Caring for Mums Through the Fall

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Pink mums in bloom.

Chrysanthemums, aka mums, belong to one of the largest botanical families, the Asteraceae, or daisy, family. The name Chrysanthemum comes from the Greek words chrysos meaning gold and anthemon meaning flower. Early illustrations show them as small, yellow, daisy-like flowers. They were first cultivated in China and described in writings as early as the 15th century B.C. as a flowering herb and were believed to have the power of life. The chrysanthemum emerged in Japan around the 8th century A.D. and became a symbol of a long happy life. The Japanese Imperial Seal portrays a symbolic depiction of a chrysanthemum. Japan even has a National Chrysanthemum Day called “Kiku no Sekku” translated to Festival of Happiness. 

Today, mums come in a wide array of colors, sizes, and shapes. They are used as cut flowers and to add color to borders and container plantings. The National Chrysanthemum Society divides bloom forms into 13 classes ranging from single daisies to multi petalled pompons, petite to giant blooms. While mums are perennial in our area, they are often grown as annuals for fall color. Whichever form you end up bringing home here are a few tips to keep them looking spectacular into the fall and through the holiday season. 

  • Give that baby more room! By the time your mums leave the nursery/greenhouse and makes it to your home, they tend to be pretty rootbound. The best thing you can do for them is give them more soil. This can either mean upgrading their container or putting them in the ground. If you choose to plant in the ground and intend on overwintering them for next spring, make sure you plant them early enough for their roots to establish before cold temperatures. 
  • Mums are sun loving. Plant or place containers in full sun. They grow and produce the most flowers when they are grown in full sun. They need a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight a day. Keep in mind that days are getting shorter and the sun is moving across the horizon; you may notice that where you normally get the most sun has moved. So, keep an eye out for new obstructions such as a tree or buildings that now block the light.
  • Water, water, water. Mums do not like being dry. When grown in containers, on hot days in early fall, it is not uncommon for mums to need water twice a day. When they are in need of moisture, their leaves will droop, fortunately they are forgiving and will perk back up after being watered. However, try to avoid getting to this point. There are several ways to check your mum’s moisture level. The most foolproof way is to either pop it out of its pot or stick your finger a couple of inches into the soil. This way you can visually see or feel if it is dry. Once you get to know your plant you can pick the pot up and feel how dry it is based on the weight of the pot. Keep in mind that you can over water mums. When days get shorter and cooler, gradually back off on watering or you will end up with an array of other issues. To prevent disease, avoid watering over the top of the plant and try to water early in the day so the leaves have enough time to dry before evening hours.
  • Don’t forget to deadhead. To keep your mums looking neat and extend their bloom time, deadheading mums is a must. Use your fingers or pruning shears to pinch off any spent flowers. Take this time to also prune back any broken stems or dead leaves.

Often mums are treated as annuals and tossed at the end of the fall season. However, they make great perennial additions to a landscape. There are just a few simple maintenance tasks to ensure their longevity. Be sure to plant your fall mums with sufficient time before winter, allowing them time to develop a strong root system. Mum roots can be susceptible to the constant freezing and thawing that occurs in winter so make sure to mulch plants. Mulching will not only insalate, but help retain moisture. After the foliage has been killed by a hard frost, cut mums back to the ground. Fertilized with a complete fertilizer in the spring and mid-summer. Plants will need to be pinched a couple of times to encourage a sturdy, well branched plant. The first pinch should be done when plants are 6 inches tall, about mid-June. Pinch back terminal shoots ½ – 1 inch to the nearest leaf. This promotes lateral branching. When these lateral branches are 6-8 inches long, pinch back the tips. This should be done no later than the end of July. 

With proper care, your mums will bloom well into the coming season, keeping that bright fall spirit vibrant for several weeks, or even, if planted in the ground, bring the gift of fall color for years to come. For more information about landscape or container gardening, contact N.C. Cooperative Extension, Richmond County Center at (910) 997-8255. Follow us on Facebook and visit our website.