University of Illinois Extension


Barbara Larson
Unit Educator, Horticulture
Boone and Winnebago County Units

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Chrysanthemums, the quintessential autumn flower, are a very large diverse group with various species tracing back to areas of China, Japan, northern Africa, and southern Europe. Early chrysanthemums were probably small yellow daisy-like flowers. They are members of Asteraceae or aster family (formerly Composite family).

Like all members of the aster family, a flower is actually composed of numerous tiny individual flowers clustered together into a “head.” The individual flowers are either ray type with a petal or disc type without a petal. By thinking of a daisy (or sunflower), which is made up of ray flowers on the edge and disc flowers in the center, it is easy to understand this concept.

Chrysanthemums have been cultivated for thousands of years. Chinese writings from the 15th Century describe chrysanthemum cultivation. Pottery from that era depicts the flowers. The Chinese believed the plant had the power of life.

The plant has been grown in Japan since the 8th Century. The chrysanthemum is so highly revered in Japan that a single flowered chrysanthemum is the Emperor’s symbol. The flower is often incorporated into the crests of noble families. National Chrysanthemum Day, also called Festival of Happiness, celebrates the plant’s significance in Japan.

Linneaus (botanist who invented the plant classification system) gave the plant its western name, chrysanthemum, from the Greek chrysos meaning gold and anthemon meaning flower.

Mums were introduced into the United States in the colonial era. Although widely used in modern America, the chrysanthemum is considered the death flower in Europe because of its extensive use on graves.

Chrysanthemum is one of our most commonly cultivated flowers. There are thousands of varieties specially developed for use as cut flowers, hardy landscape plants, and houseplants. Colors range though most shades of yellow, orange, pink, purple, red, and white. A few are bicolored.

The National Chrysanthemum Society (from which I got much of this information at recognizes thirteen bloom classes of chrysanthemum. The classes are based on flower form and petal shape. Pompon, single, spider, quill, reflex, and anemone are examples of some of the classes. Cushion mums are not a bloom class but a term for low growing, mounded, early blooming plants. Garden mum is often used to distinguish between hardier mums for outdoor plantings versus greenhouse mums.

In our northern Illinois gardens it is essential to plant garden or hardy mums. Proper siting is extremely important. Garden mums need rich, well-drained soil and full sun.

Chrysanthemums should be planted 18 to 36 inches apart depending on the mature size of the plant. Mums are heavy feeders and should be fertilized monthly with 5-10-5, 5-10-10, or 5-20-20. After flower buds develop, fertilization should be stopped.

Mums have a tendency to get tall and leggy if they are not pinched. Beginning in May whenever a new shoot reaches 3 to 4 inches tall, it should be pinched off using the thumb and index finger, leaving 2 to 3 leaves on the shoot. It’s a good idea to fertilize and pinch about once a month. Stop pinching the middle of July so flower buds will develop.

Chrysanthemums are short day plants, which means they need lengthening nights to trigger bloom. In the home garden mother nature does that for us. In the cut flower and greenhouse industry growers shade the plants with a dense black cloth to fool them into blooming out of season.

Chrysanthemums are susceptible to aphids, mites, and powdery mildew. Outdoors beneficial insects usually take care of aphids and mites. Powdery mildew may be reduced by maintaining good air circulation around plants.

Frost heaving in poorly drained soil is the primary cause of winter death. When the tops die in late fall cut off the dead stems at the ground line and remove them from the garden. After the ground freezes apply three to four inches of mulch (straw, fluffy leaves, evergreen boughs) to help keep the soil frozen.

Whether you grow them in your yard, purchase them for a sick friend, or enjoy them in a Thanksgiving bouquet the chrysanthemum will brighten your day.

October - November 2003:

Fall Fertilizing | Does Your Ash Tree Have the Emerald Ash Borer? | Chrysanthemums | Protect Home From Crickets

Past Issues

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