Gardening fever can set in before the first spring shoots even pop through the snow. It can fade by the time you’ve watered, weeded, pruned, and fertilized the lawn and garden through heat, wind, bugs, and hail. Those fabulous fall bloomers that have been slowly preparing themselves all season can be a lovely rejuvenating show after a long, challenging summer, reminding you that there is always something wonderful around the corner.
Chrysanthemums are a hardy, rewarding addition to any planting for vibrant fall color. Current varieties can be traced to their wild roots in China, where they were first cultivated as a flowering herb. Many countries and cultures consider the chrysanthemum to hold special meaning, commonly symbolizing nobility, death, honor, and the month of November. One variety’s blooms are used to make tea, leaves and stems are used in various ways in far eastern cuisine, and valuable pyrethrum insecticides are made from crushed blossoms. Exhibition varieties include florists’ favorite football and spider mums and can be trained into many interesting forms. Various garden hardy forms deliver drama, bright color, and lots of long-lasting blooms on stems that don’t require staking or caging. Popular colors include deep reds, flaming oranges, and piercing yellows, but pinks, plums, and white are also lovely for blending with other fall selections.
Versatile mums can be happy in beds or containers in full sun with well-drained, fertile soil, but want to have dry feet and need room to develop their bushy habit throughout the summer. They pair well in a bed with spring bloomers that die back through the summer and leave room for dense mounds to form without competition. When mums are crowded they can be especially susceptible to molds and disease, so they respond well to division (in the spring) every three to five years. Also plan for rotation to prevent disease. Mums bloom in response to the seasonal changes in light (photoperiodic) as summer wanes, so don’t place them near street lamps and other sources of artificial light. Most will tolerate light frost and make a delightful little cut flower after other summer blooms have faded. Potted mums can be overwintered in a cool, brightly lit room indoors with limited watering, and should be gradually acclimatized to the garden in spring (protected outdoors during the day and in that cool room at night) while days get longer but frost is still a danger.
Make selections from varieties that appeal to your tastes for size, color, flower type and bloom time. They can be planted from seed, cuttings, or purchased from nursery stock (most commonly in late summer or early fall). When transplanting your established plants or introducing nursery stock, allow the roots to establish during cooler weather rather than the hottest days of summer for best results, but at least six weeks before killing frost. Consider overwintering potted mums when purchased during fall holidays for planting in spring. Some folks recommend pinching for encouraging a bushy habit and more abundant blooms, but many common varieties don’t need this special treatment to become a tight mound covered in gorgeous blooms from early to late fall. Become familiar with the variety you choose to make the best decisions regarding planting, pinching, and placement.
Compiled from Wikipedia, Chrysanthemum Flowers: What Are “Hardy Mums”? by David Beaulieu, and experience by Corinna Sinclair