Preparing hostas for winter

This past weekend, Wes and I were finally (finally!) able to get out and complete some much-needed yard work in preparation for the cooler months ahead. Mainly, we (Wes) were able to clean up the blowing leaves, trim back the hostas, and trim back the peonies for winter.

As you can see, we’ve got lots of hostas around our home. We love them; in the summer, hostas are one of the most easy, low-maintenance plants you can get. They require very little attention, and they look fantastic. All. Summer. Long. We’ve been fortunate this year in that our hostas looked good well into October. Each year, we take care to cut them back before the snow flies, and so far, our methodology of how to prepare our hostas for winter seems to work (each year they come back stronger).

If you’re wondering how to prepare hostas for winter, here are a few tips:

  1. Trim the hostas back after the first frost. Try to do this before the leaves of the hostas get too wet and start to rot. Using shears or scissors (I used scissors), cut the hostas back and remove the leaves. I usually leave a good 3 inches or so on the stem.
  2. Dispose of the old leaves. For some reason, hostas seem to be attractive to slugs and snails. By trimming back the leaves and properly disposing of them (don’t leave them laying in your garden), you remove any protection or ‘home’ for the slugs. I’ve also heard from several avid gardeners that leaving a small bowl of beer out in the garden around your hostas is a great way to rid the garden of slugs and snails.
  3. Make plans to divide your hostas. Typically, gardeners recommend dividing hostas every few years. I was extremely fortunate, as all our existing hostas were gifted by our generous neighbours. Our hostas are coming into year four, and Wes and I need to decide which varieties we’ll divide next Spring. Dividing hostas is best done in the Spring.

Some people may choose to cover their remaining hostas stems with mulch; I’ve read mixed reviews on this method of preparing your hostas winter. In the photo above, you can see how Wes and I leave our hostas for the winter. We don’t cover them with mulch, we don’t do anything other than trim them back and get rid of the old leaves, and so far we haven’t been disappointed.

Any other tips you use for preparing hostas for winter? I’m interested to know!

garden gardening gardens Hope’s How-To hosta plants hostas outdoor living plants preparing hostas for winter

Q: This is the first year I have grown hostas. Is there anything special I need to do to get them through the winter? Also, should I take off the dead leaves now or in spring?

A: Most hostas are very tough and make it through our winters easily. There really is nothing you need to do to help them survive. As for the leaves, you can take off the dead leaves now or in spring, it really does not matter. I actually like to leave mine in place because they serve as a marker for where the plant is located.

Q: What a joy it is reading your column every Saturday! Thank you for all your great advice. My question is about scarlet runner beans. I grew them for the first time this year after hearing from so many friends that they grow quickly, produce well, and are very tasty. I’m afraid I must have done something wrong or planted them incorrectly because they were anything but tasty. They were the toughest beans we have ever grown. What have we done wrong?

A: Thanks so much for your kind words. I doubt that you did anything wrong with growing your beans. The problem is likely when you harvested them. This type of bean has the pods get tough and stringy very quickly, so the tip is to harvest them when they are still young. Pick them when they are small and you will be able to enjoy them.

Q: I have a problem with moss growing along a bed next to a north-facing fence. I was told to lighten the soil by adding coarse sand. Is this a good idea?

A: Infestations of moss are associated with low fertility, poor drainage, too much shade, soil compaction, wet conditions and poor air circulation, or a combination of these factors. Contrary to popular opinion, low soil pH is seldom responsible for moss invasion. Here are some suggestions to keep moss out of the bed:

– Improve drainage: Soils that are constantly wet because of poor drainage should be contoured so that water will drain away from the wet areas of the bed. Adding the coarse sand may improve the drainage, but if there is a lot of clay under the topsoil the bed may still not drain well.

– Add organic matter to the bed: Compost can help improve the fertility of the soil and eventually aid any drainage issues by helping to break down the clay.

– Improve air circulation: Low-branched trees may be the cause of poor air circulation as well as dense shade. Consider pruning if possible.

– Fix the growing conditions: You can use a moss-control product on the area and it will kill the moss, but if you don’t correct the growing conditions it will come back.

