Ready for the fall show-offs? Chrysanthemums are starting to bush up and bud out to give your garden some color in late summer and early fall. This relative of the daisy family comes in dozens of colors and shapes, and all of them will make you smile.
Mums used to be divided into two major groups: Garden mums that wouldn't make it through the winter and hardy mums that would. But Ohio State University experts say the term "hardy mum" has been abandoned by growers in recent years because the hardiness of the plant can change from season to season and cultivar to cultivar.
It sounds confusing, but it isn't. The most confusing part will be which mum to choose. You will find hundreds of combinations of colors and sizes to match your landscape plan. The National Chrysanthemum Society has 13 classifications of mums to choose from. You can find plants with spoon ends, curved ends, and some that look a little like a cheerleader's pompons, spider legs, or thistles.
For best results, start mums in the spring and plant them in a spot with plenty of sun. You can even start them from cuttings from a healthy, established shrub in your landscape. Keep the fast-growing shoots pinched back to encourage bushy growth packed with flowers. Keep pinching until mid-July. You should be sitting back and enjoying the blooms now.
You could find just the right mums at your favorite home and garden store, family farm, grocery store, or roadside stand. Look for lots of closed buds that will pop once you get the plants home. They can be blended into your landscape in the container or dropped into the ground and pampered until next spring. Either way, keep them well-watered even past the first hard frost.
To keep your mums flowering, give them some food early in the summer. Look for fertilizers with higher middle and last numbers, such as 5-10-10 or 5-20-20, to promote bloom growth and root strength. They are spending most of their early season working on blooms, not roots, so the longer they can be in the ground, the better they will be able to handle reblooming in the spring. Stop feeding them after July to protect the new growth from damage in late fall.
Set up a soaker hose around your mums to let the water seep four to six inches into the ground weekly. Keeping the moisture on the ground early in the day concentrates it on the roots, not on the foliage, which could encourage disease problems.
In most cases, OSU experts say garden mums are considered annuals in our neck of the woods. The first killing frost in the late fall will usually kill them off. If they were planted in the fall, the roots haven't gotten a chance to get established enough to make it through the winter. If you planted them in the spring, you might be able to get the roots to survive the winter if you cut off the dead ends and bury them in three or four inches of mulch.
OSU recommends Encore, Illusion, Nicloe, and Tolima for white mums; Donna, Goldmine, Jessica, and Target for great yellow mums; Debonair, Naomi, Stardom, and Sundoro for pink varieties; Ginger, Grace, Sandy, and Triumph if you are looking for bronze, and Bravo, Minngopher, and Remarkable for successful red varieties.
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