Have you ever tried planting hardy mums and had them fail to come back the following year? Fall mums are perennial flowers that can grow and bloom in your landscape year after year, if you handle them properly. One secret to success is to buy them before they bloom and plant them right away. The sooner you plant mums the happier they’ll be. Mums that are trapped in a small pot for too long, or allowed to dry out, rarely come back the following year. If your goal is to have hardy perennial mums, you should treat them as you would any other container-grown flower or vegetable plant.
Even if you don’t plant them in your garden, re-planting them in a larger pot is well worth the trouble. Whether you plant mums in your garden or just “up-shift” them into a larger container, we recommend mixing a slow-release fertilizer that won’t burn, like Osmocote or Espoma “Flower Tone” into the soil.
To plant hardy mums in your garden permanently, dig a hole at least 1 foot wide and 6 inches deep. Mix the dirt from the hole with a generous amount of humus, mushroom compost or peat moss, plus 1/2 cup of Osmocote or Flower Tone. Make a shallow “bowl” with the soil to trap water around the roots. Cover with several inches of mulch and water thoroughly. For two weeks you must water every day, rain or no rain, about a half-gallon per plant.
Cut off the blooms as soon as they start to fade. You can just shear a few inches off the plant to remove the tips. This will re-direct the plants’ energy to building roots and getting established. Leave the foliage all winter to protect the roots from drying winds. When spring comes, cut the dead stems to the ground as soon as you see new, green leaves showing around the base of the plant.
Pedigree is very important with mums. Mum breeders select for flower color, length of flowering, sturdiness, resistance to disease, and an attractive compact mounding shape. Like thoroughbred horses and AKC dogs, the best mums have a “family tree” and a catchy name. The best mums are patented and may cost a bit more, but they are clearly superior plants and perform better.
How mums are handled by the grower and retailer directly affects quality, and also how well they adapt as perennials. If possible, buy your mums directly from the grower; growers use drip irrigation so their mums never dry out. Roadside mum sellers rarely have sufficient water to keep their mums from drying out in the broiling sun. If they are allowed to dry out even once, their roots and flower buds become stunted and will never really thrive. Get them early in the season before they get “root-bound”.
Getting mums to thrive starts with giving them enough soil. When buying mums check how much soil is in the pot; skimpy soil means poor quality, root-bound plants that will dry out quickly. The more soil they have to grow in the bigger mums get, and the less often they’ll need watering.
Does all this seem like a lot of trouble? If so, just enjoy your fall mums just as you would a bouquet of cut flowers. This much long-lasting color for so little is a true bargain.
Steve Boehme is a landscape designer/installer specializing in landscape “makeovers”. “Let’s Grow” is published weekly; column archives are online at www.goodseedfarm.com. For more information call GoodSeed Farm Landscapes at (937) 587-7021.