COLLEGE STATION – Got the fading late summer/fall garden blues as everything seems to be turning gray and brown?

Mari-mums, the latest Texas Superstar promotion, might give your garden that shot of bright, showy color it needs, said a Texas A&M AgriLife Research horticulturist.

“The main selling point of mari-mums is that they have good color throughout the fall,” said Dr. Brent Pemberton, AgriLife Research horticulturist and chair of the Texas Superstar executive board. “As compared to chrysanthemums—which may flower for several weeks if the weather is cool—mari-mums will flower for the entire fall season, until it frosts.”

Texas Superstar plants undergo extensive tests throughout the state by Texas A&M AgriLife Research and Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturists, Pemberton said.

Texas Superstar is a registered trademark owned by Texas A&M AgriLife Research, a state agency that is part of the Texas A&M University System. 

To be designated a Texas Superstar, a plant must not just be beautiful but also perform well for consumers and growers throughout Texas. Superstars must also be easy to propagate, which should ensure the plants are not only widely available throughout Texas but also reasonably priced, he said.

Mari-mums fit the Texas Superstar bill perfectly, particularly when planted in the late summer or early fall, Pemberton said.

“The flowers last two to three times longer than chrysanthemums, are inexpensive and don’t require the constant pinching and pruning,” he said. “In case you are worried about the spider mites normally associated with marigolds, you can put your worries to rest. By planting mari-mums in late August to early September, cooler autumn temperatures greatly reduce spider mite pressure.”

Mari-mums are such a good fit for the Texas Superstar program, the 2013 promotion is actually the second time around for the plant. The first Texas Superstar promotion was Texas Bluebonnets in the fall of 1989, followed in the fall of 1990 with mari-mums, according to Pemberton.

“We were interested in a re-promotion to make people aware of them again,” Pemberton said. “Also, there are some new varieties to add to the list that we have promoted in the past.”

Taishan is an example of a new variety, he said. It is a recently introduced series that is a little more compact than those the Texas Superstar board have recommended in the past, such as the Discovery and Antiqua series – both of which are bigger, bolder types of plants.

All the mari-mum series have typical marigold colors, yellow, gold and orange flowers, Pemberton said. Mari-mums may be planted in either containers or landscape beds.

“They do need a sunny spot with well-drained soil,” Pemberton said. “Incorporate organic material and fertilizer as needed. Water the plants in thoroughly and enjoy the dazzling colors.”

You won’t find “mari-mums” in Webster’s dictionary, said David Rodriguez, AgriLife Extension horticulture agent in Bexar County and member of the Texas Superstar board. This is because they are a relatively new kind of marigold.

“Most people recognize the traditional chrysanthemums or fall garden mum,” Rodriguez said. “But mari-mums are really marigolds. It’s a large, blooming Africanized marigold with chrysanthemum-like flowers. Thus, we came up with the name, ‘mari-mum.’”

Mari-mums go by many different names, he said, including “fall marigolds,” “African marigolds,” “large blooming marigolds” and others.

Rodriguez noted that he did his first internship with Dr. Jerry Parsons, retired AgriLife Extension horticulturist, San Antonio, on the original research that led to the first promotion of mari-mums in 1990.

There’s one gardening recommendation that came out of the late 1980s research that has been consistently hard to convince people to follow, Rodriguez said. If gardeners buy transplants that have big blooms, the first thing they should do after replanting is to pinch off the big blooms.

“If you can, buy healthy, nice looking transplants that are budded but have no flowers on them,” he said. “If you purchase transplants with big flowers on them, then at least you’re sure you know what color you’re getting, but if you leave that big flower on them, you’ll stunt them.

He said the pruned plants will produce new flowers in two or three weeks at the most. And in most of Texas, if planted in August to mid-September, the flowers will last well into Halloween and Thanksgiving.

Speaking of Halloween, orange marigolds or mari-mums are traditionally used as decorations for the Mexican version of the holiday, the Day of the Dead, or Día de los Muertos, Rodriguez said.

The holiday, which is celebrated Nov. 1 – 2, is a joyous event to remember and pay respect to friends and family members who have passed, he said. Marigolds, known as “maravillas” in Spanish, with their bright, cheery colors, are traditionally used as cut-flower decorations during the celebrations, particularly the orange shades as they are associated with fall harvest.

Texas Superstar is a registered trademark owned by Texas A&M AgriLife Research.