Mums. Nope, I’m not British and I’m not talking about your mother, although Great Britain is a wonderful place and your mother IS glorious (Psst – you should tell her so!) But, relax, grab a nice cup of Earl Grey tea, a scone, and read on. I’m talking about the wonderful fall blooming Chrysanthemum with its magnificent shades of yellow, lavender,orange, red, and rust that brightens shops, gardens, parks, and homes with non-stop fall color. Mums, glorious mums!
Chrysanthemums, or mums as they are commonly called, are native to Asia and were imported into the United States sometime in the late 1700’s. Mums have been hybridized into many different plants with many different needs. This article will not cover “exhibition” mums which require a great deal of specialized care to grow. This article will cover the easy to grow common perennial garden mums, the kind you find blooming in garden stores in the fall.
Mums are extremely easy to grow. Mums need full sun and well drained soil to grow well. A general all purpose slow release fertilizer is all that mums need to grow healthy greens and beautiful flowers. I am an organic gardener and my favorite organic slow release fertilizer is Milorganite. If you would rather have a synthetic slow release fertilizer try Osmocote for Flowers and Vegetables which is also an excellent slow release general purpose fertilizer. Both products are safe for edible and non-edible plants in your landscape and can be found at your local garden store.
Generally mums will grow in zones 4 through zone 9, unless the plant tag states otherwise. Garden mums are a tender perennial in the colder climate zones so it is best to cover mums for the winter in the northern most zones to protect them from the cold. Cover them with a generous amount (1 to 2 inches) of mulch or straw for the winter and then rake the mulch or straw back in spring to allow the sun to shine on your mums to “wake” them up so they can start to grow.
Pinching Back For More Flowers
Pinching back means to literally “pinch” off the tops of the plant by using your fingernail and pad of your thumb. You want to pinch off the tops of each branch of the mum about once a week until the middle of summer (around the 4th of July). Then stop pinching and let them grow. This creates a much more compact plant with many more blooms for your fall display. (For more complete information about pinching back mums, the University of Illinois Extension has a great website at the following link: http://web.extension.illinois.edu/fmpt/eb253/entry_8429/ )
Saving Container Mums in Fall
If you purchase a mum in a decorative container for fall, like those in baskets, it can be very expensive. Rather than throwing them out when the blooms are spent, it is easy to keep container mums over the winter. There are several ways to accomplish this. One way to overwinter mums is to take the mum out of the container and plant it in the ground in late fall. Water it well but make sure the roots are not soggy when freezing weather starts. Wet roots will rot and the plant will die so when the temperature starts getting down to freezing at night, stop watering. The roots will remain moist but not wet and your mum will sleep soundly and happily over the winter.
The second way to keep mums in containers over the winter is to dig a hole large enough to plant the whole container in the ground with the mums still in it. Put the container in the ground burying it as deep as the top of the container. Pack the extra dirt around the pot so there are no gaps between the soil and the pot and cover the mum with straw or mulch for the winter. In the spring, you simply uncover your mum, lift the container out of the ground, and your mums will start to sprout. Water and fertilize your mums after they sprout and watch them grow.
Just an FYI: The reason mums survive the winter in the container in the ground and not above ground is because the ground temperature will only get to slightly below freezing temperature while the air temperature can get substantially colder than that, 20 below zero or colder in the northern climate zones. The extreme cold will kill most if not all container plants that are left exposed to winterair temperatures above ground!
When other plants start their decline in the fall, mums burst to life into their full glory of color and show. Gardening is all about trying something new. If you don’t have mums in your garden, add some for glorious fall color!
Quote of the Day
“A chrysanthemum by any other name would be easier to spell.”
-William J. Johnston, United States Army, recipient of the Metal of Honor