Q: I planted three Elijah blue fescue grasses in my rock garden last year, and while they grew OK they did not look very good in the heat of the summer. In fact, there were more dead stalks of grass than healthy ones. What is the problem?

A: Part of the problem is the fact that this grass is hardy to zone 4, so while they may grow here they might not look their best. You can prune the grasses in the spring using a pair of sharp pruners. Cut them back to three or four inches in height. This pruning will encourage new growth, and they should look a little better when the summer comes.

Q: I read your column faithfully and save every one of them. Thank you for all your help over the years. My question is about watering. When should I stop watering my birch trees?

A: Thank you for your kind words. Most gardeners feel that the growing season is over when the fall arrives and stop watering. In reality, watering in some of your plants for the winter is very important for their survival. You should be watering your trees and shrubs (and especially birches and evergreens) from October through until they freeze up. Water deeply by placing the hose at the base of the tree and let the water trickle out slowly over an hour or two. This will allow the water to penetrate deeply into the roots.

Gerald Filipski is a member of the Garden Writers Association of America. E-mail your questions to [email protected] He is the author of Just Ask Jerry. To read previous columns, go to

Step-by-Step guide to overwintering hostas and other perennial plants.

University studies show that hostas need at least 30 days of temperatures about 42 degrees or lower AND the longer the cold dormancy the better. (See this study from Auburn University). If they don’t get a cold treatment, they will lose vigor year after year and eventually die out.

Different regions of the country have different growing characteristics (soil pH and type, temperature and temperature extremes, wind, sun). Check for information online or contact your local hosta society, extension agent or university if you have more specific concerns about plant overwintering needs in your area. Here is our Hosta Society Links Page – find your local society here!

What to do when overwintering perennials

Observe “microclimates”

Specific areas of your garden may have different “microclimates” that vary from the rest of your garden because of sun, soil, moisture, freezing, wind, temperature, and competition from roots from other plants.

Please carefully observe the different areas in your garden for yearly trends – some places can get warmer or colder faster than others, or perhaps you know there is a prevailing wind usually coming from one direction that could dry out plants. If you’ve had renovation/construction done and added soil fill, that area may react differently than your surrounding soils.

Watch out for pests

Certain regions of the country have area-specific pests – voles, moles, gophers, etc. that can eat your plants and their roots during the winter. There are traps, baits, and sonic or other disruptors to discourage predation by rodents and other pests. Learn more about Hosta Pests.

Plan for unpredictability

The climate seems to be more unpredictable in recent years – not only from season to season but within the same season. Try to prepare for the worst extremes of temperature and precipitation/snow.

Pots are not containers

Pots and containers often require different overwintering. See our Info Page on Containers for more information on overwintering pots and containers – there are a few different ways to try for the best outcome.

Consider each plant’s genetics

Geranium ‘New Hampshire Purple’

Based upon the genetics of the plant, the needs of the plant can vary. We try to offer the most comprehensive information we can; if you are worried about a particular plant, do some research into its history, area of origin, and species lineage – this will help you to predict how it will react to environmental changes.

Hostas with plantaginea and lancifolia lineage are more sensitive to cold. Growing zone and species lineage are big factors in determining the needs of your plant – see our Additional Information tab on our individual products’ Buy Pages and Plant Information Pages for information on growing zone and species lineage.

Snow is good!

Remember that snow is a good insulator. More plants die in the winter when there isn’t enough snow. So if you see snow cover your plants entirely, don’t worry – think of them as hiding in protective snow forts for the winter!

What NOT to do when overwintering perennials

Be careful what you use for mulch and how much!

As an example, do not put a foot of wood chips over plants and in particular new plants. This is heavy, will compact, and will trap moisture and make it hard for the plants to ‘breathe’. The roots can and will rot in a wet, low air-flow environment.

The best mulches are leaves, straw and other easily biodegradable materials

They’re light and breathable while offering protection from temperature fluctuations; they provide air pockets that insulate your plants.

