Hosta Propagation Method: Dormant Bud Cuttings
Hosta propagation via 'bud cuttings' was thought to have been pioneered by Alex Summers some time in the 1960's. The concept is to take advantage of the axillary bud which is located at the base of each leaf on a hosta and coerce it to 'wake up' and become an active plant.
The auxiliary hosta bud is a result of the growth of tissue in the meristematic dome (aka "the growing point"). This means that cells in the both the epidermal layer (L1) and sub-epidermal layer (L2) of the meristem divided to form both a primordial leaf and a primordial apical bud in the axil of the leaf. This is key, since both the leaf and the bud develop from histogenetically identical cells. Therefore you can replicate a particularly desirable leaf-form by propagating that bud as a cutting.
To do this, carefully cut out the bud, along with a portion of the crown and as many roots as you can without harming the mother plant. You then plant the bud. Once it establishes its own roots, the the plantlet will go dormant. The following spring you'll be rewarded with a single division plant!
The basic steps are as follows:
- In Michigan, shoot for the last week of September.
- Dig up the plant carefully and try to keep as many roots in tact as possible.
- Remember hosta typically have shallow but broad roots so give yourself plenty of room away from the base of the outside divisions and gently start working your shovel around the hosta, lifting the plant roots as you go around.
- Now, wash the roots carefully. DO NOT BREAK THEM! You need as many roots as possible to give the plant the best chance of recovering quickly.
- Strip down all leaves on the plant and locate the axillary buds which should be located on the inside of the petioles. You will need to strip the leaves down till the buds are quite small ('small' is relative the hosta you are working on).
- Now you should have a 'naked' hosta heart with several buds exposed.
- Carefully make downward cuts completely through the edges of the crown to create pie-slices of hosta crown material, each with a bud attached.
- TRY NOT TO INJURE OR CUT OFF ROOTS!
- Of course, the number of hosta-pie pieces you end up with will depend on not only the size of your hosta crown, but also the number of buds and root tissue you have to work with. Often, you will end up with the central portion that is undividable but has several buds as not every bud may have enough supporting root to warrant it's own pie slice. Just replant the remainder and next year it will sprout with several divisions. It is best to treat all the cuttings with a fungicide.
- Each of the bud-pie-slices can go into the ground around two inches deep. Don't let them get too dry for a few weeks if possible to give the roots as much chance as possible to take hold before dormancy. Also, it's not a bad idea to mulch the cuttings for winter to protect against ice heaving.
Finally, don't be shy. We've read stories of people who have mistakenly rototilled their hosta(!) only to be rewarded with a huge crop of tiny, healthy hosta plantlets the following spring!
Of course, we also suggest you try this technique on a plant you can afford to lose - just in case - at least until you've become comfortable with the process and typical results for your location and soil conditions.