A late summer ray of sun joined me as I was resting in an old metal porch chair that was still able to rock back and forth. And just across the brick walk from where I sat is a half oak barrel full of bright color. The available shades of color can be yellow, orange, red; they can be purple, but they can not be blue! Blue is not an available shade. However, my display of color is pink, bronze, and white with a touch of fuzzy dark green. My autumn eye candy is otherwise known as Chrysanthemum morifolium, or Hardy Mum. There are many, many, many other names commonly attributed to these lovelies. There are also many, many, many forms of flowers and many, many, many leaves that define the many varieties. Mum varieties are as endless it seems. The endless desire of shoppers to have a display of their own is satisfied this time each year by farm stands, store fronts, roadside stands, garden centers and well, you name it. Grocery stores? Yes, get your eggs, milk and a mum while you’re at it. Ample stocks are available.
Perennial: Hardy Mum.
Seasonal potted mums are convenient. They offer a boost into the fall season with vibrant colors and fresh blooms. The care of these plants is not much more than placement in a sunny spot, water, and fertilization. Because of their affordability, they can be tossed and considered disposable. HOWEVER! The commonly asked question associated with mums is “will they”, “could they”, come back next year? The evasive answer is, of course, “it depends”. Extreme winter seasons can have a detrimental impact on the return of your mums. That being said; in our area, generally, mums can survive with a little winter preparation. Look for a sunny location that is well drained. Whether using a pot or placing directly into the ground, make a hole about one size bigger than the root ball, loosen the soil around the root, set the plant with the top of the root just below the soil level (not too deep) and back-fill with a quality garden soil and fertilizer, and mulch. Mulch now and then again when the seasonal temperatures drop to around 20 degrees. Mums have a shallow root system and tend to heave when the ground temperature fluctuates. Mulching reduce the effects of freezing weather and moderating the roots access to moisture, providing the root system a better chance to thrive.
Wait until spring …
Established mums (the ones that have been planted and begin their growth in the spring) benefit from aggressive “pinching back”. Begin pinching when your plant is about 6 inches in height. At this point, remove about 1 inch of the stem back to a leaf. This pinching will force side branches. Let those branches reach about 6 inches and repeat, removing about an inch of the stem back to a leaf. Stop pinching around the end of July and let the plant grow. It won’t hurt to perform a little deadheading, but aggressive pinching this time of year may lead to reduced flower buds. Old-time pinching is done with a gardener’s first finger and thumb, but as we become more comfortable using hand tools, clean and sharp is the key, whether with a knife or scissors.
This technique of providing care by knowingly removing the foliage at the right time is where the “green thumb” idiom was born. Of course some will say it comes from a King’s proclamation or gardeners handling clay pots. Those are writers and historians. Pinch the old way or properly grow some basil and you’ll agree with me.
The recommended ideal time to plant mums is late spring. Many gardeners add hardy mums to winter seed catalog orders. This is the ideal time to grab an unusual perennial variety and add to an established plot or make a new plot. Mums are interesting in that the budding time is directly related to not only temperature, but length of night time. Buds hold off developing until there is about 10 hours of night time. From then, a range of flowering spreads across 6 to 8 weeks with early, mid-season and late variety choices.
Pumpkins, gourds, and straw bales will have a much more festive look with a potted mum mingled amongst them. Maybe this year could be your year to begin an established mum plot for next year.