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How to Grow Mums

By: Garden Gate staff
Chrysanthemums are the quintessential flowers of autumn...find out how to grow them and see a few of our favorite varieties to add to your garden.

Different colored mums in a garden bed: Try adding different colors of mums in your garden beds and borders.

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 garden mums 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.

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how-to-grow-mums-five-alarm-red: ‘Five Alarm Red’ mums paired with ‘Little Henry’ Virginia sweetspire compliment each other well in the fall garden.

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. Plant mums in spring

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.

how-to-grow-mums-dividing-mums: Reset mum divisions with the largest leaves and biggest pieces of root.

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.

Tools to Help You Plant & Divide

Perennial Planter
Perennial Shovel
Soil Knife

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.

how-to-grow-mums-spring-cleanup: Uncover mums and cut down the dead stems in spring when you see new growth sprouting.

6. Be patient

Wait until spring to uncover the crown and cut the old stems down. Late cold snaps can kill tender new growth.

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how-to-pinch-mums: Pinching mums can help promote more flowers or to create a desired habit.

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.

How to pinch mums for more flowers illustration by Carlie Hamilton: Pinching the growing tip of your mums early in the season will result in more blooms.

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 out the growing tip with your fingers or use a small pruners to snip out the tip. You’ll get four or more side shoots that will each produce a cluster of flowers.

How to pinch mums for a more mounded habit illustration: Pinching growing tips multiple times throughout the season will produce a more mounded habit for your mums.

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.

how-to-grow-mums-buds2: When buying mums in fall, choose plants with buds just starting to show color to get the longest bloom time.

Growing mums in containers

To get the most bloom time, choose potted mums at the nursery whose buds are just starting to show color like you see above. 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.

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Try these mum varieties in your garden

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Published: Nov. 4, 2019
Updated: Oct. 26, 2021

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