Wood chips are more suitable for around trees and established woody perennials

They are also heavy and difficult to move each spring; it’s a better idea to use them in a more permanent way as weed control around (not over!) established plants instead of seasonal winter protection. It’s very difficult for any plant to force its way up through wood chips every year – your plants might come up warped or not at all. Plants that don’t die back to the ground every year and keep some woody stems above ground are not as bothered by wood chips.

Do not leave plants in containers outside standing alone

They might dry out, freeze and die. Huddle them up and tuck them in! See our Info Page on Containers for help overwintering container plants.

Heucheras and Heucherellas are evergreen

Heuchera ‘Forever Purple’

This means they keep their foliage through the winter. You can leave their foliage alone, though they will still need some winter protection, particularly the species that are adapted for more southern and warmer climates – the Heuchera hybrids with sanguinea and villosa species in their lineage. The species lineage information for each variety can be found on their pages on our website.

Don’t underestimate the pests

Do not underestimate the damage voles, moles, etc. can do, even to pots in your garage! Covering your containers with hardware cloth, cage-like mesh tops, etc can help keep them out of your pots. Traps, baits, and disruptors are also available to discourage them. For more information on voles and other pest problems see our Hosta Pests Page.

Don’t uncover your plants too early in the spring

Late frosts and freezes can do significant cold damage! Plants that thaw and refreeze and thaw again are likely to have the most problems. Beware of areas that get quite a bit of sun in the winter- they may especially need mulch.

What you should do for most of your perennials

Preferably wait until a hard freeze to cut back MOST of your perennial plants. Although gardeners may rightfully disagree, we believe it is best to remove dead foliage from the ground in the fall as it eliminate places for slugs, voles and moles to hide, reduces the chance of plant diseases and fungi and prevents raking in the spring when tender plants might be coming out.

Mark your plants with markers that stay in the ground and together. Remember the polystyrene plant tags you get with our plant or through other sellers can become brittle and break due to cold temperatures or come out of the ground. Make a map of where your plants are located or get better markers. If you’re looking for sturdy markers that stay in place, why not try our Ideal Garden Markers?

If you use a powerblower or rake, remember you might remove your plant markers and lose the identity of your plants.

Make sure plants have been watered in the fall.

Cover first year plants with one or a combination of the following:

  • 6″ to 1 foot of straw.
  • 6″ to 1 foot of leaves. Oak leaves are preferred as they are curled and thus do not lay as flat as other leaves and don’t break down as quickly. The air pockets serve as insulation.
  • Leaves in a plastic bag. Place bag directly over the plant(s). The bag will keep the wind from blowing the mulch around AND make it easier to clean in the spring.
  • As the picture below shows, a bag laid sideways with a thick but not excessively heavy layer of leaves works best. Stake and/or tie down to keep in place.

Remove bags/mulch once all danger of a hard frost is past, ideally before their leaves unfurl in the spring.

What you should do for your tools, etc.

Drain irrigation systems, hoses, power washers, sprayers as the moisture can freeze, expand and break them.
If you have an older house, your outdoor faucets/spigots may not be ‘frost-free’ and will need the shutoff valve closed inside the house and then the faucet/spigot opened and drained.Clean your tools and oil them to prevent rust.

Bring chemicals or liquids inside where they won’t freeze or have their chemistry altered/spoiled. Make sure all containers are sealed or placed into plastic bags and sealed.

Update any written notes you have made – about what you did well last season, what you can do better, (fertilizer, water, etc) specific plant needs, what new varieties, colors, textures or heights you may wish to add to the garden next year.


To purchase perennial plants: Hostas, Heucheras, Heucherellas, Peonies, Astilbe, Tiarella, and other Shade Companion Plants and Sun Companion Plants

How to Winterize Hostas

hosta image by Fotomaniac from

The winter months of the year bring extreme conditions to landscape plants. The constant care of summer gives way to intermittent care during the fall. Hostas need protection from freezing conditions that penetrate deeply into the soil. Frost heaving, lack of water, and little sunlight affect the growing environment of the home landscape. Learning how to winterize hostas begins with proper care throughout the growing season. Planning ahead to protect these beautiful foliage landscape plants increases the chance of survival during the winter.

