This is an updated version of an article I wrote three years ago for a our local quarterly (zone 6b) Master Gardener Newsletter.
Garden centers will soon be filling up with Chrysanthemums. They come in pinks, reds, rusts, deep plums, pure white or white blends, garnets, purples and, of course, yellows. They are absolutely beautiful in fall displays.
Mums pair beautifully with gourds, pumpkins and hay bales. Wrap burlap around the pots for a simple and attractive display. Place around old rusted metal wheels or garden equipment, or in front of an old bicycle maybe. Scarecrows are popular, too.
Your displays can be either formal-looking or fun-looking, depending on the other elements you incorporate into the vignette.
Mums – Annuals or Perennials?
Mums are sold as annuals in the fall. However, the truth is, Mums are actually hardy perennials. Whether they will be annuals or perennials depends upon the time of year they are planted. To be considered a perennial, they would be planted in the spring.
That being said, there is a chance that with careful attention and by creating a micro-climate, Mums planted in the fall will come back in the spring. The main cause of death for Mums over the winter is being planted in soil that does not drain well. If you plant them, be sure to put them in a full sun area with great drainage, ideally as soon as you get them home, in order for them to settle in and start spreading their roots before winter.
Later, as winter approaches, cut back the dead branches to within a couple of inches of the soil. Top with several inches of mulch or leaves. Begin fertilizing in spring until August, then stop for fall and winter.
If you leave the Mums in their pots, move them against the house out of the wind or into an unheated garage. It helps to re-pot them into larger containers for additional root protection. Cut the dead branches back to a couple of inches tall. Surround the pots with newspaper, cardboard or leaves to protect the roots. Make sure the soil doesn’t completely dry out over the winter. Use a pencil to poke holes in the root ball to allow water to reach the center. Start fertilizing in spring and continue through July, then stop for fall and winter.
To keep your plants nice and round, when the plants reach 6”, pinch back halfway. Then every few weeks, pinch them back halfway again through July. By then, the mums will be ready to set buds for fall.
Propagating mums can easily be done by allowing the plant to go to seed and collecting the dried seeds. Sow seed in the spring in a prepared bed. Cover the seeds lightly with mulch and keep the bed evenly moist. Transplant the mums when they are 6 to 8 inches high.
Cuttings will produce mum plants quickly that will bloom within a few months. Take cuttings in the spring or summer by using a sharp sterile knife to remove a 2- to 3-inch section of new growth at the end of a stem. Remove leaves on the bottom 1 inch of the cutting and insert it into peat moss or perlite. Keep the cutting moist but not soggy. The cuttings will start rooting in about 2 weeks. Pinch off the top growth every few weeks to encourage lateral growth.