Mums: the classic fall flower
Chrysanthemums are ubiquitous in the fall gardenscape. Few plants give such a colorful show during fall in cold-winter climates. You can find them in any color except for true blue. These plants also come in several different flower forms. You can see a few of them in the slideshow below.
Different mum flower forms
- Decorative flowers are double, with tightly overlapping rows of petals.
- Daisy flowers are single with narrow petals radiating out from the center.
- Spoon flowers are similar to daisies, but with the half of the petal nearest the center “quilled,” or rolled into a tube.
Mums can be treated as an annual or perennial
Many folks treat mums as annuals, buying whatever color strikes their fancy in the fall and tossing the plants on the compost pile when winter comes. But the truth is, many mums are cold-hardy even into USDA zone 4. You just have to know how to keep them alive.
Planting mums in fall doesn’t give them enough time to get established before winter comes. Check out our mum growing tips below that will help your mums come back every year.
How to grow your best mums
While hardy perennial mums are usually quite durable, with a bit of extra care you’ll reap huge rewards. Here are tips to reduce the risk that you’ll have to plant new mums every year.
1. Start early
Spring is the time to get mums in the ground. That gives them lots of time to send out a strong root system that will keep them from being heaved out of the soil over the winter. Buy young starts in early spring. If they have flowers, snip them off so the mum puts its energy into growing more roots and branches.
2. Divide frequently
For the most flowers, divide mums every spring. Toss out the weak and woody centers and reset only healthy young sprouts from the edge of the clump.
3. Choose a sunny spot
Always plant hardy mums in full sun and well-drained soil. Avoid locations that stay wet or where water collects, especially in winter. With too much moisture, the crown rots and the plant will die.
4. Fertilize regularly
Mums are heavy feeders. Start with a granulated 10-10-10 fertilizer as soon as you see new growth. Give them another dose in early August, or when you spot the buds forming. Or apply a slow-release fertilizer in spring. But if you irrigate or it’s been a rainy season, give your mums a little extra 10-10-10 as the buds form. Never feed after mid-August or the plant will try to keep growing rather than wind down to prepare for dormancy.
5. Prepare for winter
Mums left standing will survive cold winters better than ones cut to the ground. And it’s a good idea to spread 2 to 4 in. of straw or other loose mulch over the roots to keep them evenly cold and protected.
6. Be patient
Wait until spring to uncover the crown and cut the old stems down. Late cold snaps can kill tender new growth.
How to pinch mums
So you planted in spring and your mums come back every year. Why do they stretch into lanky plants by fall and not grow in those tight cushions covered in buds that you’re used to seeing at the garden center? Pinching can help.
Pinching mums for more flowers
Pinching is the way to get the most flowers, but if you want a taller, more natural-looking mum, do it just once. When the plant is 4 to 6 in. tall, pinch or snip out the tip. You’ll get four or more side shoots that will each produce a cluster of flowers.
Pinching mums for a mounded look
Looking for shorter plants with more flowering branches? You’ll want to start pinching in spring and repeat the process every time new growth stretches to 4 to 6 in. long. Stop pinching in mid-July so your mum will have time to set flower buds.
Mums in containers
To get the most bloom time, choose potted mums whose buds are just starting to show color. And if you’re moving them into containers, don’t worry about using a high-quality potting mix or even fertilizing — they’re ready to go. Actually, no matter how you’re going to enjoy them, you can simply slip the mum, pot and all, into place and you’re set for the season.