Allow the hosta foliage to die off naturally as winter approaches. The leaves nourish the rhizomes (roots) beneath the soil.

Apply a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch over the crown of the plant before the first hard freeze occurs in the fall. Extend the layer outward to the dripline (edges of leaves) of the plant. Hosta generally doesn’t require this mulch layer except during severe winters. This mulch layer retains moisture in the soil to benefit the hosta roots.

Water the hosta once a month during the winter months. Pay particular attention to the plant during long periods of little rain or snow. Apply water to the plant below the leaves directly into the soil bed in a light trickle for 10 minutes. Hosta cannot tolerate soggy or overly wet soil conditions in either summer or winter.

Pull the mulch layer back in the early spring to allow the new growth to have access to light. Failure to remove mulch from the immediate growing area may cause the plant center to rot. Clip away any remaining dead foliage using pruning shears.

Abundant beauty with little effort.

Hostas are so low maintenance that they actually require very little care. However, there are a few things that you can do each autumn to keep your hostas at their optimum health.

Limited Fall Care for Hosta Plants

If you are making your list of fall chores for the year, you may be wondering what to do – if anything – with your hostas. You’ll be happy to learn that hostas require very little care in the fall. They are probably one of the lowest maintenance plants in your entire landscape.

After fall’s first hard frost, you should cut back the entire plant to the ground. Some gardeners have a difficult time cutting their plants back so drastically. Don’t worry though; you will have beautiful plants again in the spring.

Prevent Hosta Disease

Once the dead leaves are removed, they should not be composted. Destroy the dead hosta leaves to prevent the spread of disease. Another tip to avoid the spread of disease, such as Hosta Virus X, is to disinfect any tools you use to trim leaves and spent flower stalks from one plant to the next.

Hosta Virus X shows up differently in each type of hosta.

  • Most commonly you will see blue or green spots on light colored leaves.
  • Leaf tissue looks lumpy and appears to have a different texture than the rest of the leaf.
  • Occasionally you will find deformed leaves with brown spots as well.
  • Darker hostas will have a bleached appearance.

Some hostas will show no symptoms at all until long after being infected. For more information about Hosta Virus X, read the news release from Iowa State University.

Discourage Slugs

The foliage on your hostas will die back in the fall, so you typically won’t need to begin slug control methods until spring. There are several ways to cut down on the slug population around your hostas, including the following methods.

  • Remove the dead foliage to keep your hostas healthy. Slugs love to make their home in the dead foliage so removing it as it occurs goes a long way toward discouraging them.
  • Diatomaceous earth is also an excellent slug barrier when sprinkled around your hosta plants.
  • Place shallow dishes of beer around your garden in areas that slugs tend to frequent. Slugs are attracted to the beer but they cannot get out again and drown.
  • You can use commercial slug bait, but it is not the best way to get rid of slugs because you can accidentally poison pets and other animals with it.

Mulching Hostas

Mulching is always a great way to conserve water and insulate roots from extreme temperatures. Weeds are also kept at a minimum when you use mulch in your garden.

If you choose to mulch your hostas, be sure to keep mulch away from the stem of the plant. Mulch lightly, only using an inch or two, to discourage pests from making a winter home.

Some gardeners mulch over the entire plant once it has been cut back. This can be helpful in areas that have warm days and cold nights because it keeps the soil at a consistent temperature. When the ground continually freezes and thaws in the fall, the hosta roots tend to work their way out of the ground. Exposed roots are unhealthy for hostas because they can dry out or even freeze in the winter.

If you decide to mulch over your hosta plants, use pine needles to prevent slugs and other pests from taking up residence there.

Dividing Hostas

Just as fall is a great time to divide and plant many of your favorite plants, hostas can be divided in the fall before the first frost. Be sure to do it early enough so that newly planted hostas have time to establish themselves before the ground freezes.

