Look around and you can see the season is changing! Cool morning temperatures with beautiful breezy days are upon us. Leaves are starting to change and many plants are beginning the fall process of shutting down for a winter of rest. But there are still some colorful favorites in the garden center that you can depend on for your fall landscape. Among the most popular are mums and you'll see them in garden centers everywhere at this time of year.
Garden mums are perennial, meaning that they grow throughout the year and will return each year if cared for properly. A few will bloom in spring, but their best show is in the fall. They grow leaves in the summer but the short days of fall cause them to set flower buds and bloom. They can be “pinched” (the top buds removed) during summer growth to make them very bushy. This will cause them to set many small flower buds all over the plant. Nurseries do this and a good supply of stocky, dark green plants with a multitude of buds awaits you at your local garden center.
Select plants that are dark green, without broken limbs or dead leaves and free of insects and diseases. Look for lots of flower buds and select colors that complement the rest of your garden. Some people prefer groups of plants of the same color to give them a burst of color when not much else is blooming, but please yourself since it is your garden. There is no need to buy plants already blooming since buds will open later with good care.
Chrysanthemums must have good drainage. Do not plant in wet areas. Thoroughly till beds, adding organic matter (compost or ground pine bark).
Add soil if needed to raise beds. This improves drainage but may require you to water more often.
Plant where the plants will get at least four to six hours of sun a day. Full sun is best.
You do not have to fertilize at planting. If you do fertilize, thoroughly mix it with the soil before planting. Slow-release fertilizers work well. Liquid fertilizers work quickly but must be reapplied about every two weeks. With dry fertilizers, apply 1 ½ lb. per 100 square feet of 10-10-10 or equivalent.
Chrysanthemums like fertilizer, but do not overdo. Too much fertilizer makes them too tall. Fertilize once now and then wait until next spring. Then fertilize as spring growth starts and twice more during the year. Try not to fertilize any later than mid September.
Carefully mulch around plants with pine straw, compost, pine bark, etc. This conserves water and makes the plants more showy. Slow water after planting gradually until you are watering very well once a week. Wet the soil to a depth of 12 inches when watering. Water is very important in making flowers last.
Chrysanthemums do not have a lot of pests, but there are a few. In fact, one chrysanthemum is the source of natural insecticide called pyrethrum. Look out for aphids, mealy bugs and white flies. Control them with a commercially available insecticidal soap, or another insecticide labeled for Mums. Some chemicals cannot be applied to certain plants, so read and follow all label directions.
You can use mums many ways in the landscape. Plant them in groups in beds, as single plants, or as groups of three or more as an eye catcher. If they must be viewed from a distance, use lighter colors, as these are more visible. Try them in planters or window boxes for a spectacular effect—just keep them watered for best results.
Mums are a good plant for children to grow since they bloom so quickly. Let the child buy some plants with unopened buds, plant them and then keep them watered. Then enjoy the ensuing floral show. Let them pick a few. Children love to handle, smell, hold and share things they enjoy.
It’s fall—enjoy the season. Plant a few mums to get you started and then clean the beds for pansies, perennials and other flowers later.
Call the Paulding County UGA Cooperative Extension Office at 770-443-7616 for more gardening information.