The first official day of fall is just a couple of weeks away, and I’m so excited. It’s still early, but the signs of fall are everywhere. You can tell by the colors…no, not the trees yet. I’m talking about all the orange and burgundy paraphernalia of the crazed Virginia Tech fans. Another true sign of early fall is all the Christmas junk going up on shelves at your favorite stores. It’s truly an exciting time of year.
But perhaps the most vivid sign of fall’s arrival is the thousands of chrysanthemums piling up at every grocery store entrance and garden shop in town. You gotta love those mums. They have florist mums, hardy mums, Belgium mums, in colors of bronze, burgundy, purple, yellow and blends of your choice. We generally see 10 to 20 different varieties of the plant in our local stores; there are however, hundreds of vibrant varieties of this fall bloomer.
The sale statistics on mums in this country is nothing short of astounding. Each year mum sales rival nearly every other flowering plant sold. What makes that so amazing is that for the most part, the bulk of their sales is limited to the six weeks of early fall. Millions of mums are imported and sold to dress up the entrance of homes in glorious fall colors.
I have always been a huge fan of mums. There are so many unique characteristics about these colorful plants. The one that has always impressed me most is their uncanny ability to perform magic. Yes … magic; that magical mum disappearing act. Think about it. Millions of mums are purchased all across the country, they decorate the fronts of homes everywhere for several weeks, and then poof … they disappear completely.
So where do they all go? I know one place where they generally don’t go, and that’s planted in people’s gardens. Can you imagine what homes would look like if millions of mums were successfully planted in residential gardens every year? But it doesn’t happen. In fact you have to do some serious searching to find any homes that yield mums in their gardens.
And you all know it’s not really magic at all. We’ve all been part of the great disappearing act that plays out each fall. You purchase a half dozen or so mums mid-September, place them strategically on your decks or front porches, and care for them meticulously till Halloween comes and goes.
By that time it’s now the first of November, and you have a half dozen or so wilting and shabby looking mums on your porch. You tried planting them once or twice before in prior years and all of them died before spring. So, we end up doing what millions of others do each November, we pull the lid off one of our large trash cans and poof … they all disappear.
I know what some of you are asking, “Why do they even call them hardy mums if they die every time I try to plant them … are they hardy, or aren’t they?” They are truly hardy plants, and they are actually easy to plant and care for. Your success hinges on two important issues: timing and shallow roots.
If you’re attempting to plant them in November as mentioned above, you will undoubtedly have a difficult time being successful. These perennials have shallow root systems that need ample time to grow in their new environment.
As overnight lows begin to drop below frost temperatures the soil will go through constant cycles of freezing and thawing. The mum will often suffer what is called frost heave. As the ground freezes and thaws, the soil will contract and actually push or heave the plant out of the soil causing its shallow roots to freeze. Although it’s not impossible, planting mums after the first of November is not a good option.
If you want mums in your garden I suggest one of three alternatives. One, try to overwinter the potted mums you purchase in September indoors then plant them in spring. You’ll need a cool sunny spot, fertilizer and careful watering. There are a number of sites online to give you more specifics.
The second option is to buy potted mums when they first begin to arrive in stores in early September. Then plant them right away. Although not the ideal planting time, you will be giving the plants, and their shallow roots, more time to get acclimated before the cold weather sets in.
The third and most ideal option is to purchase and plant the mums in spring. They will be harder to find at that time of the year, and you’ll probably need to go to a larger nursery or even order your plants. Your plants of course will be much smaller and without blooms. However, if you prepare a proper bed for them with a rich sandy soil, you should be more than pleasantly pleased at your results. You can have your own garden full of fabulous autumn colors each fall and, with proper care, will flourish every year thereafter.
So join in the new campaign to: “Save the Mums,” or “Stop Killing the Mums,” or maybe, “Mums Lives Matter.” Whatever you call it, enjoy your planting.