Fall’s flower finale begins in the spring
story and photos by Clarice L. Kesler
You could call them nature’s fireworks. With bursts of gold, yellow, rust and burgundy, chrysanthemums, or “mums,” fill gardens with bountiful beauty each fall. And while potted versions last for a few weeks, plant them as a perennial in the spring to enjoy them for a few years.
Originating in Asia, mums are part of the daisy family. They come in a variety of novelty forms, too, but hardy garden mums, if planted, come back to visit on their own each year. Sometimes called mammoth mums, these mums produce underground shoots and stolons that help them survive as a perennial. It’s important to plant them in the spring, rather than mid-summer or fall, so they establish a solid root system.
Florist mums produce few or no stolons, causing them to die easily in the winter, especially in colder regions. When purchasing chrysanthemums, ask the seller if the plant is established as a perennial.
For northern climates like North Dakota, look for mums that have been propagated for planting in Zones 3 or 4, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Plant Hardiness Zone Map. (Visit www.planthardiness.ars.usda.gov to find out which planting zone you live in.) Find the zone by looking at the tag usually stuck inside the plant’s pot. Often, hardier mum versions are found at garden centers versus hardware or grocery stores.
Planting and caring for mums
Mums like sun and well-drained soil in a place with less wind.
After they are in the ground, pinch off the top inch of the plant and apply a dose of fertilizer once a week, until around July 4. Let the plants grow for the rest of the summer, unfertilized, to form a full round mound that will produce plentiful flowers in the fall.
As winter approaches, the soil freezes and blooms fade, keep the plant intact and cover the base with hay, leaves or even dried grass. Leaving the large plant stems in the ground will trap snow and act as a blanket. Keeping the mums’ roots warm will improve their chances of coming back in the spring.
Every two to three years, divide the mums to keep them healthy, so they can continue to provide a plethora of color for as long as possible.