Sunday, November 24, 2019

Common Reasons that Hypertufa Cracks

This article presumes that you are familiar with the basics of making projects with hypertufa.  If you aren’t familiar with the process, or just need a refresher, you may want to first go to our Hypertufa 101 article by clicking here.

Hypertufa projects are made by combining various aggregates (such as Peat Moss, Vermiculite and Perlite) and binding them together with Portland Cement.  The mix can be molded into nearly any shape or size.  

The number of projects you can create is only limited by your imagination.   And best of all, hypertufa projects can last for years and be left outside for the winter.


Long Does Hypertufa Last?


A project created with the common recipe of 1 part Peat Moss, 1 part Vermiculite or Perlite and 1 part Portand Cement will normally last ten years.  Adding a strengthener like sand or synthetic concrete re-enforcing fibers can extend that shelf life to 20 years.

Here are the most common reasons why hypertufa cracks.


Hypertufa Cracks during DeMolding

Anyone who has made a number of hypertufa projects has run into de-molding problems.  

The de-molding process must be done slowly and carefully.  How long a project will take to cure to the point where it’s safe to remove the mold depends on a number of factors including the humidity and temperature of the area where it’s curing and the size of the project.

To prevent a demolding problem, many people like to grease the mold with Vaseline, cooking spray like PAM, vegetable oil, mineral oil or even WD40.

Once you find the mold and project stuck together, though, here are a few tricks you can use to help de-mold that challenging project.

  • Put ice cubes in a plastic mold to shrink it a bit and then slide out the project.  Some people have put a smaller project in the refrigerator for a time to get the same result.

  • Release any suction that’s built up between the mold and the project by drilling a hole in the bottom of the mold.  If it’s a planter, you will need drainage anyway.

  Hypertufa Cracks When It’s Moved

Hypertufa projects need to cure to a certain stage before being handled or moved.  The best practice is to leave a finished project where it was built for at least a few weeks.  

If you know you will need to move the project soon after building, build the project on a sturdy piece of plywood to make the move easier.

 Hypertufa Breaks off in Large Chunks

 Recipe/Mix Problems

 1.     Not enough Portland Cement

Since the Portland Cement is the binder, I never use less than a third of it in a mix recipe.  Not using enough Portland Cement weakens the entire project.

 2.     Not Dry Mixing

Thoroughly mixing all the dry ingredients together to the point where you cannot distinguish one from the other before adding any water is very important. 

Why?  You will be assured that there is no weak area where there is no Portland Cement.

Too much Perlite in one area will cause a weak spot.  Globs of peat moss will rot away and eventually cause holes.  Peat Moss should be sieved to remove any lumps or sticks that may stick together. 

If you substituted organic material for peat moss, like bark, pine needles, dried grass clippings or leaves, if these materials were clumped together, it will form a weak spot.

The Portland Cement must be mixed in well with all the other additives.

3.  A watery mix

Too much water in the mix, even though the mix may cling onto your project while you’re building, is a recipe for disaster.  

You want a mix that, when fisted and released, stays together like a nice hardy meatball.  See the photo above.  It should never be watery enough that the mix pours like a liquid.  

If your fisted “tufa meatball” leaks water, it’s not the right consistency.  Add more dry mix and fist again until the meatball holds together but doesn’t leak any more than a few drops of water.


The Main Body Cracks into Pieces 

Lack of extra strength.

Projects like stepping stones that will take some abuse need to be stronger than other projects. Larger projects, like large planters or troughs, will also need some added strength.

Here are some ways to strengthen a project.

My go-to s extra-strength recipe is 1 part Portland Cement, 1 part peat moss and 1 part sand.  (The sand replaces the usual Vermiculite or Perlite)  The project will be heavier, but stronger.

Mixing in a handful of synthetic concrete re-enforcing fibers or chicken wire will also give a project added strength.

