Mums! Glorious Mums!

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.

Growing Mums

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: )

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!

Happy Gardening!


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






What’s With the Name? Is It Echinacea or a Coneflower?

Have you ever noticed  that many plants are called several different names? Have you ever been to a garden store to ask about a flower you want only to have the customer service person ask, “What’s that?”  Frustrating huh?

Plants generally have more than one name.  There are “common names” and “proper names”. So how do you know what to call it? First let me explain what the “common” and “proper” names refer to.

What does the phrase “common name” refer to?

The phrase “common name” simply refers to what  people commonly call a certain plant or flower, although this may differ from one area of the country to another.  “Coneflower”, “daylily”, “black-eyed susan”, and even “maple” are all common names.  These are the names that people commonly use to refer to these plants.

What does the phrase “proper name” refer to?

The “proper name” for the plant refers to its scientific name, a Latin name that refers to either the plant’s genus, or, genus and species. For example, the proper genus name for a  maple tree is “Acer” but if you are referring specifically to a Norway maple, the proper species name is “Acer platonoides” (or more often listed as “A. platonoides”).  Some proper names are very similar to the common name such as “Rosa”  and rose while others have no similarity at all.

Do I have to call it by the proper name?

No, you don’t have to call a plant by its proper name, however, there are instances where it’s a good idea to know the proper name. For example, say that you wish to buy a flower commonly called a “bachelor button”. You go to the garden center and ask to see a “bachelor button”  You are seriously frustrated when the customer service person shows you three different flowers, none of which are what you refer to as a “bachelor button”.  It seems no one can agree on which exact flower is commonly called a “bachelor button”. This example comes from my own experience at the landscape and garden nursery.  In my years working there, I  heard the term “bachelor button” used to refer to at least six different kinds of flowers!   So sometimes relying on the common name may end up in a very frustrating situation for you!

My advice to you, especially if you are looking for a specific plant, know the proper name (genus and species) along with the common name.  Also, if possible, take a picture of the plant with you as you head to a garden store to make a purchase. This will make your shopping experience a much more pleasurable outing and everyone involved will be on the same page!

Happy Gardening!


To make you laugh:

One of my best friends called me one day and asked me what she should do to overwinter a flowering plant she had next to her house.  I had just  met my friend as she had recently moved into our area from another part of the United States and she had an “accent” (Don’t we all!). She called the flower a “pee-yoe-nee”.  She pronounced the word with a long “o” sound and three syllables with emphasis on the second syllable.  Her pronunciation along with her accent made it hard for me to to figure out what plant she was referring to so I asked her to describe the plant to me.  She described it as a bush with large leaves and a large flower that looked like a rose. It was then that I figured out that she was referring to what we in the Midwest call a “pee-eh-nee” , pronounced with a short “e” sound  and one syllable.  It’s a peony!

Photo by Wanette Lenling


Should I Stake My New Tree?

Should I stake my new tree?  The short answer is no. Trees grow strong from bending and swaying in the wind like human muscles grow strong from lifting weight.  If a person doesn’t move, their muscles atrophy.  The same it true of a tree. If a tree is not allowed to sway and bend in the wind, the result is a weak tree that is likely to break in the wind.

How do I spot a strong tree? When you purchase a tree look for a healthy tree (without a stake) that has a strong sturdy trunk.  Look for a tree that is well balanced visually, for example, the top of the tree looks balanced with the size of the trunk. Also, make sure the trunk is larger at the bottom than it is toward the top.  If the tree is extraordinarily tall with a thin trunk and appears top heavy (like a pom pom on a stick), pass it up.   It’s a weak tree.

Swamp White Oak
This is a well balanced Swamp White Oak with sturdy tapered trunk

Uh oh, what if I’ve already purchased a tree that looks like a pom pom on a stick?   Sometimes a tree is too far gone and will never be able to support its own weight. You may have to either return the tree to the nursery or buy a new one. However, if you choose to plant it, you will need to stake the tree.  But, in order for the tree to grow strong and support itself, it must be staked correctly.  Often you will see a tree with a stake driven into the ground right next to the trunk and the trunk is tightly taped to the stake from the bottom of the tree trunk to the top.  Don’t ever do this and don’t buy a tree that looks like this.  This tree will be incredibly weak and likely will never recover.

