Cleaning Up Your Hosta Garden for the Winter

by Mary Chastain, Lakeside Acres

Fall clean up time is just around the corner. Lately I have read articles dealing with how we should leave our hosta gardens for the winter. As in life there is no perfect way that can meet the needs of all. Some articles have been emphatic in the fact that leaving leaves on the garden is the thing to do. I agree with the idea that leaves offer protection for the plants during the winter months and that they also provide nutrients for the soil. They help keep the ground cool in the spring so that hostas are not as likely to emerge too early. This is good and I concur with those things. Other articles have dismissed this fact saying that it is better to remove all of the weeds and old foliage from the garden in the fall. At this time I wish to say, leaves may hold excessive moisture as well as fungi, both of which can be harmful to your hostas. The leaf cover provides space for a well-run hatchery for the proliferation of slugs. Leaving old plant foliage contributes to the spread of fungi and disease that may be present.

My proclamation is that what works for one is not necessarily for the good of all. If you live in a vole infested area letting the leaves remain on the garden will just about guarantee your loss of hostas over the winter. Voles prefer to move and work in a protected environment. They believe that this wonderful blanket of leaves was created just for them. Under this cover they build a network of freeways which takes them from the banquet table of your hostas to the playground where they invite their family, friends and neighbors to come enjoy the buffet. They laughingly announce that there is plenty for all.

Cleaning the garden of weeds, old foliage and leaves in the fall reduces the chance of spreading
disease. It also lowers the risk of vole destruction. It eliminates many of the hiding places for voles and slugs. A clean surface allows for the early spring treatment for slugs and provides easier access for fertilizer. Keeping the slug population low during fall and winter eases your battle for control during the growing season. Removing diseased materials lowers your risk of incurring trouble next year. For example consider the possibility of leaving plants and mulch contaminated with the fungus that causes southern blight. How much more likely you are to be plagued with it the following season. Once the garden is clean and ready for winter, a thin layer of clean new pine needles can be spread to offer some winter protection and diminish the washing of your soil. A thin cover of pine needles allows air to circulate over the ground. Though they offer some shade protection for your plants they are open enough to discourage the construction of vole freeways.

Now that we have weighed the pros and cons you must balance the scales to meet the situation in your garden. Will the value of leaves in your garden outweigh the disadvantages that they may offer?

Article shared with us by Hostas of Kentuckiana. HOK, based in the Louisville, Kentucky, and Southern Indiana area, was founded in 1993 by a group a hosta enthusiasts who wanted to share their love of hostas and gardening with others. The group has grown to about 50 members today. Our common love of hostas has enabled us to become friends who share more than plants and growing tips. The club meets six times per year featuring educational lectures and garden tours. We have a yearly plant sale, a yearly accredited cut-leaf show and a beautiful newsletter. Contact us at