Embedded Items Crack

The above picture is a perfect example of that.  The blue inserts were pieces of a blue plate that I inserted.  It only took one winter for the ceramic pieces to break and begin to fall off.  

The leaf in the middle is actually metal so it holds up well.  Lesson learned.

    Hypertufa Edges Crack or Break Off

One of the most important considerations while building a hypertufa project is ensuring that the edges are as thick as the body of the piece.  

Thin edges will crack much more easily.  Double checking the thickness in these areas will reward you with a project that will hold up longer.

The above picture shows edges that have broken off when I was attempting to use a wire brush to remove sharp edges.  I could leave it as is and enjoy the uniqueness of the planter or plant a plant in it that will drape over the edge and cover it.

  Older Hypertufa Planters Crack

Plant roots can grow quickly, and if the roots have made their way into the cracks and crevices of the planter, that will quicken the breakdown process.

If I were to leave this So Sweet hosta in this planter for a third year, the roots would certainly crack the planter.

Repeated excess water in a project can cause the hypertufa to break down over time.  Be sure not to place hypertufa in a place where excessive rain will pool in or around it, especially over the winter.

An insufficient amount of drainage holes in the planter will also cause pooling of water and will slowly deteriorate the hypertufa.

No hypertufa project will be perfect, but neither is nature.   Some of the imperfections in my final hypertufa projects have actually made the final project more unique, natural looking and beautiful.

Hypertufa is one of my favorite garden projects.  The internet is full of great ideas, designs recipes and tips. 

By avoiding some common pitfalls, there is no limit to the number of great garden projects you can do – and best of all, they will last for years!


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Saturday, November 9, 2019

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Friday, November 8, 2019

When and How to Divide Hostas

Whether you want to divide your hostas for the healthy of the plants or to increase the hosta love around your garden, dividing a hosta is easy to do once you're familiar with the timing and some basic steps.

Things to Consider
Before Dividing your Hosta

Frequent divisions of a  hosta clump will restrict the plant's leaf size and keep it from developing to its mature features. Undivided, hostas can take up to four-plus years to reach their full size.

Hostas grow at the root tip only. If you slice through many roots while dividing the hosta, those roots won't grow longer or branch at the cut.

Here at Sunset Hosta Farm, when we divide our larger hostas, there are always some smaller root pieces that are attached to the main roots.  We separate those pieces off the mother plant and plant them in three to four-inch pots.  We then baby them through their first year. If they are divided in the Spring, they most likely will be ready to plant in the ground by the Fall.


A Little or a Lot of Elbow Grease

The amount of elbow grease needed to divide a hosta depends on the hosta's size and type.

For instance, mini and small hostas are much easier to divide. With some, after digging up the hosta from the ground, the roots will easily separate themselves with a light tug. Dividing them can actually help them to maintain their tiny, tidy size.

Larger ones, however, may take some real elbow grease to dig them out of the ground. They may also need a good hard split with a shovel to divide them. Not to worry, though. Hostas are tough and do actually benefit from being divided.

You can divide the hosta into several new plants as long as each division has a healthy root system. The smaller the division, however, the more care you need to give it until it's established in its new place.

If you just want a second plant, it is possible to use your shovel to cut off a corner, third or half of the plant without lifting the whole plant out of the ground. Simply dig out the portion you need and plant the new division at the same depth.


When does a Hosta NEED to be Divided?

Hostas are a long-living perennial, and over time, the center of the plant may begin to die out. This is commonly referred to as center die-out, clump die-back or fairy ring. The later is a whimsical nickname given where the problem is said to result from fairies dancing in the middle of the plant.

Hostas put on most of their new growth on the outside of the clump each year. After several years, the dead growth from past years will accumulate in the center.

Also, a lack of water through the season is another reason that the middle buds will start to die out.  Crowns and roots can also be damaged and rot due to the heaving up and exposure of the crowns over the winter.

