In the Garden:
Mums are a bright accent in the "Cottage Garden" at Willowwood Arboretum in Far Hills, NJ.
Success with Mums
Mums (was Chrysanthemum, now Dendranthema x grandiflora) bloom in the fall and add big bold color at a time of year when gardens can seem tired and bloomed out. Those gorgeous roadside displays of mums are irresistible!
Plant in Spring or Fall
Mums are versatile. They can be planted in the spring and grown in the flower garden or nursery bed for transplanting later, or can be purchased in bud or full bloom in the fall for instant color. In my experience, spring planting works best, although I have planted mums as late as November with partial success. Unfortunately, many fall-purchased mums turn out to be annuals rather than the perennials we hoped for.
The difficulty with fall-planted mums is that the plants use their energy to bloom and may not root well enough to survive the coming winter. They also suffer transplant shock. Top quality growers use techniques including automated twice daily watering and precisely calibrated nutrient delivery to turn out those showy plants. Most of us just can't provide that kind of coddling at home.
Caring for Mums
To improve the odds for survival, first off select a variety that is proven cold hardy in your area. Provide full sun and good air circulation. The soil must drain well. Planting on a slope can help where the soil is naturally heavy. Loosen the soil down about ten inches and add organic matter such as compost.
Water your new mum carefully. The potting mix dries out faster than garden soil. Keep both the roots and surrounding soil evenly moist but not soggy until the ground freezes. Mulch around but not over top of the plant using a fluffy, non-packing mulch such as oak leaves.
I trim my mums back in spring, but they may be cut down to six inches in late fall. Each spring, trim off all the old stems and pull aside the mulch. You should find new green shoots growing up around the perimeter of the plant.
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