I like so many things about hostas… their differences in size, leaf texture, and color, how easy they are to grow, and how impressive they look all season long. But even more than growing the mature plants, I like the mystery and challenge of starting new hostas from seeds. Many people insist that hosta seedlings started from seeds from ordinary hostas will all turn out to be the “plain green” variety.
That is so not true! The first year I tried growing seedlings, only a couple of my hostas had produced seed pods, and both hostas were a very common variety. I decided to plant some of the seed anyway, and now (many years later) those first seedlings have grown into giant hostas with the most pebbly leaves I have ever seen, miniature hostas, hostas with shiny leaves or round leaves or long pointed leaves, hostas with rippled-edged and twisted leaves, blue hostas, golden hostas, and even some hostas with variegation! When you plant hosta seeds, you never know what you’re going to get!
The usual advice is to let the seed pods dry on the stalk in the garden until the pod is somewhat dry and about to open. I’m sure that works well in a warmer climate, but here in the northeast, the seed pods never reach that stage before the first frost. It is still possible, though, to collect the seed, because as long as the seeds in the pods are well-developed and have turned black, they will probably produce seedlings.
Hosta seeds, showing bump on one end
I leave the pods on the hostas as long as the weather lets me, then bring the pods inside and put them in large white envelopes to dry. Small lunch-sized paper bags work well too. I like to follow the heritage of the seedlings, so I label each group of seed pods. Since the pods are always green when I collect them, I have found that the seeds are easier to remove if I let the pods dry in the envelopes first. After a few weeks, the pods will have dried enough so that some of the seeds will start to fall out of the pods, and the rest of the seeds can then be removed easily. Viable seeds will have a noticeable “bump” on one end.
Although hosta seedlings are easy to grow, they do require strong lighting and frequent watering. I have several grow lights set up with shelving and usually start seedlings between November and January. This timing produces good-sized plants (sometimes already in bloom) by the time it is warm enough to move the hostas outside in early June.
Since I’ve grown so many new hostas over the past several winters, and I’m starting to run out of space for new gardens, I have decided that this winter I will not start any new seedlings. My resolve will probably hold until the night when the first frost is predicted and I find myself outside collecting “only a few” pods.
Just in case…