Hard to believe summer is nearly over. Things like back to school sales, end of the Racing Season and Labor Day remind me Fall is just around the corner. My gardens also provide me with clues to the waning days of summer, brown leaves, slower flower production and of course the fading of my annual displays. Can’t complain…the annuals lasted a good 3 months. But Its time to change my autumn landscapes with the bold colors of mums that freshen my perennial gardens and welcome this change of season.
Mums are the perfect choice for our North Country Fall displays as they perform wonderfully in the cooler temps. Did you know the shorter days actually trigger the mum bloom? I found that fact interesting. Choose a nice sunny place to plant your mums to get the best results.
The question I am asked frequently about mums is how do I get them to winter over? As a sustainable gardener, this is important to me, It can be a little tricky in our region, but with focused practices I have had some success with mums that are now the size of shrubs in a few of my properties, Generally mums are hardy Zones 3-9 (check the plant tag to be sure). I have found “field grown” mums …ones that have started their growing cycle outdoors as opposed to a greenhouse are a better bet it you have expectations for them to return next season as perennials. One of my favorite late summer activities as a kid was digging up field grown mums and planting at my mom’s house.
Mums should be planted in the spring to get the root development benefits of an entire growing season. Generally the ones ready for purchase now are coddled in greenhouses and pushed for specific bloom time, versus working on healthy root growth. So they are not incredibly robust to winter over. But by planting in early September, and hopes that the major frosts don’t arrive until November, you may get a window to work with.
As with all plants, good soil is a must. Adding compost and root tone to the planting holes will help your root development and the potential for winter survival. Select a planting area that does not have aggressive plants that will overcome the root ball. Be sure to water as mums do need consistent water to grow. Once the cooler weather comes, most folks forget about watering needs and this contributes to winterkill. Use a liquid fertilizer when you water as this will help feed the plant.
Make sure you have mulch over the root ball. Our subzero winters and the inevitable freeze thaw of the soil often heaves the balls out of the ground, thereby killing the plant. When you do set about winterizing your garden do not cut off the brown stems of the mum. Leave them on until the spring. This too adds a level of protection to the roots. I wait until I begin to see new green growth in the spring before I pinch them back. That new growth is then cared for same as the rest of your perennial garden: mulch, food, water. To give the mums their roundish shape, you will need to keep pinching off the stems.. But you will be stopping that late July in our region to let the buds set up. Of course I neglected to do this with mine this year so I am faced with 18 inch leggy mums in my entry garden now ready to bloom 🙁 Oh well maybe I will next year! Good Luck!
Want some fall display inspiration? Check out our NY Flower Power Plants and Parks Partnership With Dehns Flowers and Greenhouse coming next week to the National Museum of Dance entry gardens!