DARREL KOEHLER: The Prairie Gardener — Mum’s The Word

When I think of fall flowers, immediately the majestic mums come to mind. These are wonderful flowers that can become part of your landscape until the cold and snow arrives in November.

While mums have more frost tolerance than most flowering plants, once the mercury drops to the mid 20s, even the late ones surrender.

Mums come in a rich array of colors, including gold, bronze and mahogany. They also come in white, pink and red. Those plants developed at the University of Minnesota almost always put on a good show.

Chrysanthemums — better known as mums — are unique in that gardeners treat them as annuals or perennials. Early bloomers already are out in late summer while other kinds hit their stride in late fall.

Mums can be purchased at garden centers in either spring or late summer. Those bought in late summer should be treated as annuals. However, those purchased in spring should be treated as perennials.

After they end their season, spring-planted mums can be carried over winter in our gardens and will bloom the following year. If you have mums that you found on discount centers, toss them when they look shabby.

Today’s mums are more hardy than those available in the past. Most varieties that flower early (Sept. 1 through Sept. 25) are worth growing even as annuals if they survive two or more years. Hearty, well-grown plants that have been in full light, watered regularly and fertilized are stronger and are more apt to survive.

Spring mums are best planted in May or early June. Plants purchased at garden centers or greenhouses should not be planted until the danger of frost has passed.

Mums do well in most fertile soils. Plant them in a sunny area that is well-drained and high in organic matter. Plants should be spaced 18 to 24 inches apart and each given 2 tablespoons of 5-10-5 or similar fertilizer. Work the fertilizer well into the ground, and be sure to water if the soil is dry. (If you need to water the plants during the growing season, do it from the bottom, not the top.)

To produce low-growth, sturdy, well-branched mums pinch back the tips of the shoots once or twice during the growing season.

Cool summers will result in earlier blooming, while hot summers may delay blooming by two weeks or more.

Usually, the original plant will die, however small shoots will form at the base and will provide flowers the following year. Cover plants with coarse mulch such as straw but leave tops on plants to catch snow. Don’t use leaves, which mat.



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