 So how do I correctly stake my new tree? To correctly stake a tree,  drive two or three stakes into the ground a few feet away from the tree trunk, with one stake on each side of the tree.  The stakes should be at least half the height of the tree.  Make sure the stakes are securely in the ground and that they do not move.  Remember, they will need to support the movement of the tree in the wind.

Then, use a soft elastic material, like old panty hose, to tether the tree to each one of the stakes, using one tether per stake.  The tethers should be placed at a height not lower than the middle of the tree, slightly higher is best. Beware of the material you use to tether the tree.  Never use materials like rope or chain as a tether as it will actually rub against the bark causing injuries to the tree  which will lead to disease and rot issues.  Next, adjust the tightness or looseness of the tether if necessary to ensure the tether is loose enough so the tree can sway in the wind but tight enough to support the tree.  The tether should limit the movement of the tree but not prevent all movement of the tree.   The idea of staking is to support the tree as it grows stronger in order for the tree to  eventually support itself.

How long should I stake my tree?  My rule is one year.  In that amount of time, the tree should have expanded its root system into the ground to stabilize itself and if the tree has been staked correctly, the trunk should have become more rigid and sturdy within that year.  If the tree is still not strong enough to stand alone after one year, allow the stakes to remain for a second year, adjusting the tether tightness if necessary.  If the tree is still not strong enough to support itself without the stakes after two years, I would suggest removing the tree.  The tree is likely too weak to ever support itself and in the case of a shade tree which will grow exceptionally tall, the weak tree may cause damage to property or be dangerous to people if it should break.

Helpful hint.  If the issue is not the strength of the tree trunk but the wind blowing the tree over, especially in cases of planting bare root trees, simply plant the tree as you normally would and place weights on the ground at the base of the tree, careful not to place rough edges against the tree trunk.  This allows the tree to sway in the wind but holds the roots in the ground so it won’t blow over.

My favorite weight to use is  old gallon milk jugs full of water as they hold the tree roots down nicely but won’t damage the tree trunk. You can you can also use large rocks or decorative landscape blocks but be careful to place them far enough away that the sway of the tree in the wind does not rub the tree trunk against the rocks.  Remove the weights as soon as the tree has rooted itself down enough to hold itself upright.  Again, my rule is no longer than one year.  In one year, the tree should have rooted itself into the ground making it safe to remove the weights.

This Paper Birch tree was planted as a bare root tree.

For more information. Paul James, the Gardener Guy, who himself is a master gardener, had a TV show on HGTV called Gardening by the Yard.  One episode discussed staking trees with guest Jean Pliska, a certified arborist with 20 years of experience.  This video gives great information and demonstrations on what to do to stake a tree and what not to do. Watch the video at

The vision of a majestic tree is one of the most beautiful sights to behold.  Planted and maintained correctly, your new tree could be the center attraction in your yard for years to come.

Happy gardening!

Quote of the Day

“It will never rain roses: when we want to have more roses we must plant more trees.”

-George Eliot aka Mary Anne Evans, English novelist/poet

A Garden Poem Just for You.

The Garden  by Shel Silverstein

Ol’ man Simon, planted a diamond,

Grew hisself a garden the likes of none.

Sprouts all growin’, comin’ up glowin’

Fruit of jewels all shinin’ in the sun.

Colors of the rainbow,

See the sun and rain grow

Sapphires and rubies on ivory vines,

Grapes of jade, just

Ripenin’ in the shade, just

Ready for the squeezin’ into green jade wine.

Pure gold corn there,

Blowin’ in the warm air,

Ol’ crow nibblin’ on the amnythyst seeds.

In between the diamonds, ol’man Simon

Crawls about pullin’ out platinum weeds.

Pink pearl berries,

All you can carry,

Put ’em in a bushel and

Haul ’em into town.

Up in the tree there’s

Opal nuts and gold pears-

Hurry quick, grab a stick

And shake some down.

take a silver tater,

Emerald tomater,

Fresh plump coral melons

Hangin’ in reach.

Ol’ man Simon,

Diggin’ in his diamonds,

Stops and rests and dreams about


I think as gardeners we all feel that our garden is our greatest treasure.  This poem comes from Shel Silverstein’s book of poems called Where the Sidewalk Ends.  When I was in elementary school, our teacher read to us from this book.  I fell in love with the poems inside, some silly, some profound, but always written with a unique view of the world.  Be yourself, be unique, and keep gardening.

Happy Gardening!

Quote of the Day

“Anything is possible.  Anything can be.”

 – Shel Silverstein