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The Joy of Gardening

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Mum's the Word

Posted by Kim Ellson - Gardening

Whether they are grown as cut flowers, potted houseplants or as an outdoor fall crop, it would be hard to imagine the horticultural and floral industry without them. Chrysanthemums are in fact a grower's delight, both private and commercial, due to their vast advantageous characteristics; versatility, diversity, multitude and longevity of floral blooms; rapid growth rate and relatively trouble-free nature.

When summer draws to an end, having been spoiled with an abundance of floral displays throughout the warm months, many of our plantings are now looking a little worse for wear and sadly have to be removed. This leaves us faced with the question of what to plant so we can still enjoy a little more color before we are faced with the bleakness of winter. Choices are more limited in the autumn months and consist largely of mums, pansies, ornamental- kales, -cabbages and -peppers.

Now many people find themselves confused about what is a hardy mum and what is not. Let me try and shed some light on this matter. Firstly always avoid mums that have been grown in indoor greenhouse settings, known as florist mums, as these have not been conditioned to the outdoors and are thus comparatively weak and fragile. Such plants are oftentimes sold in floral shops as gifts or indoor pot plants and although they will likely perform over the summer if planted outdoors, it is unlikely that they will survive the winter. Instead seek out outdoor grown mums, referred to as hardy or garden mums, meaning they are hardened off and suitable for outdoor conditions. Hardy mums have been specifically bred for their hardiness and resilience, as opposed to florist mums that have been selected for qualities such as large profuse blooms.

Now I can already hear those of you saying 'I planted a hardy mum in the fall and it never came back next year'. There are many factors in addition to the mum type that will affect the outcome of this. A crucial factor in my opinion is when the mum is planted. Plant mums in the springtime as this will allow them to establish roots prior to winter as opposed to mums planted in the fall. A healthy, well established root system is the key to winter survival, and is one of the main factors distinguishing florist and garden mums. Florist mums do not produce underground stolons the way hardy mums do. Next, choose your cultivar wisely as certain cultivars are more cold resistant than others. A decent garden center should be able to assist you in this and furthermore the plant's label generally lists the hardiness factor. If no information is provided, it is best to play it safe and assume it is not hardy.

A few tips for those mums to be planted in the spring. Choose a sunny location with a rich, well-drained soil for your mum. Mums will not perform well in shady conditions or wet soils, and the latter could prove fatal, especially over the winter. If you have a spot available that is sheltered from the elements, i.e. a micro-climate, use it to overwinter your mum, even is this is not its final destination. Pinch back your mum one or more times depending on variety, leading up until mid-July to keep it compact and producing an abundance of blooms, but be careful not to pinch too late, thus allowing enough time for bud development. Keep mums watered and ensure that they never dry out even after they are finished flowering. For those mums that carry forward from year to year, treat them like any other perennial and divide them accordingly in the springtime. Avoid cutting down mums in the fall as the dead plant material will offer extra protection for the winter months and be sure to also mulch the plant.

These tips will significantly improve your chances of mums surviving the winter and delighting you with bountiful displays of color from season to season. Is there ever a guarantee? Sadly no, as every winter is so vastly different in character and no given situation is identical, however you should be extremely optimistic after following these guidelines!



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