How to Successfully Grow Chrysanthemums
Chrysanthemums or 'mums,' are a gorgeous flower that come in literally hundreds of varieties, although most people associate them with the button-shaped ones bought near the end of the season to add color to the fading summer garden.
These types of chrysanthemums are hardy and can take a light frost, although it's still best to give them some protection to extend their life in the latter part of the growing season.
But that's just a small part of the chrysanthemum story, as there are some cultivated for show, and those will bloom and thrive at different times, alhough they aren't nearly as hardy as those mentioned above.
These types of mums are called 'show' mums, or are also identified as 'florist' mums or chrysanthemums.
So even though a flower is in fact a chrysanthemum, don't assume it is hardy or thrives in the colder months. Check the tag or read the literature on a certain variety if you're ordering online or from a catalog so you're not caught off guard and your mums fail you.
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Growing Chrysanthemums from Seed
Chrysanthemums can either be bought in a store, as we all know, or they can be grown from seed.
Just like if you're buying from a store, be sure to read up on the variety of chrysanthemum seed or seeds you're wanting to acquire, as it still holds that some do better than others at different times of the year. Assume nothing in that regard.
The good news about growing chrysanthemums from seed is it's not that hard to get them germinated and flourishing, as long as you keep them at a steady temperature of from 70 to 75 degrees F.
To accomplish this, use heating cables or a propagating mat underneath your flats or seed bed. Heating lights could also do the trick, although heating from the bottom up is a better and superior way to ensure success.
Chrysanthemum seeds should be sown no later than the 1st of April, although that could be different for you, depending on where you live. It is also based upon the type of chrysanthemum you're growing and when you want to display them ... and where.
If you're wanting to grow them to resale, be sure to use sterile rooting medium and place them in flats. The seeds are minuscule, so be sure to sow them as evenly as you can if you're sowing a lot of them.
Chrysanthemum seeds take anywhere from one to three weeks to emerge, so don't get overly anxious when they don't emerge right away.
Other Ways to Propagate Chrysanthemums
Growing chrysanthemums from seed isn't the only way to propagate the flowers. Once you have some chrysanthemums, then you can multiply them via plant division or cuttings.
As for dividing your mums, this is a very positive practice, as it helps the plants which respond well to it.
Once you're sure the last frost in the spring is over, you can look for shoots about 1”- 3” tall. When you find them, just dig them up and ease them apart. You can do this by hand or use a garden tool to do it.
What's also helpful about this is you get a good look the health of the roots, and you can throw away the mums not looking that healthy while retaining the quality flowers while at the same time multiplying them.
For cuttings, cut off a portion of the plant approximately 4”- 6” long. Take the lower leaves off of the plant once you have the cutting.
Place them in a good mix about an inch deep after dipping them in a rooting hormone. Put them under artificial light until they become rooted.
Handling Young Chrysanthemum Plants
It takes approximately six weeks for a chrysanthemum seed to reach the four to six leaf stage. At that time they should be separated and placed individually in two-inch peat pots.
One very important aspect of handling young chrysanthemum plants is you should never handle them by the stem, but rather with a dibble stick or by the leaves. While true in all circumstances, if you've planted just a few for yourself you could lose them all if you mishandle them by grabbing a stem of the flower.
If you grab a hold of the leaves, the flower will survive, as they'll grow out again. A damaged stem won't be recoverable and the flower will be lost.
You can also use a dibble stick, or make one from a Popsicle stick and transfer the small plant to the peat pot.
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When are Young Chrysanthemums Ready for Bigger Pots?
After transplanting chrysanthemum to the small peat pots, they need to be allowed to grow for another month at least, and as long as five weeks.
At that time they should be ready to transfer to a larger gallon container. You can start to pinch off the tips in order to give it that nice bushy look. Once that's completed, you won't have to pinch them again later on.
Of course that doesn't mean you can't pinch back the plants more, just that you won't have to to get a good looking flower.
If you want even fuller, bushier mums, then wait until they're about a foot tall and give them a second pinch. Some gardeners do this on a monthly basis in order to produce that awesome fall bloom. About three months before the fall bloom you should stop pinching.
As for fertilizer, Mums prefer a (15-30-15).
Mums in the Garden
What about chrysanthemums in the garden?
Chrysanthemums don't do well with a lot of water, so they need to be placed in a garden where the early morning sun hits them and dries off the nightly dew.
They should get up to six hours of early, daily sun to keep them healthy and protect them against mildew, although five hours of sun would probably be enough.
This also means they shouldn't be planted in areas that are low-lying and wet, or don't have a lot of air circulation.
Also take into account that the majority of chrysanthemums bloom better in longer days and shorter nights, so avoid areas where you may have some outside lights of your own, or street lights. They will lose some of the quality of their bloom if they don't have plenty of dark at night once they're in the garden.
Although very hardy, chrysanthemums do better in soil with a pH of about 6.5.
Chrysanthemums can be planted at any time as long as the roots have a minimum of six weeks to be established before extreme weather - either hot or cold - comes about.
When planting the mums, be sure the hole you dig is at least double the size of the root ball of the plant. Plant them at the specific depth you found them in the pot you bought or raised them in.
Mums do best when planted from 18 inches to 24 inches apart.
Also keep out of your mum beds, as walking in the area could compact the soil, causing drainage problems, making them more wet and susceptible to disease and mildew.
Mums in Northern Climates
If you live in a climate with a very short growing season you have a limited strategy for growing mums. In that case the best way to go about it is to acquire or grow chrysanthemums which bloom earlier. That way you can enjoy these beautiful flowers and not be frustrated by a plant that takes too long to bloom for the area you live in.
Winter Care for Mums
There are some differences of opinions on how best to care for mums over the winter, with some advocating cutting them back to the ground, while others recommend allowing the plants to remain as they are in order to help hold down the mulch.
I prefer to cut back, but you may have to experiment to see which works best for you.
The greatest threat for wintering mums is frost heaving. That means that freezing and thawing can occur off and on over the winter months, which can severely damage the plant.
For a defense against that and winter wetness, place some type of mulch which allows for aeration of the plant, or as some do, build the soil up around the plant in the way you might potatoes in the summer.
It's always puzzling to me to see so many people simply allow their chrysanthemums to die in the winter, and do nothing to maintain and expand these beautiful flowers.
I think the majority of people just don't know how to take care of them, or that they can be not only retained, but multiplied when you have the knowledge.
Hopefully now that you who have read this know how do it, you can enjoy chrysanthemums as a major part of your landscaping far into the future.