Growing hostas can be very satisfying for a gardener – they’re beautiful, hardy, and grow in a variety of climates. But sometimes, these perennials can grow enormously large, which is when you start thinking, “Maybe I could split this plant to fill in a different spot!” This, of course, is called “dividing”, and it’s a relatively simple task for any gardener and one that I have done countless times in my own garden, over the years.
Hostas are tough and will survive division just about any time you do it, often without much wilting at all. However, hostas divided in the spring or summer often fail to make handsome garden plants until the next year. They’ll show signs of the inevitable damage to buds or leaves all season, which is why the end of summer (at least a month before your first frost) is the ideal time to do this job. The plants will have ample time to develop new roots before winter and will unfurl unblemished leaves in the spring.
To divide a hosta clump, begin with a shovel or spade, cutting all around the clump then prying it from the ground with a digging fork. Shake off as much soil as you can, then move the clump where you can rinse all the soil from the roots with a hose. Removing the soil makes it much easier to see where you could make your divisions with minimal damage to leaves and roots.
Start by dividing the clump in half. If the hosta is a spreading variety, it should be fairly easy to pull apart by hand or to pry apart using two digging forks back to back. If it’s the sort that makes a tight crown, use a knife to cut down into the crown from the top. Be sure to steer clear of the large stems and don’t cut so far that you slice off roots beneath. Once you’re nearly through the crown, you’ll be able to pull it apart.
If you want more divisions, rinse away the soil in the exposed center of the plant, and divide the pieces in half. Proceed in this way until you have the number of pieces you want, right down to single shoots. As you work, cover the divisions with a damp cloth to keep the roots and leaves from drying. Replant the divisions immediately.
How many divisions should you make? Well, hostas are among the few perennials that are happiest and look best if never divided. So if you’re dividing the hostas to develop a new planting scheme, divide the clumps into just two or four pieces so the garden will have a finished look in a year or two. Single-shoot divisions can take several years to regrow leaves of full size. I have a five-year old clump grown from a small piece whose leaves are only half the size of a mature specimen planted next to it at around the same time. Your smallest divisions, especially the really tiny ones that inevitably break away are best planted in a nursery bed to grow on to full size.
If you take care to do the work carefully, dividing a hostas plant can help you spread the beauty of this hardy beauty to other corners of your garden. And if you need further help doing this work without damaging the plant, check out this Youtube video that features the entire process from beginning to end.