Spring is the perfect time to do a yearly check on your more mature hostas to see which plants are missing some or all of the pips in the middle of the plant. That's when you know it's time to divide that hosta.

Which hostas are more susceptible to center die out?

Since the center die-out takes some years to develop, it is often the older and more established hostas that are affected. Also, fast-growing hostas that reach their maturity faster can fall prey to this problem.


Dividing to Cure Center Die-Out

Dividing the plant is the best way to cure the problem. Dig up the entire plant, separate it into as many pieces as you'd like leaving good healthy roots on each piece. 

Dispose of the dead or rotted center parts. If the center of the hosta has actually rotted, soak the divided healthy parts in a mild solution of bleach (10% to water) before you replant.

This division also serves to stimulate new buds and new growth. Replant the healthy pieces.

How to Prevent Hosta Center Die-Out

  • Divide fast-growing hostas every five years. 
  • Hostas LOVE water. Give them plenty during the season, especially during the dry, hot months and even into the Fall if there's a lack of rain.
  • Apply mulch in the Fall season to prevent roots from heaving up during the winter which can cause the roots to rot.

Division By Seasons

Generally, hostas can safely be divided any time the ground is workable, however, the summer months can be rough on the divisions so more attention, water, and shade will be needed if divided in the summer. Most gardeners prefer to divide their hostas in the Spring and Fall for that reason.

Here are the advantages and disadvantages of dividing hostas during each of those three seasons.

hostas buds coming up in spring


Spring is the best time to divide fast-growing hostas, specifically as soon as the eyes are popping up but before the leaves unfurl. This is usually a two-week window. Fast-growing hostas recover quickly from division. 

It is advisable to only divide non-fast-growing hostas into thirds or quarters if doing this in the spring.


Hostas can be divided in the summer months, but much more care needs to be taken to be sure you don't stress the plant or divisions. Water well and shade the planted divisions for at least a week until the divisions are well established. Keep a close eye on the divisions.  



Fall is a great time for division. The hostas need for water is not as great now. In northern climates, that is September, in the southern, October.

Hostas will frequently throw up a small flush of leaves as the temperatures moderate from the summer heat in July, especially if it has been rainy.

Dividing them at least 30 days before the first expected frost date takes advantage of this growth spurt as well as giving the hosta divisions time to settle into their new home before their winter sleep.

Other Tips for Dividing Hostas

  • Sterilize your tools with a 10% bleach to 90% water solution to prevent transferring any diseases from hosta to hosta. 
  • Divide them on a shady day. 
  • The leaves can be tied back gently with string at the base of the plant or cut down to a few inches from the base. 
  • Water frequently for the first few weeks. 
  • If planted in a sunny location, it's a good idea to shade your new divisions from the sun for the first week using a folded piece of cardboard, umbrella, etc, anything that gives some respite from the direct sun as they adjust to their new location.



So that's it.  Hostas will provide you with those beautiful, healthy leaves for years on end with a little care and maintenance.  


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Thursday, October 31, 2019

Hosta - Seasonal Calendar of Care


One of the reasons that hostas continue to be so popular is the fact that they're a very low maintenance perennial. 

That being said, if you follow a few basic steps to care for them, you can keep your hostas looking healthy and beautiful throughout the season, whether they're snug in the ground or in pots.

Your Seasonal To-Do List 


On average, hostas require 1" of water per week, whether by rainfall or irrigation. However, do not water hostas in the Spring until the threat of frost has passed to prevent root rot. Drier is better since there are still some pretty cold days and nights ahead.

Because water is so important to good hosta health, we have installed several rain barrels at our farm.  As much as I need to water during the season, I love having some free water.  And if you're into being self-sufficient in as many was as possible, a rain barrel is a great investment for the future.

Click here for an article on using rain barrels.


Hostas are known for their ability to grow in just about any soil. However, rich, slightly acidic, well-draining soil will keep your hostas looking their best.  An addition of compost worked into the soil can do wonders for their early growth.

