Hostas are a perennial that can winter in the ground, or you can store them in containers. Read on to find out how to store hosta roots for the winter.
Although it’s possible to allow hostas to die off and go dormant outside, it’s possible to store hosta roots indoors all winter before replanting them. Let the foliage die off naturally before using sterilized shears to cut them back. Bring your container into a dark area and allow the dirt to freeze.
I know I was super nervous when I learned how to store my hosta roots. After all, how sad would it be if you put all that work in and ended up accidentally killing them? With a little experimentation and a lot of trial and error, I came up with an easy method to store hosta roots during the winter. If you’d like to try it yourself, take a look at my short guide.
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Avoid Winter Damage
The nice thing about hostas is that they’re very hardy, and they can grow well in Planting Zones 3 to 9. When you plant them in the ground, they can survive a bitterly cold -40°F. Since that’s common where I’m from, I decided to take steps to stop the cold temperatures from ruining my hostas. Winter damage happens when the temperatures start to fluctuate.
This is a bigger problem if you planted your hostas at the wrong time of the year, like the fall. They don’t have a chance to establish their roots. As the ground goes through cycles of freezing and thawing, the ground heaves and forces your hostas upward, and this can let the frost get to the roots. I decided to dig my hostas up and store them in the winter. Fortunately, I found this to be a relatively straightforward process.
Just in case you’re undecided, I’ll let you in on the secrets to storing your hosta roots a few ways.
Storing Hosta Roots in Containers
I’ve found that container-grown hostas store nicely during the winter months, and they’re easy to move indoors. However, you do have to bring your containerized hostas indoors because they get subjected to much lower temperatures and wind chills than the ones in the ground. The temperature fluctuations are also much more extreme, and it’s easier to damage them.
One of the most important things I’ve found is to avoid moisture. Any moisture left will gather on the top of the pots and freeze. When the temperature fluctuates, the water unfreezes and sinks into the root. Do this too many times and you get root rot.
Move your hostas into a shed or unheated garage when the temperatures begin to drop below the freezing mark. Using sterilized shears, cut them off to the soil. Only water your hosta roots lightly if the temperatures get back above freezing and thaw soil is totally dry. When spring comes, set the hosta containers back outside. New roots will start to poke through as it warms up.
If space is a premium in your home, bunch your containers close together in an area that has protection from the wind after you cut them off. I like to put mine underneath the deck, but right against your house’s foundation works too.
Pile shredded leaves or bark mulch over the soil in each container, and make it two to three inches deep over the containers themselves. Along the outer edge, the mulch or leaves should be three to four inches thick. When temperatures warm and stay above freezing, uncover them and move them back to their normal spots.
Dig holes in your yard that are big enough to drop the containers in. Put the containers with your hosta roots into the ground and bury them before it freezes. After the first freeze, pile on two to three inches of mulch. Pile your mulch inside the containers underneath the leaves and continue adding more until the plants are 100% covered.
This stops the water from pooling on the soil inside the containers and causing root rot. In the spring, remove the mulch, dig up the containers, and put them back in their usual places.
How to Store Bare Root Hostas
Personally, I like the bare root storage method. It is more time-consuming, but you have much more control over the whole storage process. As a bit of a control freak when it comes to my plants, this was much appreciated.
When winter comes, cut the tops of your hostas back using sterilized shears. Dig out your hosta’s root mass and hang them upside down in a frost-free, airy space. They’re ready for the next step when most of the soil falls away by itself.
Carefully wrap the unbroken root mass in newspaper. Take this wrapped root ball and place it in a paper bag before putting the paper bag in a dark place. A basement shelf can work well if it’s colder down there. Wherever you choose should have 50% humidity and be 50°F to 55°F.
A second option you have is to cut your hostas back and hang them up to dry as I outlined in method one. Instead of wrapping the dried roots in newspaper, you can bury them in a box of barely moistened peat or sand.
The idea with both of these dry root storage methods is to keep the roots dry and cool so they don’t start growing. The newspaper, sand, or peat protects the roots from nicks and bruising that could lead to fungal infections. Many basements are too warm and moist to safely store these roots, so you’ll have to check on them for growth.
The final method involves digging a small hole that mimics a root cellar. To start, dig a small pit by your house that is three or four feet deep. The bottom should fall below the frost line. Put your roots into this pit and backfill it with straw or loose, dry leaves. Cover it with a board, soil, or a tarp to complete it.
If you’re afraid of rodents, line the pit with a metal garbage can or hardware cloth. Layer in straw, the roots, and straw. Finish it by folding the hardware cloth down or closing the trash can lid. Come spring, dig it up and replant your hostas.
Bottom Line on Storing Hosta Roots for the Winter
Any of the above methods can be used to give your indoor hostas a dormant period. Just choose the method you find easiest to accomplish.
As long as you watch to make sure there isn’t a lot of moisture on your hosta roots or in the soil and store them in a cold enough area, you should have great success in wintering them before getting healthy growth in the spring. I’ve found that your best bet is to try one or two different methods and see which one produces the best results.
This can be a tricky process, so taking shortcuts reduces your chances of success. Root rot is much more likely, or your roots could sprout and mold. To avoid this, try to use the materials we outlined and keep a close eye on the moisture levels. Ideally, they’ll survive storage, and you’ll have healthy and gorgeous hostas come spring.