It seems as soon as the air cools, signaling the coming of fall, garden centers begin showcasing full mounds of brilliant red, yellow, and violet flowers. Chrysanthemums, or mums, are a staple in fall gardens. Mums are a national symbol of fall abundance, and this herbaceous and 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.
Chrysanthemum are a member of the Compositae family and are available in a wide range of brilliant colors, shapes and sizes. First cultivated in China over 6 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 different 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.
With over 100 different chrysanthemum cultivars in the United States, the National Chrysanthemum Society has a classification system in place to categorize 13 different mums by flower shape.
You may be asking yourself how to grow chrysanthemums to fill your garden landscape as quickly as possible. Taking the time to first understand how to plant chrysanthemums rewards you with full, beautiful plants loaded with blooms.
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 also 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.
When shopping for mums, check the label to make sure you’re purchasing hardy garden varieties appropriate for your planting zone. Local nurseries and garden centers will most often feature the varieties that are specific to local areas. Avoid purchasing from floral shops – their mums are different, less hardy floral varieties.
If you’ve planted other perennials, then you already know how to plant chrysanthemum. To create a good soil for your mums, work your soil to a depth of 8 to 12 inches. Mix in 2 to 4 inches of organic material, such as compost or peat moss. The perfect soil texture can be tested by taking a handful and squeezing. When you open your hand, the soil shouldn’t clump or quickly fall apart. It should simply crumble.
Mums bloom due to their photoperiodic nature. When the plant senses a change in the length of darkness in late summer, it begins to set buds. Planting near artificial lights, such as security lights or porch lights, can alter the bloom time of your mums.
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.
Early morning watering, to a depth of 6 to 8 inches, is recommended. The ideal watering method for mums is one that applies moisture directly to the base of the plants. This prevents moisture from becoming trapped in the thick foliage. Soaker hoses can provide even, consistent moisture directly to the ground, and a water timer saves you the hassle of having to remember to manually water.
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.
Choose a balanced, water-soluble fertilizer for monthly application from early spring through July. If you plant fall mums, wait to begin their fertilization until the spring. Fall fertilization can actually reduce the hardiness of chrysanthemums to survive cold winters.
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.
Spring is the best time to divide your mums. Gently remove the plant from the ground and break it up into smaller sections. You can discard the woody center of the plant, since it won’t perform as well as the younger, outer sections. Replant in garden soil rich with organic matter.
Although most mums are purchased from garden centers as already-established plants or propagated from cuttings and division, you can grow chrysanthemums from seed. It can be a bit of an adventure, because many chrysanthemum seeds do not stay true to the parent plant. This means you can end up with a wide variety of flower colors and sizes.
Mums have a long growing season. Growing chrysanthemums from seeds requires planning in areas with short growing seasons. Start the seeds indoors six to eight weeks prior to the last frost date. Transfer to the garden when the chrysanthemum seedlings are 6 to 8 inches tall. Expect to see blooms the first year after planting.
Growing chrysanthemums in pots is a perfect garden solution for apartments and small gardens. Most garden mums grow to 2 to 3 feet in size and require at least a 12-inch container for the best support. Rich potting soil with good drainage is essential.
To encourage root growth, water container mums from the bottom of the container. Add a water-soluble fertilizer on a weekly basis. Because mums require the proper sunlight to set blooms, placing your plant in a south-facing window and away from artificial light produces the best results. Storing in a protected garage during the winter months can help your plant rest for new spring growth.
The chrysanthemum growing rate depends on many variables. Different varieties feature different growth rates and mature size. Plants grown from seed may take several years to reach their full growth potential. Mums grown from already-established garden center plants and division have a head-start on the growing season. Taking proper care of mums through watering, fertilizing and pinching increases the fullness and growth capabilities of the plant.
Although we generally think of fall as being chrysanthemum season, there are actually three different types of blooming mums: early bloomers, early fall bloomers and late fall bloomers. Early bloomers often begin flowering in late July, early fall bloomers show off blooms in September and late fall bloomers start their stunning display of colors in October. Each variety differs, but most mums will continue to bloom for four to eight weeks.
There are many ways to extend the flowering of chrysanthemums. Deadheading spent blooms, fertilizing in the spring and avoiding overcrowding will help your mums produce more blooms over a longer period of time.
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