; once the center begins to die out and creates a ring of healthy plant material, the time is right. Another sign is when the plant has become so large that the time is just right to bring it back down to a manageable size. I have found some varieties need dividing more often than others and then there are some that rarely need dividing as it takes them so long to establish.

As with most perennials, I choose to divide them in the spring. I know it is a busy season, but I just have better luck with things coming through a winter if they have an entire growing season to root in and become established. I hate going through all of the work and then not succeed!

For hostas, the best time to divide in spring is when the leaves are still in the “point” stage and haven’t uncurled yet. They are easier to lift and they are easier to divide without damaging the leaves. Once the division is made and the new clump is placed back into the ground, the leaves will unroll evenly without looking like it was divided that same year.

When lifting your hosta, especially if it is an old or large one, be prepared to put forth some effort as this is not always an easy task. Established hostas have quite a thick and large root system. Not only large, but they are fleshy, thick and filled with moisture, creating a great deal of weight when lifting.

First, I select the hosta to be divided. Then I take a sharp spade and cut the soil about 3 inches from the most outer points to cut the roots, but still leaving plenty to keep the plant healthy. Do this around the entire plant and then take a pitchfork to press underneath the plant and gently lift the clump. Once it is free from its hole, it is best to remove as much soil as possible just to eliminate half of the weight and allow you to see what amount of plant and roots you are dealing with for division. If this is an old clump that is dead in the center, it is best to cut the clump in half with a very sharp and serrated knife so you can eliminate the old and decaying portion. Remember, you only want the healthy sections for replanting as these are the ones with the most vigor to survive and create a new plant. You will find when you start taking divisions from a large hosta that you will have more than enough for replacements and even many, many extras to give away.

Always replant the new division at the same level in which it was lifted. The only time I would plant it a little deeper is if the old plant happened to frost heave higher than what is healthy for the plant. Usually the soil should be level with the base of the “point” so no roots are exposed to the air.

Once planted, make sure you water the new division well to allow all the air to leave the root system and allow the soil to settle in place. From this point forward your new hosta is on its own to thrive for a new year ahead.

Often I have seen people move hosta in the middle of summer when they are fully leafed out. Often, after these are lifted and divided and replanted, the leaves are under stress and hang all over the ground never to fully recover. They lose an entire year of looking good and being healthy. In some cases we can’t avoid this, but if we can divide them within the coming week, we will still be very pleased with the results.

Enjoy spreading the wealth of hosta and just watch how one plant can divide into dozens for friends and family alike!

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