How to Grow Mums in Containers and Keep Them Looking Their Best All Season Long
What would fall be without colorful chrysanthemums tucked in pots by the front door or on the patio? Few other plants can put on such a petal-packed show during autumn, but you can make sure you get the most out of your flowers by giving your plants a little TLC. And because most mums sold in the fall are hardy perennials, you can even overwinter them. The tricky part is that if you plant them in your garden late in fall when you're ready to empty out containers for winter, they won't have time to grow enough roots to withstand freezing conditions. That means your best bet is to move them indoors in their pots until spring. Here's what you need to know about successfully growing mums in containers.
Choose a Healthy Plant
Success starts with choosing the best plant you can. Although just about every grocery store and big box store will offer mums during the fall, but buy with caution. These plants often get under- or overwatered, which stresses the plants so they won't perform as well for you. For best results, ask when a store is getting a new shipment in and go first thing that day to get the cream of the crop. Or visit your local garden center or nursery, which will often have a larger selection and the plants will usually be better cared for and healthier. Wherever you shop for mums, avoid buying a wilted plant, and look for ones that have more buds than open flowers; you’ll get more bloom time out of them and these plants will likely survive repotting better.
Repot Right Away
Always repot a purchased potted mum plant when you get it home. They are usually root-bound, meaning that the roots are taking up the majority of the pot. Replant the mums in a container larger than the one it came in so the roots have room to spread out and breathe. Gently loosen tangled roots before repotting to encourage them to grow outward again.
Mums do best in well-drained soil so use potting mix ($8, The Home Depot) in your container. If you are growing mums in pots for a single season, you can mix them in with other plants in a large container. If you want to try overwintering your potted mums, plant them by themselves in a container that is easy to move indoors when freezing temperatures arrive.
Give Mums Enough Sun and Water
Choose a spot that gets at least six hours of sun a day. Plants that don't get enough light will look spindly and generally produce fewer, smaller flowers. However, if your daytime temperatures are still getting up into the 80s and beyond, protect your plants from harsh afternoon sun to help the flowers last longer.
Water your newly potted mums thoroughly, and never let them wilt. After they are established, water your mums whenever the soil feels dry. If you notice that the bottom leaves look limp or start to turn brown, water more often. Avoid soaking the foliage, which encourages leaf diseases.
How to Keep Potted Mums Over Winter
Before freezing weather occurs, give the mums you hope to overwinter a little liquid fertilizer ($13, Walmart) that is higher in phosphorus to stimulate root growth. Then, once the first hard frost hits, move your plants inside or into an unheated garage. Pinch off dead blooms to clean up the plant if you want, but leave branches intact; mums have a better chance of surviving if you wait until spring to prune old stems.
Add up to 4 inches of straw or shredded hardwood mulch on top of the soil, filling in around the entire plant and spreading well between branches. Then cover the pot with burlap or an old sheet. As soon as the weather warms up again in spring, pull away mulch to allow new shoots to pop up and move your pots outside into the sunshine.