By Melinda Myers
Mums are a favorite fall flower that adds weeks of seasonal color to containers, gardens and fall displays. They are also a popular gift plant in garden centers and floral shops. Choosing the right one for the purpose and providing proper care will help you achieve your desired results.
Start by selecting the best mum for your gardening goals. You’ll find mums labeled as garden, perennial, gift or florist mums. All these names for plants that look alike can be confusing. The answer lies in their response to day length, hardiness and use.
Mums set flowers based on day length. Growers can force them into bloom by covering them to create shorter days that initiate flowering. Those grown as gift mums, often called florist mums, usually require the longest periods of uninterrupted darkness or shorter days. When these mums are grown under natural daylight they usually don’t flower until late fall or early winter. These late bloomers are usually killed by cold temperatures before or soon after the flowers appear in colder areas.
Nurseries selling mums ready to flower in the fall often refer to them as garden mums. These may be perennial mums or “florist” mums forced to flower for fall displays. The intent is to use them as annuals. Select ones with lots of buds and just a few if any open flowers to maximize the bloom time and your enjoyment. Place one or two mums on the front steps, plant them in vacant spots in the garden or combine them with other fall favorites in containers.
These garden mums may be hardy and suited to the area but since all the energy is directed to the flowers little is left to establish a hardy, robust root system. If you have success overwintering your garden mums, feel free to brag. If your plants don’t survive or you don’t try, don’t worry. You are using them as a fall annual as they were intended. This also provides space for new plants in the spring and an opportunity to try a different color mum next fall.
Those mums sold as perennials are hardy enough to survive the winter and flower in late summer or early fall providing weeks of color in the garden. They are often sold alongside other perennials, labeled as perennials, or promoted as hardy for the area. Increase your success by planting them in spring. This allows the plant time to develop a robust root system before it begins flowering in the fall which will increase its ability to survive cold winters.
Place mums in an area with full sun and water thoroughly and often enough to keep the soil moist but not soggy wet. Check the soil in containers daily and water when the top few inches of soil are starting to dry. Always use a container with drainage holes or a self-watering pot.
Increase overwintering success by leaving the plants intact in the garden over winter. Those gardening in colder regions may opt to cover the plants with evergreen boughs after the ground freezes, providing extra insulation. Remove the mulch when temperatures begin hovering above freezing. Whether covered or not, prune out the dead stems in spring as new growth appears.
Whatever you call them, add a few colorful mums to your fall displays. You are sure to enjoy the blast of color they provide to your landscape before winter arrives.
Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including the recently released Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” instant video and DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment TV & radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine and her website is www.MelindaMyers.com.