Fall is coming, and with it comes the beauty of flowers most often available this time of year: mums. Chrysanthemums are a staple in fall gardens. They are a national symbol of fall abundance, and this hardy perennial is an easy addition to give a gorgeous pop of color in your fall garden landscape. With a little understanding and a few simple tips, you can have a lush, beautiful fall chrysanthemum garden display to help celebrate the changing of seasons.
Exactly what are chrysanthemums? They are a member of the Compositae family and are available in a wide range of colors, shapes and sizes. First cultivated in China over six centuries ago, this type of daisy was initially grown as an herb associated with the power of life. The chrysanthemum flowers range from dazzling whites to deep bronzes, and the hardy plants are highlighted with full, dark green leaves.
Chrysanthemum flowers look like they have a multitude of petals, but each individual petal is actually a small floret. There are two types of florets: ray and disc florets. Ray florets are what we traditionally see as the petals, while the disc florets create the center buttons. When the florets are all clustered together, they give us what we know and love as a mum bloom.
So when is the best time to plant chrysanthemums? Planting chrysanthemum in the spring gives the perennial plant time to establish and adapt to its new garden home, but you'll easily find mums in garden centers and nurseries in both fall and spring.
Although it is tempting to buy those huge beautiful fall mums you see during the autumn season, in terms of longevity, the smaller spring mums are actually a better investment. The root system becomes stronger throughout the summer and fall, which increases a plant's ability to survive the winter.
Planting in the spring will result in a bigger bloom the following season. Although some fall mums can survive winter if planted immediately, the odds are much better with spring-planted mums. Having said all that about spring mums, I cannot resist the beautiful fall mums that are available this time of year. I put them out in pots for a colorful fall show, rather than plant them in the ground. I have had some success in wintering them over in the garage or greenhouse, too.
The chrysanthemums you purchase in garden centers are frequently referred to as "hardy mums" for a reason. The majority of mum varieties are winter hardy in Zones 5 through 9. Some varieties, such as Mammoth Daisy, are hardy down to Zone 3. (We are in Zone 7.)
Chrysanthemums can survive in most soils, but they thrive in well-draining soil with consistent moisture. Growing mums in hard, dry soil prevents the roots from becoming well established, while wet, boggy soil drowns the roots. Finding the middle ground is key.
Chrysanthemums are sun-loving plants. Although they technically require only six hours of sunlight each day, the more light they receive, the better their growth, bloom and hardiness.
Slight shade in hot, summer afternoons is appropriate in warmer gardening zones to prevent scorching.
Spacing mums properly is essential for plant health. Plants that are too crowded compete for nutrients, have root system issues, attract pests and suffer from disease.
Following the plant spacing directions for your chrysanthemum variety increases the health of your garden and protects your investment of time and money.
Mums are generally considered low-maintenance plants. Knowing how to care for chrysanthemums properly simply requires basic gardening techniques. With just a little special chrysanthemum care, your garden will be filled with a multitude of beautiful blooms. Mums require even moisture for the best growth. Consistent watering throughout the spring, summer and fall is essential. Once the ground is frozen in the winter, watering can be suspended until spring warms the soil.
Deadhead spent blooms throughout the fall for an extended bloom time.
Once the plant has died in the winter, resist cutting it back. Research reveals that allowing it to die back naturally over the winter produces a stronger plant. Simply clean up the dead stems and foliage in the spring.
The key to winter survival is a consistent soil temperature. Frequent freezing and thawing cycles damage the roots and confuse the plant. Adding a thick layer of mulch -- up to four inches -- can help maintain an even soil temperature throughout winter. Spread mulch under your mums as soon as the surface of your soil begins to harden and the thermostat begins to dip into the 20s. Using a loose mulch, like straw, can reduce compaction and increase the insulation of the ground.
Add chrysanthemums to your yard to ignite some floral fireworks each fall. They are a hardy perennial that flourishes with minimal care and rewards you with glorious color in your landscape.