Chrysanthemum Care

Though associated with fall, chrysanthemums are a great addition to the garden throughout the growing season. Find out how to plant and care for mums for maximum bloom.

Chrysanthemums are one of the easiest perennials to grow. Though they are not specific to any season. Chrysanthemums (aka mums) are showstoppers in the fall, blooming well after other garden plants have stopped for the season.

Hundreds of varieties of chrysanthemums provide a multitude of options for height, color, flower size, and time of bloom. You can pick and choose to fit your needs when you visit your garden center. Choose one or two colors to get a maximum effect far away. Or, arrange a gradual transition of related colors. If you decorate with pumpkins and gourds, chose orange, yellow and creamy white mums. For a yard that has a lot of green foliage, try bright pinks, lavenders, whites, or reds.

Mums can be started as seeds, from cuttings and dividing, or can be purchased at a garden center in sizes ranging from bedding plants to gallon-size containers. Chrysanthemums grow best and produce the most flowers if they are planted in full sunshine and receive plenty of food and moisture.

Ideally, chrysanthemums should be planted in early spring after all danger of freezing has passed. They can really be planted almost any time, as long as they have time to establish their root system, at least six weeks before the extremes of either hot or freezing weather.

Chrysanthemums should be planted into well-prepared, fertile, loamy or sandy soil where they get full early morning sun, at least five to six hours daily. Dig a hole at least twice the size of the root ball and incorporate organic matter such as compost or peat to help with drainage.

Mums are pretty tough and can thrive on their own, but they benefit from light and frequent feedings with a balanced fertilizer during the growing season. Fertilize when the plants are ready for blooming and discontinue fertilizing after flower buds are formed.

Do not grow your mums in the same location for more than three consecutive years to prevent disease and pest problems. Chrysanthemums are susceptible to aphids and mildew, so keeping plants dry is a priority. Mums need plenty of air circulation and water drainage. Space 18 to 30 inches apart for best results. When plants are six inches tall, pinch about 3/4 of an inch from each branch to promote more blooms and bushier plants. When they reach a foot tall, pinch them again. Last pinching should be 100 days before desired bloom time. In some cases, staking of mums is necessary. The faded chrysanthemum blooms should be removed regularly as it helps prolong flowering.

Divide chrysanthemums in the spring when new growth appears every three to five years to avoid overcrowding and promote maximum flowering. When the new shoots are 1 to 3 inches tall in early spring, dig entire clumps and separate the plants with a sharp, clean knife or spade. Remove all dead and diseased plant parts. Replant the divisions in a loose, well drained, rich fertile soil and discard the half-dead woody parts. Young divisions will grow much faster and provide a better plant than crowded old clumps.

To propagate chrysanthemums, remove the lower half of the leaves from a 4-to-6-inch healthy, fresh cutting using a sharp clean knife. Dip about 3/4 inch of the cut end into a rooting hormone. Insert the cutting about one-inch-deep into sterile moist sand, vermiculite, or sphagnum moss.

To grow from seed, sow at least two months before first frost, or start indoors over the winter. The planting medium should be kept at 70 to 75°F, and seeds should germinate in one to three weeks. Usually, the chrysanthemum seedlings are transplanted after about a month of sowing. But sometimes seeds can also be sown directly and seedlings thinned out after germination. Chrysanthemums flower in about three months after sowing and have a long flowering period.

After a hard frost has killed the foliage, you can cut mums back to the ground and provide a light airy mulch of evergreen branches or similar material. The most dangerous hazard for chrysanthemums in the winter are constant wetness or ice on the leaves. Frost heaving caused by alternate freezing and thawing of the soil can also be a major problem. To help avoid the heaving try to keep the plants somewhat shaded and insulate their roots with mulch or mound the soil up around each plant.

Chrysanthemums can be kept in pots over winter. After the flowers fade, move the mums to a cool but well-lighted location. Remove foil or other coverings from the pot. Be sure to keep your plants watered, but don’t overwater. When the potting soil dries to a depth of two to three inches, water them well so that water runs out of the hole in the bottom of the pot. By keeping the mums in a cool, brightly lighted location, you can keep the plants alive until the worst of winter is over and can plant them outdoors. If there is no new growth, you can plant while freezing temperatures are expected at night. If there is new growth, wait until frost has past to plant outside. Gradually acclimatize the mums as you bring them to life in the spring. Place them in a protected part of the garden, with partial shade during the day, and in your coolest room at night. As there is less variance between day and night temperatures, you can leave them outside. When frost danger has passed, give them some bloom fertilizer.

Keep in mind that if you buy chrysanthemums and plant them this fall when they are already in bloom, they may not survive the winter. They will use all their energy in blooms instead of putting down roots.

Before you decide how to prepare your flower gardens for spring, check out the many amazing varieties of chrysanthemums. There are so many varieties, colors, shapes, and sizes. They will make you want to plant more.

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