How to Grow Chrysanthemums for Fall Color
You know fall is approaching when the mums appear in the local nurseries. This classic fall bloomer has been a symbol of the season for almost as long as we have been a nation.
A Short History Of The Chrysanthemum
Wild chrysanthemums are native to Asia and northern Europe. They were first domesticated in China 15 centuries before CE. It is unknown how long there was a breeding program, but by 1630 there were over 500 recognized cultivars. The domesticated chrysanthemum was introduced to Japan in the 8th century AD where it became the symbol of the emperor. Chrysanthemums reached our own shores from England in 1798 brought here by a Colonel John Stevens.
What Are Chrysanthemums?
Chrysanthemums are perennial herbaceous plants which are photoperiodic meaning that the length of the day determines when they bloom. When the nights reach ten hours long, they begin to produce buds. Within 6 to 8 weeks, they will start to bloom.
Mums like the cooler weather of fall. Lower temperatures result in more intense flower color and longer lasting flowers until a hard frost kills the plant (but not the roots).
Although we have a preference for autumnal hues, chrysanthemum flowers come in every color except blue. The blossoms range in shape from daisy to tightly compact pompoms and buttons to more loosely arranged petals and spikes. The plants themselves are divided into two types, the hardy mums that we grow in our gardens and the exhibition type with their exaggerated flowers. The plants are also grown as standards (trees), topiary and bonsai.
How To Grow Chrysanthemums
Hardy mums are truly hardy. They can be grown in zones 3 through 9. Most people grow them as annuals, purchasing budded plants in containers in the fall and then discarding them after the first hard frost. With a little care, mums can be grown as a perennial in your garden to return year after year.
Mums will grow in part shade, but prefer full sun. If you want the maximum number of flowers on your mums, grow them in full sun which is defined as 6 to 8 hours of sun each day. They prefer a more alkaline soil which must be well-drained. They are also heavy feeders, so be prepared to fertilize them with a 5-10-10 formula fertilizer every three to four weeks throughout the growing season. Water your plants regularly. Mums have shallow roots and can dry out quickly.
After the first killing frost, resist the urge to remove the dead vegetation from your plants. As ugly as it is, leave it in your garden throughout the winter and you will be rewarded with new growth, i.e. new plants in the spring at which time you can finally get rid of the ugly dead foliage. If your winter is cold and snowless, it's a good idea to mulch around your plants. Mums have very shallow roots which can heave up out of the ground during the winter freeze/thaw cycles. If this happens, simply push the heaved rootball back into the soil. You can even do it by lightly stepping on it.
Like your other perennials, mums should be divided every three to four years. Division is best done in the spring so that the resulting plants with have time to develop their root system before they devote their energy to making flowers in the fall.
How To Propagate Chrysanthemums
Chrysanthemums can be grown from cuttings from existing plants. Make your cutting at least 4 inches long, making sure that it has leaves. Place the cutting in a soilless mix and keep it outdoors in a sunny spot until it develops roots at which time you can transplant it into a small container filled with regular potting soil. Fertilize it every week for two or three weeks, then plant it directly into your garden. It should flower in the fall.
Mums can also be grown from seed. Start your seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost. You can transplant them into your garden after your last spring frost.
How To Get The Most Flowers
To achieve the densely flowering plants that you see for sale in the fall, you will need to "pinch" your plants. Pinching means cutting off the growing tips of each branch which will force the plant to grow more branches. More branches means more flowers. You can start pinching your plants when they reach a height of 6 inches for the larger varieties, 4 to 5 inches for smaller varieties. Pinch them every 3 to 4 weeks until the Fourth of July. After that, keep them watered and fertilized to enjoy a fabulous fall display.
Questions & Answers
Is it ok to plant mums now, or should I wait until spring?
You can definitely plant your mums now. Fall is the best time to plant perennials. It gives them a chance to settle into their new homes and grow some new roots before they go dormant for the winter. In the spring, they will be ready to grow!
© 2014 Caren White