Garden: Mum’s The Word
The following is a regular column that addresses basic issues facing the ever-inquisitive back- and front-yard toiler, proffered by someone who knows best; one of the fertile master gardeners from the Berkshire Botanical Garden in Stockbridge. This week, Brian Cruey discusses the surprising longevity of a flowering plant we tend to just toss when they’ve lost their bloom.
Mums—short for chrysanthemums—are everywhere right now. Go to any garden center, grocery store or farmers’ market and you’re bound to find them on sale, tempting you with their showy fall colors in tight, mounded blooms. It’s hard to say no to them—and why should you? They’re usually reasonably priced, with tons of colors and varieties to choose from, and, let’s face it, most of our gardens could use an additional splash of color these days.
Here’s what I don’t get: it seems people buy all of these beautiful mums and then throw them out with their rotting jack-o-lanterns once the leaves are gone and winter starts to set in. It’s true that mums are a nice annual, but did you know that there are a lot of mums that are hardy to zone 5?
It’s true! Treated properly, some mum varieties are a perennial that’ll come back year after year, making it unnecessary for you to spend all your Gold Coins on them at Big Y. Here’s what to look for when buying mums and how to care for them, so they’ll keep coming back:
First of all, when you buy them, make sure to look at the tag and ask if they’re a hardy variety. For the greatest success, it’s best to plant your mums in the spring. I know, I know—no one is thinking about mums at that time. However, IF you can plan that far in advance, a spring planting will give your mums plenty of time to establish a strong root system that’ll help them survive the winter. But let’s be real—you probably won’t do this and neither will I. So let’s think about how we can get what you just bought a couple of days ago to survive.
Go ahead and get them in the ground. Mums like sunny areas with well-drained soil. Don’t plant mums in a wet area. The sooner you can get those roots growing, the better and ideally you want them in the ground at least six weeks before blooming, but again let’s be realistic. Once the days and weeks start to get colder and your mums start to die back after a few hard frosts, let them be. You don’t want to cut back the dead stems. Though they might seem unsightly, leave them until spring. Next, you’ll want to put a good heaping of mulch, about 4-6 inches, on the plant, being sure to get in between all of the stems. This will help prevent heaving and keep the ground warm.
In the spring, cut back the rotting stems and remove the mulch. Hopefully, they’ll have made it through! If they did, pinch back new growth on established limbs through July. This will prevent leggy stems and keep your mums nice and rounded. It’ll also encourage a later bloom time so you’ll get those deep fall colors when you need them most.
Looking for mums? We’ll have tons of them at the Berkshire Botanical Garden Harvest Festival on October 5 and 6.