Skip to main content

How to Grow Chrysanthemums for Fall Color

Caren White is a Master Gardener and instructor at Home Gardeners School. She has been associated with Rutgers Gardens for over a decade.


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 ago. It is unknown how long there was a breeding program, but by 1630 there were over 500 recognized cultivars. The domesticated chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum indicum) was introduced to Japan in the 8th century AD where it became such a favorite of the emperor that he made it his symbol. Chrysanthemums reached our own shores from England in 1798 brought here by a Colonel John Stevens.

Mums have many flower forms.  The most spectaculr are the exhibition mums.

Mums have many flower forms. The most spectaculr are the exhibition mums.

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).

Chrysanthemums can be pruned into bonsai.

Chrysanthemums can be pruned into bonsai.

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.

Recurved petal form

Recurved petal form

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, pH 5.7 - 6.2, 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.

Daisy flower form

Daisy flower form

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 to protect the crown and roots. You will be rewarded with new growth, i.e. new leaves 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 to provide protection. 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. Don't step on the plant, though, just the rootball.

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.

Pom pom flower form

Pom pom flower form

How to Get the Most Flowers on Your Chrysanthemums

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. This can be done with pruners, but most gardeners just use their fingers to pinch. 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.

Spikey flower form with spoon petals

Spikey flower form with spoon petals

How to Grow Chrysanthemums From Cuttings and Seeds

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. Cover them with 1/8 inch soil and keep moist. Germination should occur in 2 to 3 weeks. You can transplant your seedlings into your garden after your last spring frost.

Questions & Answers

Question: Is it ok to plant mums now, or should I wait until spring?

Answer: 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


Caren White (author) on June 29, 2020:

Sorry, but I do not sell seeds.

Maryline legoff on June 29, 2020:

Thanks for sharing your knowledge i love gardening, but we have not the good quality of crysantem but we love that we have, your sharing was very helpful and useful for me.

I want to have seeds from you.

Thank you love it

Caren White (author) on September 02, 2014:

Thanks, Au fait! So glad you found it informative. Here in NJ, we've had a very cool summer, a far cry from the usual HHH (hazy, hot and humid). Strangely enough, the HHH weather arrived with September but the mums are out in all of the stores. A little seasonal dissonance. Thank you for reading and commenting.

C E Clark from North Texas on September 01, 2014:

Chrysanthemums are so pretty. I love them. And fall is just about here in many parts of the country -- probably in NJ where you are. Here in North Texas temps are still in the upper 90s Fahrenheit. It will be a few weeks before fall arrives, if it does. Sometimes we go straight from hot summer to basically what passes for winter down here. I'm from WI so it rarely gets what I call cold here.

This is article is packed with good information. I didn't know the number of daylight hours determined when these flowers would bloom. Very informative article. Voted up and beautiful!

Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on August 24, 2014:

I'm not surprised that only one survived as that is actually what happened to mine. This days I don't think Mums are as easy to grow as they were in days gone by. Thanks for the reply, it was nice meeting you. Have a great day.

Caren White (author) on August 24, 2014:

You're welcome, Elsie! I adore mums too. So many sizes and colors. The photos on my hub are of a chrysanthemum that lived for years in front of my old house. I had planted a whole bunch, but only it survived.

Elsie Hagley from New Zealand on August 23, 2014:

I love chrysanthemums, they look their best in autumn. It is one mothers day gift I like. There are so many colors, as you say all except blue, the shades are amazing, you can see I enjoy them. Thanks for a great hub.

Caren White (author) on August 23, 2014:

Thanks, Poetryman! And thank you for reading and commenting.

poetryman6969 on August 23, 2014: