Caring for Your Mums – The Fall Diva
Chances are you have a lot of time and money invested in your gardens and outdoor spaces. You have spent a large portion of the summer tending to your flowers and plants, keeping them healthy, growing, and lasting. As fall quickly approaches, we must come to terms with the end of the season for many of these colorful, attractive flowers. But for fall gardens, our attention turns to the chrysanthemum. Chrysanthemums have enjoyed a rich history of over 2,500 years in cultivation starting in Asia. The blooms last for weeks, not days, and the sheer number of flowers per plant will convince anyone that this flower really likes to show off. Here at Toadflax Nursery, we have a colorful array of mums to create the perfect outdoor fall setting.
Because of their tight, mounded placement and stunning bloom cover, garden mums are perfect for mass plantings. To really make a statement from a distance, stick to a couple of colors. But to create an interest to on-lookers, you can mix and match the beautiful colors to reflect your own personality and the perfect fall backdrop. Look around your yard to see what colors would best complement the existing landscape. Landscape designers offer many tips for decorating with the chrysanthemum; garden mums make great container plants. They’re just right for popping into a clay pot, lining up in a row in a window box, or placing in the center of a mixed container with trailing foliage plants all around. Likewise, if you decorate for fall with pumpkins and gourds, choose orange, bronze, yellow, and creamy white mums. If you have a lot of evergreen plants that provide a backdrop of varying shades of green foliage, try bright pinks, lavenders, pure whites, or reds. With such bold colors, a large grouping of mums can excite even the drabbest of fall landscapes.
Caring for your garden mums is just as important as choosing the right variety. They may give you the color you need, but we here at Toadflax Nursery put together some expert tips on how to make this flower last and thrive in your garden or outdoor space. First, decide whether you want this flower to be an annual or a perennial. Because they are an inexpensive flower, many homeowners buy the flowers each year. One expert explains that fall planting lessens the chance of winter survival since roots don’t have time to establish themselves. If you want something more permanent and are willing to provide proper care such as mulching and pinching to encourage compact growth and more blooms, plant mums in the spring and allow them to get established in the garden. This will improve their chances of overwintering and re-blooming the following year. Some plants will even produce a few blooms in the spring before being pinched for fall flowers.
Chrysanthemums grow best and produce the most flowers if they are planted in full sunshine. Plant them in full sun and well-drained soil, enriched by compost. Chrysanthemums are “photoperiodic” – they bloom in response to the shorter days and longer nights experienced (in the Northern Hemisphere) in fall. They respond to plenty of food (fertilizer) and moisture. Mums also work well as container plants to decorate patios, porches, and decks. Go easy on the water, however, to prevent root rot. On the other hand, be sure to water thoroughly until they become established. Potted mums probably will not do well inside as lower light levels often result in yellowing leaves and droopy flowers. There are hundreds of varieties of chrysanthemums, giving you a multitude of options for height, color, flower size and time of bloom. In northern climates, it is wise to purchase the earlier bloomers. Mums can be started as seeds, from cuttings and dividing, or can be purchased at a nursery in sizes from bedding plants up to gallon size and larger plants. They should be planted into well prepared, fertile, sandy soil with a deep hole.
To make them last throughout the winter, experts say to fertilize chrysanthemums once per month through July (any growth after that is too late to harden off for winter). Hardy mums will be even harder with winter protection. Mulch them and create a microclimate to shelter them from winter winds. If you can’t plant them on the south side of your house, build a modified version of the shrub shelters used for winter protection. Don’t prune in fall: existing branches offer the roots protection.
It is recommended that you not grow your mums in the same spot for more than three consecutive years to help prevent associated disease and pest problems. The plants should be spaced 18-30 inches apart for best results. Feed lightly every 2 weeks with a balanced all-purpose fertilizer. When the plants are 6 inches tall, pinch about 3/4 of an inch from each branch to promote more blooms and bushier plants. When they reach a foot tall, pinch them again. Chrysanthemums should be divided every three to five years to avoid overcrowding and promote maximum flowering. They should be divided in the spring when new growth appears. Dig entire clumps and separate the plants with a sharp, clean knife or spade. Remove all dead and diseased plant parts. Replant the divisions as soon as possible in a loose, well-drained, rich organic soil.
Gardens need special care to help prepare them for winter and for the next growing season. Lighter colors tend to bloom earlier than the darker reds and purples, so select different colors for a longer display of color. This flower will be the perfect addition to your fall foliage.