Learn about chrysanthemum flowers, including tips for growing and designing with these autumn icons.
Give your yard a fall facelift by adding chrysanthemum flowers to planting beds and containers. You can treat mum flowers as annuals, tucking them into planting beds and pots to bring a splash of color from fall until frost. Or you can plant them in planting beds as permanent residents, capitalizing on their perennial nature to reward with years of colorful mum flowers.
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.
Planting Mum Flowers
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.
Designing with Mum Flowers
When planting chrysanthemum flowers in containers, play with mum flower shapes and colors to paint living masterpieces of bud and bloom. The rounded form of garden mum plants works well in containers and looks especially eye-catching when tucked into elevated pots and urns that lift the color above ground level.
Pair garden mum flowers with small ornamental grasses for a textural contrast. Use bronze-tinted carex or burgundy fountain grass to stick with autumn colors in your container garden design. Tuck ivy around pot edges to add trailing interest. Garden mums mix and match effortlessly with ornamental cabbage and other cool-season crops, such as pansies and sweet alyssum.
Choose mum flowers in colors that complement your home’s exterior, especially if they appear near the house, like in window boxes or pots near a front porch or garage. Look for chrysanthemum flowers for sale in hanging baskets to inject a strong pop of color to porches and patios.
In the landscape, most garden designers agree that chrysanthemum flowers look best planted in swaths or clumps of the same color and flower type. Using this method creates blocks of color that you can repeat throughout the landscape, using mum flowers or other plants. Repeating colors in this fashion unifies different planting areas and forms an eye-pleasing effect. With mum flowers in the landscape, more is always better. You’ll get the strongest impact when you mass plant.
Caring for Mum Flowers
When you’re buying garden mums in fall, they’re packed with flower buds and ready to bloom. When growing garden mums as perennials in your garden, you’ll need to tackle some pinching or pruning to help plants put on the best fall show. Start the pinching process when new shoots are 4 to 6 inches long. Remove the top one-half to one inch of growth on each shoot. Use garden shears or sharp scissors to make this job move faster. If blades get sticky, wipe them down with rubbing alcohol.
Each time new growth reaches the 4- to 6-inch mark, prune the plants. Do this from spring’s first growth until mid-July (many gardeners use July 4 as an easy-to-remember stopping point). Pinching plants causes three things to happen. First, it delays flowering until fall. Second, it causes plants to branch, which results in more flowers. Third, pruning reduces stem length, which results in a stockier plant that doesn’t flop over.