When you think of chrysanthemums, do you picture showy corsages on homecoming queens or the all-too-familiar orange and yellow varieties you see in grocery stores at this time every year? Get ready to be amazed by the choices you have for growing what is still the brightest and most reliable fall-blooming flower.
Mums’ blossoms may be as extravagant as a cheerleader’s pom-pom or as dainty as a powder puff. They come in a rich palette that echoes autumn’s vibrant golds, garnets, and corals and includes traditional solids as well as bicolor and even tricolor flowers.
In late summer when other plants call it quits, mums hit their stride. Like start putting on a show., they’re photoperiodic, meaning they rely on specific amounts of light to send the signal that it’s time to
On average, garden mums will not start to set buds until the nights last about 10 hours long. Blooms follow in six to 10 weeks. Cool temperatures don’t bother mums, either. In fact, chilly weather intensifies colors and keeps blossoms looking fresh until a hard, killing frost drops the curtain on the gardening year. If you choose early-, mid-, and late-blooming varieties, you will enjoy a full seven weeks of bloom — a brilliant last act for any landscape.
When selecting varieties, there’s wide range of types to pick from: decorative, daisy, and low-growing cushion mums as well as early-blooming anemones, quills, and spiders. The new European-style Prophets Series — from Greenhouse Grower, an Ohio-based wholesale breeder and nursery — boasts more than 100 blossoms per plant. These sturdy-stemmed, ball-shaped beauties were inspired by varieties beloved in Belgium, where All Saints’ Day is celebrated each November first with lavish mum displays.
Growing Mums as Perennials
Though technically perennials, mums are often grown as annuals owing to shallow root systems inclined to heave right out of the ground during winter’s freeze-thaw cycles. If you live where winter can be frigid (USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 through 6), go with early-blooming varieties — they’re more likely to come back in subsequent years. Those of you who live south of Zone 6 can push the envelope, opting for varieties that need more time to reach their full potential. When winter looms, apply a mulch of crisscrossed evergreen boughs to help plants make it through the cold weather ahead.
True to their new designation, these oversize mums can measure 2 to 3 feet tall and 4 to 5 feet across by their third season,with a massive canopy of flowers — up to 5,000 per plant. Monarch butterflies adore these shrubby wonders.
Finally, to further increase the odds that your chrysanthemums will survive winter, consider planting them in spring as opposed to late summer, to give root systems ample time to become established.
Caring for Mums
Soil: While mums thrive in just about any soil type, they do benefit from generous helpings of homemade compost. Dig in a spadeful at planting time and topdress with more. Soil must be well drained, however, or the plants will rot.
Sunshine: Mums planted in full sun bloom more profusely than those in partial shade. An optimal site receives six to eight hours of direct light.
Water: Shallow-rooted mums dry out quickly. Be sure to water consistently, especially during dry spells and in fall, when plants are storing up energy for winter survival.
Pinching Back: If you don’t like the leggy look (who does?), remove the tips of stems early in the season to encourage branching. Repeat the process every two weeks until mid-July. Mums purchased as annuals in late summer do not require this treatment.
Taking Cuttings From Mums
Creating new plants from your favorite mums is easy, says Galen Goss, executive director of the National Chrysanthemum Society. Simply snip off a 4-inch stem with leaves on it and put it in a pot filled with a soilless medium, such as vermiculite. Keep it moist and outdoors in a bright spot.
After a couple of weeks, repot the cutting (which has sprouted roots) to a small container filled with potting soil. Fertilize once a week. Two to three weeks later, transplant it to the garden and keep fertilizing. You’ll enjoy flowers that very autumn!
Planning Your Mum Garden
- Use shorter cushion mums to carpet a slope. Foot-tall mounds of lush foliage make an attractive groundcover until late summer, when colorful flower heads steal the show.
- Start a nursery bed where you can grow your own mums from cuttings. In late summer, transfer the ready-to-bloom plants into the garden to take the place of tired-looking annuals.
- When a killing frost is predicted, pot up your mums and bring them indoors to adorn the Thanksgiving table.
- Plant taller varieties for use as cut flowers. After cutting, split the stem ends so they can take up water more efficiently.
Choosing Mum Varieties
For stopping traffic: The spider mum Senkyo Kenshin stands 3½ feet tall. It blooms midseason, with about 27 striking, reddish-bronze blossoms per plant.
For brilliant color: Jessica has joyful, bright yellow blossoms. This midseason decorative mum is from the Prophets Series.
For double duty: An old favorite, French Vanilla has 3½ inch white flowers. Grow in a mixed border or cutting garden.
For cold climates: Minnautumn is an extremely cold-hardy — to zone 3 — decorative cushion mum. It’s only 15 inches tall, with vivid orange-red flowers.
For the vase: Carousel, a purple quill mum, is an elegant cut flower. Huge blossoms measure up to 4 inches across.