Fall is for mums.
Yellow, bronze, deep red, purple — the colors evoke the season that’s knocking at the door. Soon, our yards will be filled with a colorful tapestry of fallen leaves illuminated by autumn’s warm glow.
If you’re planning to plant the mums after a few weeks on display, look for the “hardy” or “garden” label. These are perennial mums for planting in the ground. Photoperiodic or “short-day” plants, mums bloom when the days grow shorter.
There are several types of mums: daisy, anemone, button, pompon, spider, decorative and spoontip. Purchase mums that have more buds than flowers so they’ll be in bloom longer. Create attractive fall vignettes using mums along with pumpkins, gourds, corn stalks or whatever strikes your fancy. I usually place the mum — pot and all — inside another more decorative pot.
Keep plants well-watered.
Then about mid-fall, I plant bigger mums in the garden. They need a little time to establish a healthy root system before the first hard frost. Confession: Small mums are inexpensive enough that I treat them like annuals.
Mums need protection from winter wind, snow and cold temperatures, so plant them in full sun, well-drained soil and provide wind protection, if possible. They respond to a soil pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Enrich the planting site with compost.
Dig the hole to the same depth as the plant is in the pot. Water thoroughly after planting and keep soil moist (not wet) until hard frost. Resist fertilizing. You don’t want to encourage foliage growth or budding. When the ground freezes, mulch heavily with leaves to six inches deep.
Don’t cut back plants after blooming. Dried foliage will capture fall leaves and protect the plant crown. In spring, remove leaves and cut away any dead or damaged stems.
Mums have a spotty track record for returning in my garden. In any case, mums tend to get leggy as they develop in the spring, so start pinching off about 12 of new growth at the top of each shoot when the plant reaches 4 to 6 inches tall. This encourages branching. Keep pinching until mid-July.
Fertilize on a regular basis until August. Water regularly.
Divide mums every other year. In spring when shoots are 4 inches high, dig up the plant. Discard the center portion of the root, separate offshoots and plant those between 18 and 24 inches apart. Fertilize with 10-20-10 or 5-10-5 liquid or granular product. Keep well watered to prevent wilting. When plants begin to grow, start pinching new growth.