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Thursday, December 31, 2020


You have reached The Learning Place.  We're glad you stopped by!

Here you'll find a variety of articles about gardening, homesteading, growing food and much more.  We are also a great place to read and learn about one of the most popular part shade plants, hostas! 

So come on in, sit a spell and peruse lots of great gardening information. And if you love hostas like we do, visit us at SunsetHostaFarm.com to see some beautiful hostas at affordable prices.


Friday, October 30, 2020

All About Hostas -- Hostas 101

Hostas (plantain lilies) are hardy herbaceous perennials that grow well in Zones 3 through 8, with some that can tolerate the heat of Zone 9. 

It's no surprise they continue to be one of the most popular perennials for shade gardens. Their beauty, toughness, and ease of care make them well suited for a shady or partly shady area and they will quickly become even a new gardener's favorite plant! 


First, why ARE hostas so popular? Here are just a few reasons to start with.

Variety of Sizes

Mini Height -6"

Small Height 6-10"

Medium Height 10-18"                                    

Large Height 18-28"

Very Large Height +28"

Variety of Colors

Their leaf colors range from green, blue, gold, yellow to white and countless variegated varieties.

Variety of Leaf Shapes

Hostas are known mostly for their durable, colorful foliage. There is no shortage of leaf shapes including heart-shaped, narrow, smooth, puckered, elongated, oval, rounded and those adorable mouse ear shapes.

The Shining Hosta

The Blooms

While hostas are basically known for their leaves, their lily-shaped blooms are nothing short of beautiful. Some hosta blooms are very fragrant, like in the above picture of H. The Shining, and they're a great choice for planting by a garden bench or on a deck or patio.

Other reasons hostas are so popular

  • They can be planted en masse for an attractive ground cover or hedge or to soften a fence line.
  • They can thrive in shady conditions where most other perennials suffer.
  • They're the perfect complement plant for other perennials. A hosta's earthy leaf color won't clash with a neighboring perennial's color or bloom which makes hostas the perfect foundation plant.
  • Once established, they're a great weed barrier and are tolerant of occasional droughts.

Location, Location, Location – Sun or Shade?

Contrary to what many people think, hostas DO need some sun. Morning sun with afternoon shade is generally recommended to encourage lush growth and proper color development.  

This kind of area will also give the hosta enough sun to thrive yet shield it from the afternoon sun, especially in the south where the summer sun can stress hosta plants and fade or burn their leaves.

  • As a rule, light-leaved hostas will thrive in areas getting four to six hours of morning sun, especially if adequately watered.
  • Blue hostas will keep their color longer if grown in no direct sun and open, dappled sun/shade.
  • Green hostas can take more light, morning or dappled sun and even limited afternoon sun.

Tips for Planting a New Hosta

  • Plant the root ball at the same depth as it was before with the crown even with the surrounding soil and the growing tips visible at the soil surface.

  • Plant with enough elbow room to allow for growth and air circulation.
  • Apply a 2" layer of mulch after the soil warms in late spring to early summer. Shredded bark, shredded leaves or pine needles are some of the best mulches for hostas.
  • Keep the mulch away from the center stem to prevent crown rot.

The Right Soil

Although hostas can grow well in nearly any soil, a soil with good drainage, a mix of organic material like peat moss, compost or coir will hold in the moisture that hostas thrive on.   Hostas also prefer slightly acidic soil. 

Here at Sunset Hosta Farm, we add leaf mold to our gardens and container hostas for just this reason.

For our detailed article on making leaf mold, click here.

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.

Hosta Seasonal Care


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.


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 frost blankets, sheets, 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 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.


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. 

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.

If you have a substantial hosta garden, it's a good idea to use a soaker hose for use on those dry summer days.   The one below is the ones I use.  I like the fact that you can just move them around since they're not staked to the ground.

You can use these to stake them into place.

A timer is also a good idea.


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. 

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.
  • 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.

Winter is a great time to search for next year's hosta purchase!


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.

And if you haven't incorporated hostas into your garden yet, you are really missing out!

Take a stroll around our website for some great hostas at an affordable price! But ... a word of warning... There is a good reason why there are so many Hosta-Holics, including myself!


Where to go next!

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Saturday, August 29, 2020

Winter Sowing 101


In a nutshell, winter sowing is sowing seeds in mini greenhouse-like containers and setting them outside in the winter elements until Mother Nature germinates the seeds in the spring.

Benefits of Winter Sowing

  • There are very few things in life that are SO easy and work SO well as this does!
  • No figuring out sowing dates for each specific seed.
  • No indoor grow lights or set up. You sow the seeds in the winter sowing containers and you put them outside.
  • When seeds germinate outdoors, the seedlings and plants they will produce are naturally hardier and their rate of survival is greater.
  • It gives you your gardening fix in the middle of winter!

Why is Winter Sowing becoming so Popular?

Very simply. It works!

What kind of seeds can I sow with the winter sowing method?

Flowers, vegetables and herbs! A further explanation later.

blank calendar and pen

First, a Bit about Timing

It is generally accepted that you can begin to winter sow anytime after the Winter Solstice when the days are at their shortest and typically the temperatures are at their coldest.

