Mum's the Word
By Deb Warlaumont Mulvey, Senior Editor
Summer's almost over, and your yard's in a slump. The perennials are past their prime, an early frost killed most of the annuals, and you're desperately clinging to what's left.
Sounds like you need a pick-me-up to send the growing season out with a bang...and chrysanthemums are just the plant.
Rooted in the garden or in containers, these tender perennials provide color wherever you need it, and there are plenty of hues to choose from, including yellow, salmon, bronze, pink, red, purple and white.
Its blossoms come in just as many shapes, from small buttons to big daisy-like blooms (yes, they're in the same flower family as daisies), dense pom-poms and flashy "spider" types with tubular petals that twist and curl.
Depending on the variety, mums can bloom as early as August and as late as October, when most other plants are a distant memory. Here's why: As the days grow shorter, most summer-flowering plants start shutting down for the season. With mums, decreased daylight has an opposite effect, signaling the plants to start producing blossoms.
Mums are frost-tolerant, too, so they not only bloom when your garden needs color most, but keep doing so for weeks while other plants are getting sapped by chilly nights. Mums typically outlast even the toughest annuals, continuing to flower through several frosts.
Though they're often called "hardy mums," the name can be a bit misleading. When planted in the garden, mums don't always survive the winter, especially in cold climates. Mulching may help, but if that doesn't work, it's best to treat them as annuals and buy new plants each growing season.
Ready for the Show?
Mums bloom heavily, so even a handful of plants can have a big visual impact. A single healthy chrysanthemum can produce 100 or more flowers, giving you plenty to spare for long-lasting bouquets.
Ready to grow your own? It's this easy:
- Choose a sunny site with rich soil that drains well. Avoid the shade. Mums need at least a half day of full sun.
- If you're planting mums in the garden, do it in spring to give roots plenty of time to develop. Fertilize monthly into early August. If you're using mums as annuals, either in containers or in the garden, feel free to plant in fall. Space the plants 2 to 3 feet apart.
- For container-grown mums, minimize feeding chores by adding a slow-release fertilizer to the planting mix. Even easier: Use a potting medium with the fertilizer already mixed in.
- Water frequently, but don't overdo it. Keep the soil evenly moist, but don't let the plants sit in puddles.
- Pinch back shoots when new growth is 4 to 6 inches tall. Repeat whenever new growth is 3 to 5 inches long. Stop in late June if you live in the North, late July if you're in the South. Pinching beyond this point can delay or even eliminate fall blooms. (For more on pinching, see the next page.)
- To treat mums as perennials, mulch them with leaves, straw, evergreen branches or peat moss after the ground freezes. Leave the old foliage in place; this may boost chances of winter survival.
So if you want even more fall color in the yard this year, mum's the word! Just a few may be all you need to give summer a stunning send-off or snap your landscape out of the autumn doldrums.