Learn how to plant and grow Chrysanthemums for a show-stopping fall garden
Many gardens center around spring and summer flowers and fall plants are often overlooked. One such fall plant is the showstopper Chrysanthemum (commonly known as “mums”). Mr Chef’s third love is mums. (his first love is me–I hope–and his second is his beloved dog). If Mr. Chef had his way, our whole garden would be nothing but mums. I have pleased him, however, with several mums in the garden intermixed with other plantings. I love how mums burst with bushes of compact blossoms, like the sun, adding a new ray to the garden.
There are many varieties of mums (in the hundreds actually) with variations of colors and height. The ones most often found in nurseries are:
- Decorative: These mums are large in size with petals often culring toward the center.
- Cushion: Just as they sound, these show stoppers have a cushion-shaped blossom.
- Anemone: These are cushion-shaped with the center covered in shorter petals in a darker color.
- Pompon: These are your cheerleaders with small, tightly compacted petals.
Ready to take the first step in learning how to plant and grow chrysanthemums?
When to Plant Mums
You’ll be surprised that you actually plant mums in the spring after the danger of frost (I usually plant them around Mother’s Day). You’d never know to plant them in the spring because nurseries are filled with them in the fall. However, if you missed planting them in the spring, have no fear. You can still plant them in the late summer as long as they have about 6 weeks to establish their roots and grow.
Location and Light
Mums LOVE full sun. When choosing a spot to place them in, plant them in an area that gets about 5-6 hours of full sunlight. Without the sunlight, you end up with “leggier” stems and less blossoms. They require a sandy or loamy soil to grow well. I have clay soil, so I till mulch and a small amount of sand to allow my plants to breathe without getting strangled.
How to Plant Mums
When planting any starter plant, you’ll want to dig the whole twice the size of the root ball (where the plant ends and the roots begin). Pack it in with some kind of compost or mulch to help the plant breathe, drain, and roots expand. And if you are planting multiple mums or other flowers around it, space them about 18-24 inches apart to allow them to spread their wings and not suffocate. This is one of the major mistsakes novice gardeners make–planting them too close. When first planting a flower garden, the garden will look sparse, but keep in mind the end result when the plants will grow large and full.
One thing to remember about mums is that they are susceptible to mildew, particularly at the base of the plant. The plants are very compact making it difficult for them to dry out inbetween waterings. So allow them to take their shower and dry off before watering them again. Constant moisture will allow mildew to grow and collect making for an unhealthy plant.
To encourage more blossoms, pinch back (pluck off the tops) to encourage a bushy look that will produce more blossoms. You will do this when they are about 6 inches tall and then again when they are at their peak (about a foot tall). If you plant them in the spring, pinch them back every few weeks through the end of June to encourage a heavy fall blossom.
If you buy plants from the nursery and they are already in bloom, prune them back about one-third to one-half so they will bloom heavily again in the fall. Greenhouses force blossoms to encourage patrons to buy.
Once mums are done flowering, cut down the mums to about 4″ tall and cover with a light mulch.
How to Divide Mums
After about 3-5 years, your mums should be divided and even relocated to other spots of the garden to help reduce disease. Once the threat of spring frost has passed, this will be a good time to split/divide the plants. You will dig up the whole plant and then carefully pull it apart (you can also cut it apart, too). Toss away any dead, woody stalks and only plant the healthy part. To replant, you will once again dig a whole twice the size of the rootball and pack it in with organic matter or mulch.
That’s basically it! Enjoy your fall garden.