The problem that I found with starting as early as the Winter Solstice is that here in Zone 6 Ohio, we often get some unexpected warm stretches in December. If I put the containers out that early and we get a warm spell, the seeds may germinate too early and the coming cold temperatures will kill the seedlings. 

By planting a bit later when the threat of those warm-ups is passed, I can be confident that the seeds won’t germinate until spring, as planned.

For more specific timing for Zones 3 through 7 where the weather gets cold enough to winter sow, here is a general guideline for times to sow each category of seeds.


Zone 3    

  • February - Perennials and Hardy Annual

  • March - Herbs
  • April - Frost Tolerant Vegetables
  • May - Tender Plants

Zone 4

  • January - Perennials and Hardy Annuals
  • February - Herbs
  • March - Frost Tolerant Vegetables
  • April- Tender Plants

Zone 5

  • December/January - Perennials and Hardy Annuals
  • January/February - Herbs
  • February/March - Frost Tolerant Vegetables
  • March/April - Tender Plants

Zone 6

  • December - Perennials and Hardy Annuals
  • January -  Herbs
  • March - Frost Tolerant Vegetables
  • March/April - Tender Plants

Zone 7

  • December - Perennials and Hardy Annuals
  • January - Herbs, Frost Tolerant Vegetables
  • February - Tender Plants


Want to know more about planting zones and ways to extend your season?  Try this book.

After Ten Years of Winter Sowing, Here's My Method

My method of winter sowing is based on sowing the seeds in two stages. One for the perennial seeds of cold-season plants, and a later one for annual flowers and warm-season plants. 

You can, of course, sow continuously through the winter months, but keeping it to a simple two-phase sowing system is much easier for me.

The First Sowing

(8 to 10 weeks before your average first frost date)
For us here in Ohio, it's January 15 to February 15.

My first sowing is always around January 15 because there are seeds, like perennials, that need weeks of cold weather before they become stratified and can germinate in the spring, they are the first ones to be winter sown.

Examples of my first sowing include:

Flowers: Lavender, Veronica, Phlox, Rudbeckia, Delphiniums.

Herbs: Rosemary, Sage, Oregano, Parsley, Mint, Thyme.

Vegetables: Brussel Sprouts, Broccoli, Cabbage, Kale, Lettuce and Beets, Salad Greens.

If you're not sure if your seeds need this cold treatment, you can look on your seed packet for words like “self-sow,” “direct sow in the fall,” “direct sow in early spring,” “cold hardy,” “cold stratification,” as well as any perennial plant.

The Second Sowing

(4 to 6 weeks before your average last frost date)

For us here in Ohio, that's March 1 through April 15)

My second sowing is on March 1.  The second sowing is done more towards the Spring for annual flower seeds and warm-loving plants in general. You could sow these in the first sowing earlier, but you risk the chance that the seeds become waterlogged over the long winter, and I don't like to take the chance.

Examples of my second sowing include:

Flowers: Annuals like Marigolds, Coleus, Cosmos, Zinnias.

Herbs: Basil, Dill.

Vegetables: Tomatoes, Peppers, Squash, Cucumbers.

A Note about Vegetables.

Root vegetables are just easier to direct sow into the garden rather than have to transplant them through winter sowing. I don't winter sow root vegetables and vegetables that are easy to direct sow like peas and beans.

One word of warning. The seeds of some warm weather veggies can sprout well in the spring, but in colder climates, they will sprout later and there may not be enough time to get a harvest. Sowing indoors may still be necessary for long-season plants in colder areas.

milk jug used as sowing container

About the Containers

I have had my best success with milk jugs and don't use anything else.

Why do most Winter Sowers Prefer Milk Jugs?

  • Milk jugs will let light in. (Only use the clear ones.)
  • They are tall enough to give the seedlings plenty of headspaces to grow if you can't transplant right away.
  • Having the lid off will let in just enough rain and snow to keep the soil moist.
  • They're wide enough for your hands to scoop out those seedlings.
  • They're plentiful – (At least at my house!) If not, have people save them for you and save them from the landfill.

Some gardeners clean them and reuse them again. I put them in the recycle bin. I am able to collect plenty to start with fresh ones each winter.

Other container possibilities.

As long as the container has these features, they will work:
  • Must be plastic, or at least sturdy enough for winter use.
  • Must have a clear top so the light can get through.
  • Must be able to hold 2-3” of soil and have some room for headspace. The plants may get 6” tall if you leave them in there long enough.
  • Must be something you can put several drain holes in the bottom. (and top if there's no lid spot)


Examples of these include:

  • Ice cream buckets
  • 2 liter soda bottles
  • Clear plastic restaurant food containers
  • Deli container
  • The list is endless.

milk jug as winter sown container with seeds

Preparing the Container

We'll use a milk jug for the instructions.

First, THROW AWAY THE LID OF THE MILK JUG OR 2-LITER BOTTLE! The lids have to be removed to let moisture in when it's placed outside!

Cut the milk jug around three fourths of the jug like the picture. I start with a knife to break the plastic and then use scissors to circle around to the handle.

