How to Care for Mums
Mums are perennials that are easy to grow and offer colors such as yellow, red, lavender, purple, white, off-white, gold, bronze, burgundy, and pink. Landscapers love them for the added beauty during the fall season and florists enjoy their long lasting blooms. Mums come into their full beauty during November as they prefer short days and longer nights. They are most commonly used as part of our fall décor and many thanksgiving tables are graced with the addition of some form of mum. Chrysanthemums were cultivated in China as far back as 15 B.C. The original flowers were golden, but they have since evolved into the profusion of colors we enjoy today. In China, mums are boiled and made into chrysanthemum tea which is used for medicinal purposes as a folk remedy for influenza.
Types of Mums and Planting Zones
Chrysanthemums are known as ‘hardy’ or ‘florist’. Hardy mums put out stolons, florist mums put out few stolons or none at all. Hardy, or garden, mums will enhance your garden year after year if you live in planting zones three through nine. To find out which planting zone you live in, you can find Plant Hardiness Zone Maps available online at a variety of gardening websites. The USDA developed the map which works as a guideline to determine which plants will survive the climate in your outdoor garden. They collected data for over 60 years, determining the average minimum winter temperatures in order to create a map that is as accurate as possible. The map is only a guideline, so if you live in an area that is on a zone border, use your best judgment about planting mums. Florist mums are not as likely to survive the winter if planted, as they may not have been cultivated in your area.
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Watering Mums in the Garden
Garden mums have shallow roots and they need regular watering. Plant your garden mums in rich organic soil and they will do fine if there is an average amount of rainfall. During the heat of summer, you may choose to water them regularly using a sprinkler or hose, especially if you live in an area experiencing drought conditions. Mums can become stunted and woody if you allow them to dry out repeatedly. If your mums are planted in terra cotta pots, they are particularly vulnerable to drying out, so keep a close eye on these. You should mulch your mums to help keep the soil moist.
Mulching Garden Mums
Mulching your mums is very important due to the shallowness of their roots. Spread a three inch layer of organic material like wood chips, pine bark, chopped leaves or evergreen boughs over the soil surrounding your mums. Mulch wears three hats in terms of caring for your mums during the blooming period. It helps to hold the moisture in the soil, protects the blooms from dirt, and controls weeds. In the winter, after you have cut back the dead stems, add at least another inch of mulch to protect the dormant plant from temperature fluctuations.
Fertilizing Garden Mums
Because their roots are so near the top of the soil, garden mums enjoy fertilizer. In the spring, sprinkle about a tablespoon of slow acting, general purpose granular fertilizer on top of the soil around each mum. Allow the rain to soak in the fertilizer. You will need to add another handful around each plant approximately two weeks before blooming begins, usually in mid to late August, depending on your climate.
Staking Your Garden Mums
Some of the larger variety of mums may need to have their stems staked in order to protect their blooms. Mums that haven’t been properly pinched or that haven’t received enough sunlight may develop longer stems, needing help to support their flowers. You can stake the stems individually or by setting stakes at an equal distance around a flowering clump, then tying string around them, forming a circle that will support the stems.
Pruning Your Mums
As soon as your plants are six to eight inches high, pinch off the top ½ to one inch of the growing tips. This will encourage bushy plants with lots of flowers by stimulating strong branch development and delaying the development of buds until fall. Continue pinching new growth until mid summer for bushy, beautiful blooms that will begin around the end of August or the beginning of September. If you prefer to have a later blooming period, pinch the new growth until the end of August. If you would like to have larger flowers, but less of them, pinch all but one or two buds from each cluster when they appear.
After the plants have finished flowering in late fall, cut the stems back to within a few inches from the ground. Remember to add mulch for protection.
How to Grow Mums As Fall Flowers
Propagating Garden Mums
Dividing your mature garden mums every two or three years will allow to you add more mums to your garden as well as to share your beauties with friends and family. Early in the spring, when the tiny green shoots first appear, dig up the entire clump and separate the new growth from the outer portions of the clumps. Remember that there are roots attached, so handle with care. Throw away the older, woody parts of the clumps and plant the new, rooted shoots.