Every fall, big box stores and greenhouses everywhere display rack after rack of brightly blooming mums. Ostensibly, the showy plants are used by homeowners and businesses to bring a little color to the ever-increasing drabness of fall and to pretty-up outdoor Halloween and Thanksgiving decorations. Most people just drop the relatively inexpensive pre-potted plants into a larger, more decorative container for display and then forget them until they are deader than door nails. That’s shame, because mums are actually hardy perennials that if given half a chance, will survive in the garden and provide you with colorful, showy blooms year after year!
Known and loved worldwide for their profusely showy flowers, “mums” are simply a compact variety of hardy garden chrysanthemum (Chrysanthemum indicum) that have been bred for pot culture. There are hundreds of varieties of chrysanthemums throughout the world and all belong to the large and diverse Aster Family (Asteraceae). Mums are fall-flowering chrysanthemums with blossoms that can be daisy-like or pompom and come in single and double forms. Mums also come in a wide array of colors including yellow, bronze, orange, rusty red, purple and pink. Some even have bi-color petals, which make them very showy.
Mums are easy to propagate vegetatively, which is why they are sold so cheaply. Try buying any other perennial plant in a gallon-sized pot for the same price as you can buy mums and you will instantly realize that most people only buy mums as temporary decoration. It’s nice that mums are so cheap to buy, but as a gardener I cringe when I think of all those perfectly good perennials that will wind up in the trash as soon as the first hard frost (or lack of water) kills their pretty flowers. What a shame that is, when all one has to do to enjoy mums year after year is simply to plant them in the ground, either as soon as they are brought home or shortly after the weather begins to head south for the winter.
One caveat to the perennial nature of mums is that, like many perennials, mums need a little time to become established in the garden in order to survive severe winter temperatures. Thankfully, the mums that you buy this fall already have an extensive root system established in the original pot they came in. And with just a bit of coddling, there’s a very good chance that they will make it through the winter in the garden.
Everyone loves mums because their flowers last a long time – two to three weeks on average. But sooner or later, those flowers will lose their luster and that is the time to get them in the ground. Start the process of transplanting by removing all of the remaining flowers on the plant. Using a pair of shears or sturdy scissors, cut the plant back by about one-third.
Next, remove the plant from its pot and examine the roots. By now, they are probably pot-bound and tangled. Use your fingers or a sturdy weeding tool (the short-handled version that looks like a big fork with bent tines) to carefully loosen the root ball just a little bit. Don’t get crazy, just loosen the outside roots where they’ve come up against the sides of the pot. Be sure to leave as much of the original soil as possible clinging to the root ball, too. Doing these two things will help the plant adjust to it’s new surroundings quickly.
Last but not least, select a permanent place in the garden that gets plenty of summer sunshine for your mum. Alternatively, you can plant your mum anywhere that is convenient at the time and in the spring, you can dig it up and relocate it to a more favorable spot. For now, dig the planting hole just a little bigger than the root ball. Place the plant in the hole and back-fill so that the crown of the plant rests at the same depth it was in the pot. Water well and mulch heavily with any organic mulch.
If the weather stays warm and dry after you plant your mum simply water it lightly once a week. Do not fertilize it or do anything else to it. Just let it go dormant as nature intended. If your mum survives the winter, it will send out new leaves in the spring and look gorgeous all summer long. And in the fall, your perennial mum will once again explode with gorgeous flowers and continue to grace your landscape for years to come.
With that, I encourage everyone to scour the urban landscape for dwindling mums and save these gorgeous perennials from being tossed in the dumpster.
Until then – Happy gardening!
© 2016 Jill Henderson Feel free to share with a link back to the original article.
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Jill Henderson is an artist, author, and the editor of Show Me Oz . Her books, The Healing Power of Kitchen Herbs, The Garden Seed Saving Guide and A Journey of Seasons can be found in the Show Me Oz Bookstore. Jill is a contributing author for Acres USA and Llewellyn’s Herbal Almanac and her work has appeared in The Permaculture Activist and The Essential Herbal.
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