How to Design a Garden With Mums

Make your fall garden glow with jewel-colored mums.
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Blooming mums are instant eye-candy for fall.

Photo by: Courtesy Costa Farms

Courtesy Costa Farms

Blooming mums are instant eye-candy for fall.

When it comes to fall color, it's good to have some "late bloomers" around.

Mums are just the ticket for autumn, opening their flowers as the temperatures drop and summer flowers start to decline. Whether you're using chrysanthemums in the landscape, beds or containers, you'll find them in a variety of sizes, flower shapes and hues that include red, yellow, gold, purple, bronze, pink and white. 

So-called florist's mums are plants that are grown in greenhouses and often given as gifts. They're meant to be kept indoors and enjoyed as houseplants until their flowers are finished. 

You can plant florist's mums outdoors after they bloom, although these pampered beauties seldom have enough--if any--underground stolens, or runners, to help them survive the winter cold and return the following spring. Many gardeners simply toss them into the compost pile.

Garden mums, on the other hand, are cold-hardy plants that produce underground stolens and thrive as perennials in zones 5 to 9.

When the nighttime temperatures in your garden start to dip, it’s time to buy garden mums. Choose plants with buds that are just beginning to open; mums can stay in flower for several weeks. This will also help you choose the colors you want. 

If you’re planting or displaying a lot of mums in one spot, stick to one or two colors for the best show. Autumnal colors like copper, orange, amethyst purple and wine red look attractive on a porch or deck alongside hay bales, pumpkins, cornstalks and gourds. 

If your flowers will back up to shrubs or other greenery, choose white or brightly colored mums in shades of pink, yellow, or lavender. 

One note: darker mums usually hold their good looks longer. When the flowers fade, they’re not as noticeable as on lighter-colored plants.

When you're ready to dig in, use these tips for planting:

  • Choose a garden spot that gets at least six hours of sun a day. However, if you're planting short-lived florist mums, or you're going to treat your mums as annuals and pull them up when they're stopped blooming, it doesn’t really matter where you put them.
  • Give your chrysanthemums well-drained soil. Gardeners with dense, heavy or clay soils may want to plant in raised beds. You can also amend the soil with plenty of good, organic compost, digging it in about 8 to 12 inches deep.
  • Plant your mums about an inch deeper than they were growing in their pots, and spread their roots out in the planting hole. Backfill the hole and press down lightly to remove air pockets. Mums have shallow roots, so be careful not to damage them. 
  • Space the mums as indicated on their tags or labels.
  • Water your plants in thoroughly. Help prevent disease by keeping water off the foliage.
  • To keep the flowers coming, don't let the soil dry out, especially if your fall weather is warm. Their soil should stay moist. Also, pinch off old blooms when they start to fade. 
  • Before winter arrives, mulch your plants to help insulate them from the cold. Leave dead stems or brown stems on the plants to help protect them.
  • Wait until spring to feed fall-planted garden mums with a 5-10-10 fertilizer. However, you can give them some high-phosphorus fertilizer in fall to help stimulate root development.

Although garden mums are widely available in the fall, it's actually best to plant them in spring, so they have time to form strong roots. Keep spring-planted mums pinched back, but stop pinching by late summer. Pinching helps them become bushy, full and loaded with flowers in the fall. 

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