Cut drainage holes in the bottom. In a milk jug I put at least five. You can use anything that works; a drill, a knife, some people use a soldering iron.

If you're not using something that has a lid that you can take off, like a deli plastic container, you will need holes also in the top of the container to let rain and air through.

Bend the handle back to open the milk jug. You're ready for the soil and seeds.

About the Soil

You will find various opinions on what type of soil works best for winter sowing. I've always used normal potting soil (the cheapest I can find) and have had absolutely no problems. 

They usually contain a little fertilizer which helps the seedlings grow while they're waiting on me to get to them.

You can see in the picture that the Wizard Coleus was in there quite a while before I got to transplanting it!

How much soil?

Two to three inches of soil in the bottom of the milk jug is plenty. You just want enough soil to germinate the seed and help the seedling along until you transplant it into its final spot in your garden. 

If you do a lot of jugs (I do a hundred or so), soil gets expensive. You don't need more than 3 inches and you don't need the expensive stuff.

Important Step – Moisten the soil thoroughly before sowing the seeds so as not to dislodge the seeds later!

seeds in soil in milk jug

Sowing the Seeds

Since the intention is to transplant the seedlings out in the garden and not grow them very long in the winter sowing container, you can space the seeds much closer than you normally would. 

How many seeds you put in each container will depend on:
  • What kind of plant you're growing.
  • Whether you intend to transplant them very small or wait until they're larger. I prefer to give them room to grow inside the milk jugs. Spring is a very busy time and my attention gets lost in other projects and before I know it, they're 6” tall. (The stems are also stronger by this point and easier to handle when transplanting.)

Plant the seeds at the depth recommended. On average, the sowing depth of a seed is one and a half to two times the width of the seed. For very small seeds, just place them on top of the soil and tamp down to get soil contact.

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All about Winter Sowing

Sealing the Container

Here are a few options:

Good ole' Duct Tape.  One piece in one area should do it, usually across from the handle vertically. I found if I use more duct tape than that, I have a heck of a time taking it off later.

I have also done the bread tie trick. Put a hole in the top and bottom half and close with a bread tie. I have found this to work better than the Duct Tape, but it's a lot of work when you have a lot of containers.

labeled milk jugs


Some people consecutively number their containers on the outside with a magic marker or paint pen, and then have a chart noting which seed is which number. 

Some people write the name of the seeds directly on the outside of the container. Markers will fade in the sun; paint pens are great!

Word of advice. 

Whatever you write on the top half, also write it on the very bottom. Why? One, the sun won't fade it as quickly when it's labeled underneath. 

But more importantly, I tend to cut off the entire top half as the seedlings start to grow and need more air circulation and light, and when I did that with the label only on the top, well, you can imagine. A lot of seedlings look alike when they're that young!

milk jugs under snow

The seeds are planted in your winter sowing container.  What Next?

A little bit about watering.  On a sunny day, above freezing, look for condensation. Containers with little or no condensation will need watering.

Leave them in the snow, in the rain, doesn't matter.

I have a graveled area right next to my deck. It has good drainage and the containers are protected from any strong winds by the air conditioning unit. 

It's not so important where they're at in the winter as long as the containers can get rain and in a spot where they won't blow around and dislodge the seeds.

Leave them be! That's the beauty of winter sowing!

Don't worry about the cold. The seeds are sleeping.Don't worry about the rain. They need some moisture.Don't worry about the snow. It's a great insulator.Simply put.... Don't Worry!

What to do in the Spring

Come Spring, I start peaking in the opening at the top to see if there are any sprouts yet. Different seeds will sprout at different times, so be patient.

Sun will kill more seedlings than the cold!  I've learned that one the hard way.

Once I see sprouts, it all depends on the weather. The seedlings are protected in their mini greenhouses in early spring, but as the warm weather begins, I check a few times a week for soil moisture and I water lightly if necessary. 

Since I initially put my containers in an area facing south, I will slowly move the containers to a shadier location when I get seedlings. If the seedlings are still waiting for me to transplant and we're getting some really sunny, warm days, I will start to cut out some sides of the milk jug to create more airflow. 

You can also remove the entire top half if you choose. (You marked the bottom, right?)


Start transplanting whenever the seedlings are strong enough to handle. Just like any seedling that you would transplant, give it extra care until it's a strong and viable plant.

Let's recap the most important points

  • Take the cap of the milk jug OFF! Throw it away so you're not tempted to put it back on. Better yet, throw the lid away when you first rinse out your container and store it for winter use
  • Label, Label, Label. There's nothing worse than not knowing what's in there when they sprout!
  • Put several drainage holes in the bottom. Some people put holes in the lower sides of the container also, but I haven't found this necessary.
  • Don't sow seeds needing that cold stratification step too late. They may not germinate in the spring.

Winter Sowing -- It's Easy and It Works!

That's it! Whether you're winter sowing annuals or perennials, you'll find winter sowing to be one of the easiest ways to get a garden full of great color!

And I can guarantee you one thing. In the Spring when you see your first jugs with little sprouts in them, you'll be hooked on the Winter Sowing Method!

Good luck and happy gardening!


This post may contain Amazon affiliate links and as an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases without costing you

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