green variegated hosta

Hosta Care In Fall: A Complete Guide To Caring For Hostas in Fall

Hosta care in fall doesn’t have to be complicated or time consuming. After a frost or two, when your hostas begin to turn yellow, it’s time to give them a little TLC before winter. Continue reading below to learn everything you need to do in the fall to keep hostas healthy, full and perfoming their best, year after year.

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hosta that has turned yellow in the fall
Hostas turn yellow and gold in the fall, and can be trimmed back after the first hard freeze

A hosta for everyone

Hostas, or plantain lilies, are staple perennial plants in northern gardens, and for good reason. They’re drought tolerant, easy to care for, adaptable to both sun and shade, and they come in over 3000 different hosta varieties. This means there’s a variety for every garden!

From miniature versions less than 5 inches tall to large hosta stretching over 8 feet wide, hostas come in many shapes and sizes. Hosta foliage is found in both solid and variegated varieties, and in late summer, hosta flowers form on spikes that reach above the crown of the plant. The tiny blooms on the flower stalks of hostas are so pretty dancing in the breeze! The flowers can also be found in pink, pale blue, white, cream and both lavender or purple. Some hostas are also fragrant, and they’re a wonderful way to brighten up shady areas.

green hosta and hands applying mulch around hosta with shovel in foreground
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Where do hosta grow best?

Hostas grow best in USDA zones 3-9 (find your hardiness zone HERE), and there are varieties for areas from full shade to full sun. Be sure to choose the right variety for your landscape to help them perform their best. Most hostas prefer morning sun that transitions to a shady area in the afternoon. Too much sun can cause leaves to burn and turn brown. 6 hours of sun, preferably in the morning, is best for most hosta varieties.

Hostas are drought tolerant once established and benefit from a light application of organic matter (compost) in late spring or early summer.

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Hosta care in fall

Although hostas require very little care and maintenance, you may be wondering what to do with them in the fall. There are a few simple things we can do for hostas in the fall to be sure they’re healthy and looking their best come springtime.

Dividing hostas

Hosta plants benefit from occasional dividing. They have clumping root systems, and this root system can become overcrowded with time. Dividing is also the best way to form new hosta plants, as hosta seeds don’t grow into true versions of the parent plant.

hosta with crown rot and dead center
Hosta in desperate need of dividing and replanting. The center crown has rotted, and only an outer ring remains. This ring can be divided into several smaller hostas.

Early fall is a great time to divide hostas into individual plants. The weather is cooler and the increased rains help new roots to grow and establish themselves before winter. Hostas can be divided up to several weeks before your first frost (find your first frost date HERE)  

To divide your hosta, dig the entire plant, including it’s root ball, out of the ground with a large shovel. If your hosta has grown relatively large, use your shovel to dig up one section at a time. You can use your shovel to slice through a clump of hosta roots, separating it from the rest of the plant. Then, take a sharp knife and cut through the crown from top to bottom. In a pinch, I have cut hostas into separate plants with my large shovel. Precision doesn’t matter here, as hostas are very forgiving!

Once you have divided the hostas and separated the crowns, simply replant them in a partially shade area and keep them well watered until frost. You can also give them a bit of starter fertilizer to encourage new roots to grow.

Note: the smaller the clump after dividing, the less likely the hosta will bloom the following season. Try to keep several buds together in each new plant if you’d like your hostas to bloom the first year.

When to cut back hostas

When cold temperatures arrive, hostas begin to turn yellow and start looking pretty rough. After the first frost, the leaves die back for the season. Your once green and lovely hosta plants are now a sad looking pile of yellow, wilted leaves. 

hostas turning yellow after hard freeze
Hosta after a frost. The leaves have begun to turn yellow, and the hosta in the background is wilted and turning brown. Both hostas can be cut to an inch or two above the soil line.

Gardeners are split on whether best practice is to leave hostas in place, or cut them back in the fall. There’s no right or wrong answer here, but I personally prefer to cut mine back. It makes the garden look tidier, there less chance of pests and diseases hanging out in the soil, and it’s one more way to begin the next gardening season with a fresh start.

How to cut hostas in the fall

1.      Wait for the first frost. Before cutting hostas down in the fall, wait until after the first frost. After frost, when the foliage has died back about 25%, they are ready to be cut. Before this happens, the plant is busy storing energy from it’s leaves into it’s roots for the winter. Using garden shears or sharp scissors, cut the hosta leaves to ground level. 

2.      Remove the dead foliage. After cutting the plant down, remove the leaves and dispose of them with your yard waste. Pests and diseases can remain on a plant’s foliage over the winter, and you help keep these under control by removing the old leaves.

3.      Add a layer of mulch. Hosta crowns can be sensitive to extreme cold. Adding one to two inches of mulch helps to insulate your hostas and prevent them from frost damage. It also helps to keep them in winter dormancy during the occasional spring warm up. Spread the mulch over the crown of the hosta. Next spring, when new shoots emerge, remove the mulch from the base of the plant to prevent crown rot from excess moisture.

hosta after trimming back in fall
Hosta after trimming away dying leaves in the fall. This can be done after the first frost.

Additional Hosta Care Tips:

Should I fertilize hostas in fall?

Hostas should not be fertilized in the fall. Fertilizer encourages leaf growth, and leaf growth should not be encouraged at a time when leaves are dying back. In fall, hostas are focusing their energy on storing nutrients in their root system to survive the winter. Fertilizer is not needed for this process. The best time to apply fertilizer to hostas is in early spring.

How can I prevent deer from eating my hostas?

Unfortunately, deer think hosta gardens are their own personal salad buffet. Deer love many garden plants, but hostas are one of their favorites. Although there is no way to completely prevent deer damage to hostas, I have found that Plantskyyd works in my own garden to deter them. It works for rabbits, as well. I spray the liquid on the plants in the evening, allow it to dry for 24+ hours (it will leave a reddish stain on your plants at first) and then I rinse away the excess. Do not over rinse. I wash away just enough to remove the staining.

Leaving it on the plant for at least 24 hours helps it to “stick” to the plant, and keeps it from washing away with each rain. I do this once per month, and the deer have mostly learned to keep away from my hostas. I still receive the occasional nibble, but I don’t lose my entire hosta collection overnight.

Is plantain lily the same as hosta?

Hostas are known by several common names, including plantain lily, hosta, and hostas, Plantain lilies are shade loving perennials, know for their attractive foliage and elegant flower stalks.

How do I care for hostas during the spring and summer?

Caring for hostas during the spring and summer is one of the easiest tasks in the garden. Be sure to keep your hostas watered well until they’re established, and then provide water during dry spells. Hostas are shade lovers, so you may need to transplant your hostas to a shadier spot if you notice them turning brown or crispy before the end of the season. For additional hosta tips, The Spruce has a great article on caring for hostas.

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hostas in containers with watering can
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Hosta Care In Fall: A Complete Guide To Caring For Hostas In Fall

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