For the perfect late-season bloomer, you can't go wrong with chrysanthemums! Use these tips to help you plant, grow, and enjoy this favorite autumn flower.
Available in dozens of exciting varieties, mums bloom for weeks, and the sheer number of brightly colored flowers per plant will leave no doubt as to why mums are such a favorite for filling porch pots and flower beds once other blooming plants start winding down. Here's what you need to know to grow and care for fall mums that are sure to liven up your landscape until winter sets in.
Garden mums can survive cold better. Most garden mums are perennials in Zones 5-9 and much tougher than florist types. Some cultivars are less hardy than others and can be killed by an early spring frost, though.
How Do You Care for Potted Mums?
Both florist and garden mums make excellent container plants. Pop them into a clay pot or a fall window box by themselves or with other fall plants like flowering kale. Making sure your potted mums thrive starts with picking the right plant. Look for a plant with more buds than open flowers; it will last longer and the repotting process will be less traumatic for a plant not yet in full bloom.
Speaking of repotting, it’s one of the best things you can do for your mums. Most mums in containers will have very compacted root balls after sitting in nursery containers, so gently breaking up the root ball and giving the mum a new home in some fresh potting soil will set your plant up for success.
And don’t forget the water. Chrysanthemums love full sun and all that heat means they also need plenty of water. Give them a good soak after repotting, then water every other day or whenever soil seems dry. Try to avoid allowing your plants to wilt. They will revive well after watering again, but the flower buds may not last as long or look as bright.
How Should I Use Mums in My Garden?
Because of their tight, mounded habit and profusion of blooms, garden mums are perfect for mass plantings. To get the maximum effect from far away, stick to only one or two colors. Another possibility is to arrange a gradual transition of related colors in an ombre effect. Many landscape plants can provide a backdrop for groupings of mums to help them stand out more. For texture, choose ornamental grasses, berry shrubs, sedum, or almost any conifer.
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 most drab of fall landscapes.
To get the most from your mums, choose cultivars according to their bloom times. It also helps to coordinate bloom time with the length of fall in your location. Most garden mums will withstand a light fall frost, but finding the best cultivars will let you enjoy them for as long as possible.
Fall planting lessens the chance of winter survival, however, because roots don't have time to establish themselves enough. 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 reblooming the next year. Some plants will even produce a few blooms in the spring before being pinched for fall flowers.
Water newly planted mums thoroughly, and never let them wilt. After they are established, give mums about an inch of water per week. When bottom leaves look limp or start to turn brown, water more often. Avoid soaking the foliage, which can lead to disease.
Mums thrive in well-drained soil. If the soil doesn't drain well, add compost and mix it in to a depth of 8-12 inches for best performance. You could also grow mums in raised beds filled with a garden soil mix that drains well. Plant mums about 1 inch deeper than they were in the nursery pot, being careful with the roots as you spread them. Their roots are shallow, so they don't like competition from weeds.
Plants set out in spring should get a 5-10-10 fertilizer once or twice a month until cooler weather sets in. Don't fertilize plants set out in fall as annuals, but the plants you hope to overwinter should get high-phosphorus fertilizer to stimulate root growth.
How Do You Winterize Garden Mums?
Prepare mums for winter after the first hard frost. Mulch up to 4 inches with straw or shredded hardwood around the plants. Pinch off dead blooms to clean up the plant, but leave branches intact. Mums have a better chance of surviving if you wait to prune old stems until spring.
Although garden mums are often called hardy mums, they may not survive the winter if drainage is poor or if you live in an extremely cold climate. If your mums survive the winter, you'll see new growth developing around the base of the plant in early spring. As soon as the weather warms, pull away mulch to allow new shoots to pop up. The old, dead growth from last year can be clipped away. If nothing develops at the base of the plant, it's a sign that the plant did not survive the winter.