I don’t know when mums became the emblem of fall, but there’s no escaping them. They’re pretty enough, but you know most of them won’t last past Halloween, if that long. They are supposed to be perennials – hardy mums – yet they’re grown and sold as disposable annuals. It doesn’t have to be that way. If you’d rather have truly hardy mums, you’re in luck. That’s the topic of today’s podcast. Listen in, or read on.
Seems like every store I go to these days is selling mums. Drug stores, hardware stores, grocery stores… There is always someone pushing a cart filled with potted mums, already in bloom. I’ll admit, there is a lot to be said for instant color. But there’s also something sad about seeing all these perennials being sold so late in the season. You know they’re going to wind up on the compost heap or, more likely, in the garbage.
They call them hardy mums, and they certainly can be. Unfortunately the ones they are selling now have been coddled and probably hormonally altered, to become these domes of blossoms ready to burst into color at the autumnal equinox – which is today, in case it slipped your mind. Happy fall.
To be truly hardy, mums should be planted in the spring or early summer and allowed to establish themselves in the garden. Mums don’t even naturally bloom in the fall, in our area. To ensure a fall bloom time we need to pinch the plants back several times during the growing season, to encourage the plants to branch out and become bushy and to forestall blooming until now.
You still stand a chance of them being hardy, if you get them in the ground now. But if you wait until late October, after they’ve bloomed, to plant them, they won’t have sufficient time to send down roots that will anchor the plants. The inevitable freezing and thawing will heave the plant out of the ground and kill it – if the cold winds don’t get to it first.
If you want to add some mums to your garden, by all means, try a couple this fall. At least you’ll know what color they actually are. Just get them in the ground now and be sure not to cut the plants back until spring. The foliage will act as an insulating mulch for the crown.
And don’t forget that the pom-pom mums sold in the fall are not the only perennial mums we can grow. There are other forms, with daisy-like flowers and colors from pink to gold, that do well in our area. Unfortunately you can usually only find them in the spring, when they don’t look like much and often get overlooked. But you could always start them from seed, so keep an eye out for unusual mums, when the seed catalogs come. And don’t forget to add some other fall bloomers to your garden next spring. Flowers like Joe Pye, Turtlehead, and Helenium, that we talked about on Episode 27, Planning for Fall Flowers.