The method is easy:

  • Dig up the hosta plant and cut it into divisions with a sharp knife. Be sure each section has a crown and roots, and don’t forget to disinfect the knife before moving on to the next plant.
  • Plant your divisions in a hole that is twice as deep as the as the root section. Add any soil amendments you may need, such as compost, and then mound the soil in the middle of the hole. the hosta roots will grow down over the mound while the crown stays at soil level.
  • After replanting your divided hostas, water them well.

You can also divide your hostas in the same manner during early spring just before the new leaves unfold.

No Fall Fertilization

Fall care for hosta plants does not include fertilizing, unlike many of your other landscape plants that benefit from the extra nourishment for their roots as they prepare to go dormant in the winter. Hostas do need fertilizer; however this chore is most effective in the spring when they need a balanced (10-10-10) fertilizer for that extra boost.

So Little Effort for Such Beauty

Fall care for hosta plants is very simple. With very little effort, you will be rewarded with beautiful plants to enhance your landscape when spring returns.

Hosta Winter Preparation – What To Do With Hostas In Winter

Hostas are shade loving, woodland perennials that reliably come back year after year with very little care. While they are easy going plants for the most part, some simple hosta winter care should be undertaken in the fall. Keep reading to learn more.

Hosta Cold Tolerance

Prized for their color and texture, hostas can be grown in USDA zones 4-9. In these zones, the hosta growing season ends when temperatures dip below 50 F. (10 C.) at night. Hostas in winter go into a kind of stasis and this temperature dip is a signal to the plant to become dormant until temperatures warm in the spring.

All hostas thrive when subjected to freezing or near freezing temperatures during their dormant phase. The number of days or weeks varies depending upon the cultivar, but chilling promotes earlier emergence and better all-around growth. At this juncture, it is time for some hosta winter preparation.

Winterizing Hostas

To begin winterizing hostas, if necessary, keep supplying them with an inch (2.5 cm.) or so of water per week throughout the fall. If you have been fertilizing the plants, stop feeding them in late summer or they will continue to produce leaves. These tender new leaves can make the entire plant, including the crown and roots, susceptible to frost damage.

As nighttime temperatures drop, hosta foliage will begin to dry out and fall over. Wait until the leaves have fallen over before continuing with any hosta winter preparation. Why is this important? The leaves are needed post-bloom to produce food for the next year’s growth.

Further Hosta Winter Care

While there isn’t much that needs to be done for hostas in winter, the foliage should be trimmed back. Once the leaves have fallen naturally, it is safe to cut them. Use sterilized shears (sterilize with a half/half mix of rubbing alcohol and water) to prevent fungal infection or rot.

Cut the leaves all the way to the ground. This will discourage slugs and rodents as well as diseases. Destroy the cut leaves to prevent any possibility of spreading potential diseases.

Mulch the hostas with 3-4 inches (7.6-10 cm.) of pine needles to protect the roots from cold temperatures. This will even out the differential between cooling and heating each day, which can interrupt the necessary chilling period.

For hostas that are potted, bury the pot to the rim in the soil and cover with mulch as above. For hostas in zone 6 and below, mulching is unnecessary, as temperatures stay well below freezing through the winter months.

Lori Walter

Winter is coming soon, and I was wondering if my hostas would winter well in their containers. The temperatures fall to -35 degrees F on some days, but we live 11 stories from the ground level. They are planted in large containers. Do I need to take any of the plant off, or will they be all right as they are? I would appreciate any help you can give me in this area.

Gwen Gibson, Winnipeg, Canada

Dear Gwen,
Hostas planted in the ground are very hardy and generally will come through even a bitter winter without problems. However, since yours are planted in containers, they would probably benefit from some winter protection. The larger the container the better, as the greater mass of soil will not be as vulnerable to freezing solid. Containers less than 24″ x 24″ x 24″ will probably freeze solid, and the plants may be damaged. First, remove any dead leaves. After the soil surface has frozen, cover it with a three-inch-deep mulch of wood chips or other organic material. Lay evergreen boughs (these are free and in abundance right after the holidays) over the mulch to stop it from blowing away and to trap Nature’s insulating mulch — snow. Extra snow can also be piled on top, if it is available. If your containers are small, you may also want to wrap them in insulating material or move them to a protected place.

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