Chrysanthemums, or Mums for short, are the last bright splash of color before winter arrives. However, there are two kinds of mums, garden and florist, which allow you to enjoy them year round. Mums are second only to roses for cut flowers.
Mums are tropical flowers that originated in Eurasia and belong to the Aster family. They were brought to Japan in AD 400 by Buddhist Monks and were so revered by the Japanese that the emperor sat on a Chrysanthemum throne and mums adorn their imperial crest. Some Mum varieties are used medicinally and some for flavoring soups and teas.
Mums come in many shapes and colors. White, yellow, pink, red, bronze, burgundy, lavender and purple shades may be found as well as color combinations. The most common flower shape is a thick disc covered with petals, known as a 'decorative'. 'Daisies' with single rows of petals (ray flowers) around yellow centers (disc flowers) are also widespread. 'Anemone' has frilly petals around lacy raised centers. 'Pompoms' are round and globular and 'spiders' are flat and shaggy. Some mums are called 'cushion' because they are low growing, bushy and free flowering. They may produce so many flowers that you can't see any green. Other Mums grow tall enough that they need to be staked.
Mums are 'Photoperiodic' which means that they bloom in response to the shorter days and longer nights in fall. It is wise to plant them away from outdoor lights such as streetlights so that they do not get confused. They need to be planted in well-drained soil, as they do not like wet feet. They require at least five hours of sunlight a day in order to form buds.
The hardiness of garden mums varies greatly depending on the cultivar. In our area, seek out mums that bloom early and the best way to select these is from a catalogue. In the fall or late summer, plant outlets are full of beautiful potted mums. In most cases, these are great for outdoor decorating, just as we buy cut flowers for indoors. However, do not to count on them to survive the winter. First, we do not know the cultivar and therefore the hardiness. Second, they need to be planted at least six weeks before a killing frost and even that may not be enough. Still, if they are planted in a sheltered spot and mulched you may see them again next spring.
The best time to plant mums is in the spring. Potted plants are usually available at nurseries or you can order from a catalogue. The plants that you order will not look like much when you get them, as they are just a cutting. Plant them in a sunny spot and by fall they will be fat bushes covered with blooms. If you admire a friend or neighbors successful plant, ask them for a tip cutting from their plant. Cut off the top three or four inches of six to eight-inch soft shoots and pull off the lower leaves. Stick them a rooting medium such as perlite kept just moist and warm. In about two weeks, the shoots should have rooted and you can plant them in the ground.
Most mums benefit from pinching, although newer varieties bloom just as well without. Pinching makes the plant bushier and keeps it from getting lanky. Once the plant is about six inches in length pinch between the thumb and forefinger and do it every two to three weeks. Mums should be fertilized every two weeks so this is a good time to do both jobs. Don't pinch after July 4 and discontinue fertilizing once the buds show color. Keep them blooming and looking nice by deadheading the spent flowers.
Mums increase with stolons and need to be divided every two to three years. Replant the vigorous outer roots and discard the woody center. Mums can be transplanted anytime, even when they are in bloom. Since they have shallow roots they do not do well when the soil alternates between freezing and thawing. It is best to leave the foliage standing through the winter and add mulch around the plants once the soil freezes.
Florist mums are bold and beautiful annuals that are grown in a greenhouse. They do not have the advanced root system with underground stolons that garden mums have to help survive cold. Temperatures less than 60 degrees will do them in. They require almost two times as much shortened daylight time to bloom with an average of about 11 weeks. The garden mum averages about six weeks of shortened daylight to trigger blooming. We appreciate florist mums for bringing bright colors inside our homes in gloomy November and other times of the year.