The end of summer is a bittersweet time for gardeners. Even while the garden is blooming with asters, Japanese anemones, and goldenrod, we can see the hydrangea flowerheads fading, and the hosta leaves beginning to yellow. Winter is in the headlights. However, autumn has a consolation prize: chrysanthemums. These cheerful, colorful flowers are readily available at supermarkets, big box stores, and garden centers. They are an inexpensive way to brighten porches, patios, and walkways through fall’s shortening days.
There’s a mum to fit just about any fall décor color scheme, from bright white, to copper, to deepest burgundy. Purists stick with one color, but impulse buyers like me love every shade and can’t keep from picking up another one wherever I see them. With that said, when buying mums, consider the source. Supermarket mums are cheap, but are the least likely to be consistently watered or well taken care of. For really healthy, vigorous plants, your local garden center is the place to go.
Look for plants that have a full, rounded shape with no gaps. If a plant is wilted, or the soil is dried out, pass it by; it’s stressed and won’t perform well. For the longest flower display, choose mums that are no more than 1/3 open. Mum stems are extremely brittle, so watch for broken branches. Once you get the plant home, cut off any dirty or ragged lower leaves, broken stems or spent flowers.
Caring For Your Potted Mums
At home, put the mums in as sunny – and wind-free – a spot as possible. Mums in full bloom in those flimsy plastic pots can become top heavy and tip over. Place the plastic pot inside a sturdier (and prettier) outer pot made of ceramic, clay or metal that’s only slightly bigger. It will help hold up the flowers and keep the pot from tipping.
Keeping the soil moist is the most important thing you can do. Put a saucer under the pot to catch any overflow. Once potted mums dry out, they are hard to rewet, so check them daily to be sure the soil is moist. If they dry out, set the pot in a larger container with a few inches of water in the bottom. The soil and roots will wick up the water. Once the soil is moist, take it out and let the pot drain. Don’t let it sit in water.
You won’t need to feed the plants. The potting soil likely has fertilizer in it already, and after a few weeks the plants will bloom themselves out.
Potted Mums Indoors
They look lovely on the dining room table, in windows, and on fireplace mantels. Like any indoor plant, mums should be kept away from direct heat, especially drying indoor air vents. Give them as much sun as possible. Again, keep the soil from drying out and put into nicer pots to dress them up.
It seems wasteful to discard a mum once it’s finished blooming, but potted mums are a poor bet for overwintering. You can try planting them in the garden, which may work in areas where it isn’t too cold in late October, however in cooler zones the roots won’t have time to grow into the surrounding soil and “take” before the ground freezes.
Some people bring their spent mums into an unheated garage or shed and keep the soil slightly moist through the winter. If you plan on trying to overwinter them, you can up their odds of surviving by transplanting to a slightly larger pot when you first bring them home. Use fresh potting soil and gently tease the roots out into the new soil. There’s no guarantee it will work, but it’s worth a try. Unless you’re up for a challenge, it’s easier to consider these mums seasonal décor and compost them once they’re spent.
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By Dan Heims, president of Terra Nova Nurseries
Photographs courtesy of Terra Nova Nurseries
Terra Nova Nurseries has been busy. Their Begonia Holiday series stands up to the rigors of plant survival and color compatibility for indoor use during the winter months.
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