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Published: Tuesday, 7/4/2006

Pinch mums now for burst of fall color

I always thought my grandma was talking about me when she said "I'll give you a pinch to grow an inch!" But now I realize she was talking about her mums. If you pinch mums back, they will grow more branches at the pinching point and give you more blooms.

Charles Behnke, Ohio State University extension agent, says garden mums will give a late-summer and fall landscape a blast of color that will last until the first hard frost.

Most mums are easy keepers, thriving year after year without much help. But if you want to see the colorful flowers, you have to prevent them from falling over. To do that, you need to do some pinching. It is easy, but it takes some time, especially if you have a lot of mums.

Nip off the ends of each branch, leaving only a couple of shoots behind. The branches should be about three or four inches long when you are done. OSU says most chrysanthemums will grow more branches from the pinched end, and more branches mean more flowers. Keep pinching off new growth until about August. Then let the plants fill with buds that will start bursting in the fall.

If you look back in your high school yearbook, that might be a huge mum on your lapel for the homecoming dance. The National Chrysanthemum Society says mums are the most widely grown pot plants in the country and the longest-lasting cut flowers.

You could plant the landscape in front of your house with nothing but mums and it would be packed. The chrysanthemum society says mums are related to dahlias, sunflowers, marigolds, zinnias, and cosmos. Not all of them look like a huge yellow football on your shoulder. Even the beginning gardener can spot those classic up-curved petals on a Bola de Oro or Bob Dear. Other varieties, such as Crimson Glory, look like daisies. Many mums have bright petal colors.

Anemones have tight middles, and little daisy petals around the edges. Seatons Toffee is a beautiful salmon-colored quill mum. Its petals look like tubes coming out of the center of the flower. And most formal flower arrangements contain a few spider mums.

If you are purely looking for colors, Mr. Behnke recommends Encore, Illusion, or Nicole for white mums; Donna, Goldmine, or Target for yellow varieties; Debonair, Stardom, or Sundoro in pink, and Ginger, Triumph, Bravo, or Remarkable in the bronze or red range that will grow well in southeast Michigan and northwest Ohio.

If you plant new mums every year, plant them only as deep as they were in the container. Water them well and top them off with a dash of slow-release fertilizer. Feed mums, but not with lawn fertilizer. Look for a bag that has a low first number (nitrogen). Something like a 5-20-20 will add more phosphorus and potassium to help the roots and flowers more than the foliage. Once the mums start to bud in July, stop fertilizing them.

Enjoy the burst of color in the fall landscape, but be aware that the first hard frost often turns mums black. Most growers' garden or patio mums usually flower year after year, depending on the landscape conditions. A bit of protection gives them a better chance of survival.

To help them get through the colder months, chop off the dead tops and cover the base with about four inches of mulch. This will make them more likely to greet you again next year, ready for a pinch.



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