Will Hostas Survive Winter in Pots?

Hostas (or plantain lilies) are shade-tolerant plants beloved for their aesthetic appeal and versatility. Many home gardeners even cultivate them potted, as that way, they’re still able to grow and thrive while requiring minimal space and maintenance. In spite of their delicate look, hostas might be one of the most durable, resilient plants in your collection, but can they survive winter in pots?

Hostas can survive winter in pots as long as you take adequate care of them. Hostas that have Lancifolia or Plantaginea lineage can be a bit more sensitive to lower temperatures and, thus, more challenging to keep potted during winter; however, it’s still not impossible.

The good news is that with enough care and attention, you can keep almost any type of perennial potted during winter, and hostas are no exception. However, the process might require a bit of additional care and attention on your end, which is why this article will explain the most important factors to consider when overwintering hostas in pots and how to execute the process right.

Factors To Consider When Overwintering Hostas in Pots

As I’ve already mentioned, you can’t expect to successfully overwinter your hostas with little to no preparation. The six-week period of below 40 °F (4.4 °C) temperatures that the plant requires for its winter sleep is arguably the most delicate time in this process. When hostas are potted, the low temperatures can subject them to a continuous freeze-thaw cycle that could severely damage their roots.

The two most crucial factors to consider when overwintering a potted hosta are its species and the growing zone it’s being raised in. Let’s dive into these elements one at a time.

The Species

First, It’s important to note that hostas are a genus comprised of thousands of individual species (here’s an interesting read about 40 of the most common varieties), all of which are as different as they are similar, which is why you can’t expect all hostas to react the same when subjected to less-than-ideal conditions.

For example, as I briefly mentioned, the species that come from a Lancifolia or Plantaginea lineage are much more sensitive and delicate compared to the rest of the genus. As a result, you’ll either have to steer clear of overwintering them in a pot altogether or make sure that all variables that can affect their survival rate are optimal; otherwise, you risk losing your meticulously-grown plants.

On the other hand, the rest of the genus tends to live up to its resilient reputation and is a bit easier to care for throughout winter. However, the process will still be far from a walk in the park. As you’ll see in the “How To Overwinter Potted Hostas” section of this article, there’s a lot of planning, protection, and supervision involved when it comes to keeping your plants safe throughout winter.

Therefore, I urge you to research the exact species you’re dealing with to ensure that the practices you choose to help it survive during colder months are as beneficial as possible.

The Growing Zone

This Plant Hardiness Zone Map is the gold standard through which all US-based growers and gardeners decide which plants have a better chance of survival in a specific location. Now that you’ve determined the species of your hosta, you’ll be able to check its compatibility with your current location’s climate.

U.S. Hardiness Zones (stylized map)

If according to the map, your area provides the optimal temperature, light, and moisture levels for a hosta to thrive, keeping it potted throughout winter will require far less maintenance. However, if your area’s climate is already incompatible with the plant’s requirements, trying to keep it potted throughout winter might be pushing your luck.

As a rule of thumb, you want your hosta species to be at least one zone harder than the one you’re keeping them in to make sure they have the best chance of survival. For example, if you live in Zone 5, you’ll want to ensure that the plant’s hardiness zone is somewhere between one and four.

Even though in this section I’ve used the term “growing zone” in a broader context, it’s important to note that microclimates play a more significant role than you’d think in your hosta’s chance of survival. For example, even though your garden as a whole might belong to a particular climate zone, not all locations within the same garden will exhibit the same characteristics.

In every garden, you’ll find warm and cold spots, which get created due to their amount of exposure to wind, sun, and rainfall. Therefore, even if you’ve successfully overwintered potted hostas before, if you decide on a new placement this winter season, you might end up seeing completely different results.

Unfortunately, there’s no handy map to guide you when it comes to finding the best placement for your potted hostas inside your garden. Therefore, you’ll want to observe and take measurements yourself (check the temperature all throughout your garden to see how it varies from one spot to another).

Pot Size

Even though crucial, a hosta’s species and growing zone aren’t the only two factors you’ll need to consider when overwintering them in pots. For example, pot size is another element that could potentially affect your chances of success.

Smaller potted hostas are much more susceptible to extreme temperature fluctuations and the freeze-thaw cycles I mentioned earlier. Therefore, you’ll usually want to store them in a semi-covered location like a covered porch or garage to keep them as protected as possible throughout winter.

With bigger pots, you might not have the same convenience of choosing a semi-protected location, as they’re usually too sizey to be kept anywhere but outside. However, the good news is you probably won’t need to in the first place. Larger amounts of soil mean that temperature fluctuations will have a harder time penetrating the base and reaching the roots. As a result, the plant will be much more resilient.

If all this information is making you worry about the amount of time and effort you’ll have to put into keeping your hostas alive, don’t worry. As soon as your plant enters its dormant phase, its maintenance will become much more manageable.

After the tricky six-week period, the plant will become dormant and, thus, much less affected by the elements. As a result, it will be able to survive even the harshest weather conditions with little to no issue. You’ll still have to carry out a regular maintenance schedule throughout this period; however, it’s going to be far less taxing.

How To Overwinter Potted Hostas

Here are a few tips and tricks on how to overwinter potted hostas:

  • Protect smaller pots. As mentioned, smaller pots don’t provide the insulation required for hostas to survive during winter. Therefore, you either need to move them to a semi-covered location (shed, garage, porch) or bundle several small pots together and bury them in the ground. However, if you go this route, be careful to uncover the pots before spring to give the leaves a chance to unfurl.
  • If there’s excessive rainfall, turn the pots on their sides. Excessive rainfall and freezing cold are never a good combo, as the phenomenon can easily lead to root rot. Therefore, in this case, you’ll want to turn the pots on their sides (at least temporarily) to prevent the rain/snow from penetrating the soil.
  • Don’t overwater your hostas. As soon as the plant enters dormancy, you won’t have to water it at all. Even before that, a generous once-a-month watering should suffice. If you’re getting enough rainfall, you might even want to scale the watering frequency back even further. Overwatering your hostas increases the risk of root rot and makes them less prepared to enter their winter sleep.
  • Add a new layer of mulch to increase insulation. If your pot size allows for it, adding another layer of mulch could help significantly increase insulation. However, don’t add more than two or three inches (5 – 7.6 cm), as otherwise, you risk smothering the roots and restricting their airflow.

Conclusion

Hostas can survive colder months even when potted; however, they require a fair amount of care and attention to do so. Before attempting to overwinter these plants, it’s essential to consider a few key factors to help you determine the practice’s chances of success.

By following a few tips and tricks, you can help your potted hostas thrive even through the harshest winters.

Alexander Picot

Alexander Picot is the principal creator of TheGrowingLeaf.com, a website dedicated to gardening tips. Inspired by his mother’s love of gardening, Alex has a passion for taking care of plants and turning backyards into feel-good places and loves to share his experience with the rest of the world.

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