No other flower signals the arrival of fall like Chrysanthemums, no matter where you live. Mums bloom from Maine to Mississippi, the Carolinas to California, and they’re among the easiest flowers to grow.
By selecting the proper varieties, you can have mums in bloom from August through November, because nearly all of them are capable of surviving and blooming even when temperatures drop below freezing. In fact, the flower buds can survive temperatures as low as 27 degrees. Although they’re more commonly grown as annuals, whether in the garden or in pots, mums can be grown as perennials in many areas of the country.
Chrysanthemums are usually considered herbaceous perennials. However, if you wish to grow Chrysanthemum plants in your area as perennials, select an appropriate cultivator. Your local County Extension can offer advice in this matter. A spring planting is best, giving the chrysanthemum flowers time to become established before winter.
Chrysanthemums come in a wide variety of colors, including white, off-white, yellow, gold, bronze, red, burgundy, pink, lavender and purple. Mum plants can grow to be 2-3 feet high, depending on the cultivator and growing conditions. Chrysanthemums also come in many flower forms; that is, chrysanthemums are often grouped by the shape and arrangement of their petals. The most popular flower form is the “decorative,” which is so packed with long, broad petals that you can hardly see its center.
Chrysanthemums are grown in planting zones 3-9. Their hardiness, however, varies greatly, depending on the cultivator.
Sun and Soil Requirements for Chrysanthemum Flowers: Plant chrysanthemum flowers in full sun and well-drained soil, enriched by compost. Chrysanthemums are “photoperiodic”; i.e., they bloom in response to the shorter days and longer nights experienced (in the Northern Hemisphere) in fall. Therefore, do not plant chrysanthemum flowers near streetlights or night-lights: the artificial lighting may wreak havoc with the chrysanthemums’ cycle. Also, don’t overcrowd chrysanthemums: good air circulation reduces the chance of disease.
By every 3rd spring, divide chrysanthemums to rejuvenate them. Fertilize chrysanthemums once per month through July (any growth after that is too late to harden off for winter). Chrysanthemums profit from winter protection. Mulch them and create a microclimate to shelter them from winter winds. If you can’t plant them on the south side of your house, build a modified version of the shrub shelters used for winter protection. Don’t prune in fall: existing branches offer the roots protection.
Pinching chrysanthemums yields compact, bushy plants with more blooms. “Pinching” simply means removing the tips of new growth, thereby stimulating the chrysanthemums to send out side-shoots. Start in the spring when the new growth has reached 4-6” in length. Thereafter, every 2-3 weeks pinch the center out of any more growth when it reaches 6”. But stop pinching chrysanthemums around the beginning of summer, or else bud formation won’t occur soon enough to ensure flowering.
In landscaping, chrysanthemums are valued for the fact that they bloom in fall, helping you to achieve four-season interest in your yard. They look best planted in a mass (but for health, don’t overcrowd).
Since it’s so important to know what cultivator you’ll be working with, it’s wiser to buy mail-order mums (single-stemmed rooted cuttings) from a catalog and plant them in spring, rather than planting potted mums you’ve purchased in fall. In a good catalog, you have all the relevant information in front of you. Also, spring planting gives the plants longer to become established.
Another great thing about mums is that they are among the easiest plants to propagate, either by simple division—that is cutting small, well-rooted sections from the mother plant and potting them in containers—or by taking stem cuttings and rooting them in a mixture of peat moss and vermiculite or sand. If you tackle these tasks in early spring, the plants you create will be ready to bloom by fall.
A few pests sometimes attack mums. Aphids, especially black aphids, can be a problem, although a shot of insecticidal soap will control them. Leafminers can be more of a bother, but the all-natural insecticide Neem does a great job of getting rid of them. Fungal diseases may also rear their ugly heads, but by the time they strike it’s too late to do much about them. Buy plants from reputable nursery’s or mail-order sources, and get rid of any plants that show signs of disease.
Other flowers to brighten up your fall garden: asters, goldenrods, and fall-blooming crocuses.