To read our garden on the best soil for hostas, click here.


As the hostas emerge in the Spring, apply a 10-10-10 balanced fertilizer (preferably granular slow-release) around the emerging clumps.  Fertilize pot-grown hostas with a diluted fertilizer (at 25% strength) every few weeks.



Don't uncover your hostas too early!

Protect ones that have already emerged from any late Spring freezes by covering them with a frost blanket, sheet, cardboard, etc. You will need to do this when the temperatures are expected to go down into the 20s.

Covering plants with plastic is not recommended as the plastic can freeze to the plant causing damage when removed.  


Division is possible now if the ground is workable. However, this is not the best time since the roots will not grow until after the leaves form. 

To read our article on when to divide hostas, click here.


Late Spring is a good time to transplant an entire hosta plant.


Other Care Tips for the Spring

  • When all danger of frost has passed, rake the mulch that you mounded up over the hosta as winter protection away from the developing eyes to prevent crown rot.
  •  Apply some fresh mulch away from the center crown.
  • Disinfect all hardscapes with a solution of 10% ammonia to water to kill slug eggs.
  • A sprinkling of clean crushed eggshells will help deter grubs and give the hosta some added calcium.

Potted Hostas

If you've stored your potted hostas in an unheated greenhouse, garage or shed, slowly begin to acclimate the hostas to outside temperatures as it warms.

This may involve moving the potted hosta indoors and outdoors several times as the weather shifts.  If the temperatures are expected to dip down in the 20s, you should cover the pot with a layer of cardboard, sheet or light blanket, etc, or better yet, bring them back inside.


Fresh soil for a new season is important.  You can refresh your potting soil in the spring.  Click here for an article on refreshing last season's soil in pots.

You can also replace the potting soil.  I use ProMix.  I have found it to be consistently good for hostas.


Be careful not to water too much now. Drier is better since there are still some pretty cold days and nights ahead.


As hostas emerge in Spring, apply a slow-release balanced fertilizer. Other gardeners prefer to fertilize pot-grown perennials with a diluted fertilizer (25% strength) every few weeks instead.



Lack of sufficient water during a dry summer can cause the hosta to go into mid season dormancy where the outer leaves will fade and wither and the hosta will stop growing.

By keeping the hostas well watered through the summer, especially during the hottest parts, you can help to avoid the hosta looking ragged, affectionately called "The Summer Uglies" by keeping the roots moist. 

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Increase watering so the plant receives at least 1 inch of water weekly, and cover the soil with a 2-inch mulch layer to help conserve moisture.

Because water is so important now, a soaker hose through the hosta garden is a great idea.

I use this type of soaker hose and just move it around to different areas to soak.

Hostas can tolerate periods of dryness if they are otherwise healthy. Hostas that are never stressed from lack of water will grow bigger, faster and will hold up and look nice longer into the season. 

Usually, they can fend for themselves, but watering during periods of dryness will certainly help our hostas look and grow their best.


In early summer, give the hostas a second (and last) feeding of a balanced 10-10-10 fertilizer. Some gardeners prefer a fertilizer with a little more nitrogen at this time. 

Hostas can be fertilized through the early summer, but be sure to stop two months before your expected first frost date to allow the hosta to slowly settle into its winter dormancy.


It is possible to divide your hosta in the summer provided you keep the hosta divisions well watered until established. 

Late summer, after the heat of the summer has passed, is the best time to divide hostas. 

 August is usually the perfect time and will give your hosta divisions six weeks before the first frost to establish new roots in their new home. 

For a detailed article on when to divide hostas, click here.

Other Care Tips for the Summer

Hosta blooms can vary in their timing from May to September depending on the cultivar. For a tidy appearance, you can pinch off the flower spikes after they bloom.



Water every other day as needed if no rain and let soak through. This is not only to hydrate the hosta plant but will help to flush out the salts that tend to develop in potting soil.


