When fall arrives, it's hard not to regret the passing of all the summer blooms we love so much: pompon dahlias, Shasta daisies, African daisies, little zinnias, asters, coreopsis, and calendulas.
But take heart, for the fall garden offers all these flower shapes from just one plant, the chrysanthemum. Hundreds of hardy cultivars provide an array of colors and bloom shapes, making mums the divas of the autumn garden. The blooms last for weeks, not days, and the sheer number of flowers per plant will convince anyone that this flower really likes to show off. Add the mum's impressionistic abilities to its longevity, and you have a plant that pulls its weight in the garden.
Because of their tight, mounded habit and stunning bloom cover, garden mums are perfect for mass plantings. To get the maximum effect from far away, stick to only one or two colors. Another possibility is to arrange a gradual transition of related colors. Look around your yard to see what colors would best complement the existing landscape.
If you decorate for fall with pumpkins and gourds, choose orange, bronze, yellow, and creamy white mums. If you have a lot of evergreen plants that provide a backdrop of varying shades of green foliage, try bright pinks, lavenders, pure whites, or reds. With such bold colors, a large grouping of mums can excite even the most drab of fall landscapes.
Garden mums also make great container plants. They're just right for popping into a clay pot, lining up in a row in a window box, or placing in the center of a mixed container with trailing foliage plants all around. Many landscape plants can provide a backdrop for groupings of mums. For texture, choose ornamental grasses or the neon purple berries of the beautyberry shrub (Callicarpa). You also can pair mums with smoke tree (Cotinus), variegated sedum, the deciduous dwarf Fothergilla gardenii, or almost any conifer.
To get the most from your mums, choose cultivars according to their bloom times. It also helps to coordinate bloom time with the length of fall in your location. Most garden mums will withstand a light fall frost, but finding the right cultivars will provide the longest possible amount of pleasure.
Mums aren't as expensive as many perennials, so if you choose to, you can plant them as annuals without worrying that you've spent too much money on something that might not live more than one season. If you're an impulse buyer, you'll probably see pots of colorful mums this fall and not be able to resist.
Fall planting lessens the chance of winter survival, however, since roots don't have time to establish themselves. If you want something more permanent and are willing to provide proper care such as mulching and pinching to encourage compact growth and more blooms, plant mums in the spring and allow them to get established in the garden. This will improve their chances of overwintering and reblooming the next year. Some plants will even produce a few blooms in the spring before being pinched for fall flowers.
Florist (or cutting) mums and hardy (or garden) mums come from the same original parent -- a golden-yellow daisylike mum from China. Today's hybrids in both categories are the results of endless crosses between several species from China and Japan. The result of such hybridization performed over hundreds of years is different types of mums that perform for two distinct purposes.
Florist mums are large-flower plants with many possible bloom forms, from quilled to pompon to spider and more. Grown in greenhouses and used only as indoor plants, florist mums produce few, if any, underground stolens, which are necessary if the mum is to survive cold weather. Florist mums planted outside are most likely being used as short-term bedding plants that will be removed when the blooms are spent. You can plant a potted florist mum you receive as a gift, and it may grow for the summer, but it will not survive the winter, no matter how much protection you give it. Garden mums, on the other hand, produce underground stolens and can survive cold better. Most garden mums are perennials in Zones 5 to 9 and much tougher than florist types. Some cultivars are less hardy than others and can be killed by an early spring frost.
Whether you're looking for a quick splash of color or a fixture for your border, mums are the pick for a fabulous fall.
Fall means mums, and here in the Better Homes and Garden's test garden, we use them a lot to perk up the fall landscape. There are a number of ways that you can use mums in your fall garden. One is to plant them in the ground. If you do that, be sure that you have garden mums. Those will be hardy in your area and be sure that you plant them in a spot with full sun and well-drained soil. Mums hate to be constantly wet and they don't wanna be in much shade. You can also put mums directly in their pots that you've got them in at your local garden center. They make a great display on their own. Or, you can pot them up in a fancy container. Look at how fabulous this looks! And here's a shopping tip. Don't buy mums that are in their prime like this. Although it looks beautiful, you're not going to get as long of a life out of it. Look for mums that mostly have flowers in their bud stage. They'll continue to open and last a lot longer. A third way to use mums is to revitalize fall containers. This pot here will look great all summer, but this guy isn't looking so great anymore. Simply pot them out and drop the mum in its place. Dig a hole. Grab your new shiny mum here and plant it in. Tuck the soil in real well, water it, and you'll have a container that looks great for another several weeks. And that's your test garden tip.
Continued on page 2: Growing Mums