How to Grow Chrysanthemums

Florists would be lost without Chrysanthemums, and fall in the flower garden would be so dull without them. Many people who receive potted mums as gifts and then plant them out in the garden are disappointed when they don't do well. But there are hundreds of Chrysanthemum varieties that will do well in the garden and reward you with wonderful fall color.

Fall means mums in many areas of the country. Potted mums in blazing or soothing colors are outside the doors of every store. Gardeners buy them to pop into beds where annuals have fizzled or have been killed by frost. They are very affordable and create a vibrant look in the late-fall garden. There is nothing wrong with using mums as annuals and not worrying if they will survive the winter. Even if the tag says hardy mum, many of the mums you buy in full bloom in the fall will not survive winter and bloom next year. But there are hardy garden mums that will give you years of color.

The leaves on a mum plant vary by variety from a long oval to leaves with several lobes. The leaves and stems have a distinctive smell when crushed. Plant size varies from a one-foot mound to tall varieties three feet tall or more. Flowers are also extremely variable, from tiny pompom types to huge, fluffy "football" mums. Some flowers have quill-like petals and some mums have a single daisy-like flower. Chrysanthemum flowers come in every color except true blue. Mums begin blooming in late summer and may bloom until a hard freeze.

Growing chrysanthemums
Chrysanthemums are hardy from Zone 5 to 9. There are some varieties that survive in Zone 4 but have difficulty blooming because the season is short. Zone 4 gardeners should plant mums in a protected spot.

When choosing chrysanthemums for the garden, buy them in the garden center or from a garden catalog, not the florist shop. Buy them in the spring, when you are buying other perennials for the garden. Florist mums need more short days to produce flowers and may not have time to bloom in the North before freezing weather sets in.

While mums can be started from seed, the most common way mums are sold is as rooted cuttings. When well cared for, even a small rooted cutting purchased in the spring can produce a nice sized, blooming plant in the fall. Spring-planted mums have a good survival rate compared with mums that are in full bloom and planted in the garden in the fall. Those mums are being asked to produce a new root system while supporting all those blooms. If you can't stand to throw out the potted blooming mums you bought for fall color, plant them as soon as you get them home. Don't let them sit around drying out in their pots. As soon as the blooms fade, cut them off, but don't cut the stems back.

Spring-planted mums should have some slow-release fertilizer worked into the soil when planting and another application of fertilizer in mid-summer. Mums should be kept well-watered, as they have shallow roots, but they will quickly die if the soil doesn-t drain well. Chrysanthemums should be planted in full sun. Be careful when working around mum plants as the shallow roots are easily damaged.

Garden mums need to be pinched to produce stocky plants with more flowers. Pinch the plants back at least twice before July 4, but don't pinch after that or you will remove buds. Tall, older varieties of mums may still need staking when they are in bloom.

Chrysanthemums bloom when the nights are longer than the days and night temperatures are cool. Don't plant mums where they get a lot of light at night, such as under security or street lights, or they may not bloom well.

In the fall, dead blooms can be removed for neatness but leave the dead stems until spring. The plants survive winter better if the stems are left. When you see new growth in the spring, you can carefully cut down the old stems. Light mulch in the winter is good, but remove it in the early spring, as too much moisture around the crown will rot the plant.

Large clumps of mums should be divided every other year or so. In the early spring dig up the whole clump of plants and carefully divide into sections before replanting. Plant mums about 18 inches apart.

Aphids are sometimes a pest of mums. They cause distorted, curling, yellowish leaves. Spray the plants with a good hard stream of insecticidial soap twice a week until they are gone.

Choosing varieties

There are hundreds of named varieties of chrysanthemums on the market. Remember to check for hardiness. Mums also vary in bloom time; to extend garden color, look for both early and late bloomers. If you want tiny, button-type mums, try Childs Play, which is yellow, or Pretty Penny, which is copper. In the large, single-flowered types, Clara Curtis, which is a soft pink, is an old favorite. For a large, quilled mum, try Matchsticks, which is a blend of red and gold, or Carousel. which is lavender. In the medium-sized cushion or bushel-basket type mum, try Ruby Mound, which is scarlet red, Starlight, which is white, or Curtis Rice, which is soft rose. For big, fluffy, football type mums, try Stadium Queen, which is reddish bronze, or Cheerleader, which is amber gold.

Using chrysanthemums
For cut flowers, nothing beats mums. Grow some in your garden just for wonderful, colorful fall bouquets. They are also excellent to add color to the fall border. Small chrysanthemums can be used in containers to replace spring and summer annuals. Potted mums are one of the best plants for cleaning pollutants from indoor air.

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