Hostas generally will not need fertilizer during the summer if adequately fertilized in the spring.  However, if a second fertilizing seems to be necessary, do this in early summer and then stop fertilizing for the year.

Other Care Tips for the Summer

Move the container to a shadier spot in the garden during the hottest part of the summer to reduce plant stress or use some man-made shade to give the hosta a respite from the summer's heat.


As long as the hosta leaves are green, the plant will need to be watered at the base, even in the Fall.  

This is because when a hosta emerges in the Spring, it is emerging on the energy and food reserves that the plant stored in its rhizome late the previous summer and Fall. 

If the hosta received sufficient water in late Summer and Fall, it should emerge the next spring as a larger plant because it was able to store away more energy than it used. 

However, a hosta that does not receive adequate moisture in late Summer and Fall cannot build up the energy reserves it needs to increase in size. The result is a hosta that emerges the following spring smaller than it was the year before.

 Multiple unusually dry summers in a row can be especially devastating for hostas, as they are unable to replenish their depleted energy reserves.


Your hostas need no further fertilizer than the Spring and early Summer.  As a rule, stop fertilizing hostas two months before your expected first frost date.  This will aid the hostas in preparing for their winter dormancy.


Stop dividing any hostas six weeks before your average first frost date. 


Time to prepare your hostas for their winter sleep.

Cover newly-planted hostas with an extra layer of leaves or mulch for their first winter protection. Be careful not to over mulch which can actually smother the plant. 

The best mulches are leaves, straw and other biodegradable materials that are light and allow for air pockets. 

Other Care Tips for Fall

Some gardeners prefer to mark the spot where the hosta will come up next spring. A small heavy rock next to each crown works well.
Since slugs produce eggs in the Fall, this is a good time to apply a slug killer. 

 For more detailed information about slugs in the garden, click here.

As the greenery dies back in the Fall, you have one of two choices:

1. Leave it be. The dead foliage does provide an extra layer of mulch so many gardeners feel that removing the dead foliage is unnecessary.

2. Remove your dead foliage before the first frost and discard. (Do not compost.) This will help remove nematodes, slugs, and any diseased leaves. First, disinfect the scissors or knife you're using between cuttings with a solution of 10% bleach 90% water.



Hostas in pots that are stored in an unheated space for the winter could dry out completely. Check pots once a month and add a little water if it is very dry. 

The most important time to check on the soil is right after you've stored them until the hard frosts hit, and then in early Spring as it warms up.  

Once it's the dead of winter, no care is needed. Do not water over frozen soil. 


There are several ways to protect your hostas in pots over the winter months. The key is to keep the hostas away from direct overhead rain and to protect them from sudden swings in temperature.

There are several ways to do this:

  • Move them to an unheated garage or shed.
  • Bury the entire pot or group of pots in the ground or cover the group with leaves.
  • Large potted hostas will normally overwinter well in place with an additional layer of mulch on top of the soil. Pots can be huddled together out of direct sun.
  • After the soil is nearly frozen, you can tip the pots over on their sides to give them extra protection from overhead moisture.
  • This is more labor-intensive, but if you have a prized hosta in a pot, you can plant it in the ground and repot it again the next Spring. 

Side Note:

With hostas, there is no growth during dormancy as there might be with other perennials.


Water and Fertilizer

None.  Don't worry about the snow -- It's a great insulator! 


Hostas don't need anything during their dormancy except protection. 

Hopefully you've already protected them in the Fall. If not, protect them now!

Check monthly the soil in the potted hostas that are stored in an unheated garage or shed. Only water if completely dry to the point of being dusty.

Never water frozen soil. At this time, drier is better than wetter.


Hostas continue to be one of the most popular perennials on the market because of their beauty and ease of care.  I hope you found the above hosta tips helpful for keeping your hostas healthy and beautiful season to season!


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Winter is a great time to research next year's hosta want list!

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