by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener
I love when the leaves start to change color and the fall weather brings us cooler temperatures. Although I enjoy the warmth of summer, the change from heat and humidity feels good. Speaking of fall color, the chrysanthemum is prized for infusing the landscape with vibrant color long after other flowers have faded. As I am sure you well know, mums come in an assortment of different bloom shapes, colors and sizes.
For chrysanthemums, or mums for short, to survive the winter, make sure you purchase a hardy or garden mum, not a florist mum. The production of underground shoots is the main difference between the two. The florist mum produces few if any shoots and would be suitable for a short term bedding plant for the summer. A garden mum will produce many underground shoots, which with some tlc (tender loving care) will survive the winter for years.
I always try to purchase the hardy variety so that when I am finished decorating with them I can plant them in the garden to grow again next year. Although spring is the best time to plant mums in the garden, I have been fairly successful at planting them in the fall and having them survive the winter. That’s where the tlc comes in.
If you want your mum to be retained over the winter, it is a must that they be planted in well-drained soil. Poorly drained soil contributes to winter injury. They will also need at least six hours of direct sunlight each day and enough growing area so that they are not crowded and have good air circulation. In order to bring mums back in the spring they will need to be mulched in the fall for winter protection. The mulch will keep the soil frozen and thus will eliminate the thawing and freezing which brings on soil heaving and exposing of the roots. After the blooms and foliage have died I do not cut off the leftover stems. I pack those stems with straw to help protect the crown from the winter winds. November to early December is a good time to place mulch around the base of mums. This gives the soil time to get good and cold. Once the weather warms up in the spring, remove the straw and stems to allow the new shoots to pop up.
Mums will usually survive short-term drought conditions but to ensure a healthy plant going into winter it is best to water them thoroughly during the summer months. Frequent, light watering will encourage a shallow root system which can weaken the plant and make it susceptible to diseases such as verticilllium wilt, mildew and septoria leaf spot. Water should be applied to the soil keeping the foliage dry.
Mums are heavy feeders and will require several applications of a 10-10-10 fertilizer. The first application should be made in the spring and the second in mid-summer.
To get the conventional mum-bush look, the plants will need to be pinched back several times. The first time should be when the plants are about 6 inches tall (early to mid June) and then again in mid-July when the new growth is about 6 to 8 inches long. I do not have the patience or the time to pinch back each individual stem. I just take my garden shears in one hand and a clump of mums in the other and give them a cut. It’s hard for me to cut anything green back, but the outcome is worth it.
For more information on garden mums you can visit the National Chrysanthemum Society’s web page at http://www.mums.org.
As always Happy Gardening!
More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at http://www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs.html. The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co.,
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