Caring for Mums
Dress your fall landscape in the floral finery of easy-growing garden mums. Caring for mums isn’t difficult. These are low-maintenance perennials that are pretty self-sustaining once they’re established in planting beds. You just need to master a few tasks to succeed in caring for mums.
Garden mums are shallow-rooted perennials. This has an impact on two important aspects of their growing: watering and overwintering. Because mums have shallow roots, they tend to dry out more quickly than other landscape plants. You can easily address this—and make caring for mums easier—by using soaker hoses to deliver water directly to soil.
The other thing you can do to help maintain soil moisture is adding a mulch layer. Mulch helps slow evaporation of water from soil. It also helps reduce weeds around garden mums. You can use organic materials for mulching, such as shredded bark, pine straw or shredded leaves. In many regions, locally available mulching materials, such as byproducts of the cotton industry, are available. Organic mulches break down over time and help provide organic matter to soil, which is good for mum roots.
Overwintering is probably one of the most confusing aspects of caring for mums. Many gardeners buy garden mums in fall and are disappointed when they don’t sprout the following spring. Three reasons primarily account for the why behind mums that die before spring: planting too late, poorly draining soil and not adding winter mulch.
If you buy garden mums in fall and want them to become permanent additions to your landscape, you need to get them in the ground as soon as possible in fall. They need time to establish a healthy root system before the ground freezes. It’s also vital to place them into soil that drains well. Add organic matter to heavy or clay soils to improve drainage.
After a hard frost blackens plants, slip mulch around and between stems. Work gently to avoid breaking stems. Build mulch up to a layer that’s 2 inches deep. Once the ground freezes, pile on another inch or two of mulch or compost. If you garden where fall brings a deep freeze, in early fall, bag the compost you’ll use as mulch and stash it in a place where it won’t freeze.
Once temperatures are reliably below freezing, feel free to top your mums with more mulch, such as straw, shredded autumn leaves or evergreen boughs. You can even use holiday décor, such as fall straw bales and Christmas evergreen boughs as additional mulch sources for your plants. Just be sure to use materials that won’t mat down and create a layer that doesn’t let water penetrate.