Mum's the Word

Classy and so flashy, mums could be the answer to a drab garden.

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An enormous range of colors, forms and shapes give the gardener a lot of mums to choose from.

Back in mid-15th-century China, mums were so revered that only the royals were allowed to grow them. Today, these crowned jewels grace gardens all over the world, and there are enough shapes, sizes, colors and forms to give an old-world favorite plenty of present-day appeal.

For more than half a century mum expert Ted King has been growing these flowers. "I was just amazed at all the differences — from the tiny little buttons to the vast number of colors," says King.

Mums are one of the easiest plants to propagate; new growth is the most viable from tender cuttings. Simply cut a small section of the stem and remove a few leaves from the bottom. Rooting compound speeds rooting. Dip the cutting, and then plant it in the soil.

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King recommends initially planting the cuttings in small pots like this. As soon as roots begin coming out of the drainage holes, it's time to repot. King's potting-mix recipe is eight parts fine fir bark, one part sand and one part sawdust.

Mums are short-day bloomers, and even young mums are programmed to bloom when they get 12 to 13 hours of darkness a day. King suggests mid-summer planting in the garden to help the plant get well established before setting bud. Such a late planting also minimizes prolonged sun exposure. "The sun has a fading affect on mums, so if you have long days, sunny weather and mostly heat, they're not quite as effective as in the Northwest."

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When the plants begin to fade, King cuts off the blossoms. And that's all you have to do until the plant is ready to be cut back. When the new growth sprouts along the base of the plant — in spring in colder climates — cut the stem to 4 to 6 inches tall.

If you offer winter protection and depending on variety, mums can be grown in almost any climate zone. Some are adaptable to colder climates, and others will do better in warmer climates, so you'll want to find out which varieties will do well in your area.

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'Pacificum' is one of only a few evergreen mums. It's grown as much for its silver-edged foliage as it is for its flowers. The plant can be used as a potted plant or as a groundcover, says King. This mum is hardy to USDA Zone 5, and it's very easy to grow.

Cascading mums are trained horizontally to a wire frame to give the appearance of tumbling over it. This project definitely takes dedication, but if you've got the time, King has the tips: Root small cuttings in February, and plant them in small pots. Repot the plants in larger pots in April, and by October you should have a cascade.

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If you received a potted chrysanthemum as a gift and live in a milder climate, King says you can over-winter the plant — pot and all — in the ground. Just dig a hole, and bury the pot at least halfway up the sides. That decreases winter transplant shock, keeps the root ball warmer and increases drainage. When spring arrives, you're ready to put your mum in the ground.

With nearly 25 new varieties of chrysanthemums introduced to gardeners every year, which one will you choose?

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