Late Season Bloomers: How to Take Care of Fall Mums!
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Fall may be fast approaching, but your flowering colors are far from finished. Of course, many summer flowers continue to bloom into fall, at least until the first hard frost. But no plant is more associated with autumn than chrysanthemums, better known as mums. This is because mums tend to continue blooming long after many other flowering plants have ceased for the season. Thousands of cultivars offer varying shapes, sizes and styles, from button mums to single or daisy mums. These perennials come in many different colors, including some two-tone varieties. They are easy to care for and can be transplanted in bud or in full bloom.
Types of Fall Mums
There are many types of common fall mums. The National Chrysanthemum Society places them into thirteen distinct classifications, only one of which is called Exotic. On a broader scale, mums can be divided into two groups, the garden variety, sometimes called hardy mums, and the cutting variety, referred to as florist mums. In a nutshell, garden mums are bred for to survive outdoors, in either pots or beds. They tend to produce stolons, or horizontal runners, beneath the soil surface, which helps produce additional new plants and makes them more likely to survive colder weather. By comparison, cutting mums are bred for their large flowers and tend not to produce those underground runners. If you plant a florist mum outside, it will likely last only as long as the warm weather holds out.
So are mums annual or perennial plants? Yes. In USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 5 through 9, which covers most of the contiguous United States, garden mums may function as perennials, especially when planted in the spring. Florist mums, more delicate garden varieties, and any mums planted late in the season as fall bedding plants may not withstand a frost and will function as annuals.
How To Take Care of Fall Mums
Caring for fall mums is relatively easy, once you understand their basic needs. Mums require full sunlight to thrive. According to Better Homes & Gardens, three hours a day is minimal; six or more is better. Mums that do not receive enough sunlight will lack fullness—imagine seeing more stems instead of leaves and flowers. Like most plants, mums do best in rich, well-drained soil. If your soil is dense, add compost and work it in at least eight inches. Mums need plenty of water, too. New plantings must never be allowed to wilt and established plants should be watered weekly. Water more often if needed but avoid soaking the plants, as this encourages disease. Regular feeding with a water-soluble fertilizer during growing season will stimulate root growth and help the plants overwinter. Mums set out as fall annuals need not be fertilized in this manner. If you are selecting mums late in the season, for fall bedding, look for larger, full plants.
Growing Your Perennials For Better Bloom
Thanks to good cultural practices, which include dividing and pinching, these new purchases are ready to be planted and should look good once installed. Dividing and pinching may sound harsh, but these two practices, performed early in the season, are the means to growing fuller-looking plants with better blooms. If you are growing garden mums as perennials, you can use these practices to your own advantage as well. Mums like their space and dividing them at least every other year helps give your plants the space they need. Once the danger of frost has passed and new growth has begun, dig up an entire plant as one unit.
Then using a sharp spade or knife, separate the outer parts of the plant from the center and replant them in a prepared soil bed, discarding the original center portion. Pinching is a form of pruning that begins after the plant is about six inches tall and growth with new buds occurs. Pinching off about an inch of new growth from the top of each stem, with or without buds, causes the plant to produce additional branches. Repeating this pinching process on every three to five inches of new growth until July will help ensure full-looking plants with many blooms.
At the end of the growing season, you can take steps to ensure that your perennials come back the following year. Mums will generally lose their top growth after a hard frost and go dormant for the winter. After this happens, cut the top growth back and cover all the plants with a thick layer of mulch.The following spring, after the threat of frost has passed, pull the mulch back off the plants. Once new growth is underway, you may prune back any remaining dead stems.
In pots or beds, as annual or perennial plantings, fall mums can provide colorful floral beauty for weeks into the autumn season. If you have questions or concerns about caring for your fall lawn and ornamentals, contact your neighborhood lawn care professional at Spring-Green.