As I recently drove into my local garden center, I noticed the marquee sign along the highway read: FALL MUMS, PLANT NOW! Walk into almost any garden center in fall, and there will be a display of potted chrysanthemums. Most often they are purchased for a quick spot of “annual” color in the garden or front door containers, but some mums are true hardy perennials.
Mums were first cultivated in China as far back as the 15th century BC and in Japan as early as the 8th century. The cultivated species, Chrysanthemum × morifolium, originates from the Asian Chrysanthemum indicum crossed with several other putative species. Along with the plum, orchid, and bamboo, the chrysanthemum is known in China as one of the “four gentleman of flowers”. With their late-blooming season and long-lasting flowers, chrysanthemums are like mature gentleman scholars whose wisdom and integrity grows with each year.
In general, chrysanthemum blooms come in 13 shape classes (daisy, pompon, spider, decorative…read about all classes here) and many colors (white, red, yellow, orange, purple, etc.). Hardy mums tend to have single or decorative double flowers and often spread, forming dense clumps over time. Their hardiness range tends to be within USDA Hardiness Zones 5-9, but some can take even colder winters.
Five Hardy Chrysanthemums
Some of the finest hardy chrysanthemums include the following:
Gold and Silver Chrysanthemum (Ajania pacifica (formerly Chrysanthemum pacifica)): This is a reliable hardy perennial mum (Zones 5-9) that is easy to grow and does not require high maintenance. It spreads to form a tidy one-foot blanket of dark green leaves rimmed in white, which makes it an attractive plant even when not in flower. Clusters of yellow, button-shaped flowers appear in fall.
Chrysanthemum ‘Gethsemane Moonlight’: This hardy mum (Zones 5-9) bears lots of semi-double flowers of primrose yellow starting in October.
Chrysanthemum ‘Hillside Sheffield Pink’: Numerous daisies of apricot-pink cover this classic hardy mum (Zones 5-9) in late October. The flowers are extra fragrant and attract lots of late-season pollinators.
Chrysanthemum Mammoth™ Series: Mums in the Mammoth™ series were bred in Minnesota and are remarkably hardy (Zones 3-9). They come in lots of colors and shapes.
Chrysanthemum ‘Matchsticks’: The lovely flowers of ‘Matchsticks’ are red and gold and have spoon-shaped petals. They are also very hardy (Zones 5-9).
Large, choice, specialty mums in unusual flower classes are almost always tender and bred for the cut-flower industry or exhibition (think of the ‘football’ mum). I visited with a garden center manager, and she said specialty mums are a very small niche market and won’t survive winter cold. Moreover, they are high maintenance and must be groomed all summer for their pricey fall blooms. They even need be protected from the rain to keep the flowers from being ruined. If you are still ambitious and want to grow grand specialty types, check out the mail-order company King’s Mums in Sand Spring, Oklahoma. Their quality and selection are excellent.
Cultivating Hardy Mums
Winter-hardy garden mums can be planted in spring or fall. They must have excellent soil drainage and high organic matter. I would suggest amending the soil with Black Gold Garden Soil at time of planting. If you plant in spring, be on the lookout for slugs, which will feed on the new growth as it emerges. (Sluggo is the organic pesticide option for managing garden slugs.)
In late spring, it always pays to trim back your mums by half. This will result in shorter, tidier plants with more flowers when fall-time arrives. After flowering, the plants can be cut back to the ground and then mulched with OMRI Listed Black Gold Garden Compost Blend for increased winter protection.
Not only are garden centers displaying fall mums, but they are also a focus at some botanical gardens. The Lan Su Chinese Garden in Portland, Oregon is one of these gardens. In keeping with the importance of the chrysanthemum in China, the Lan Su Chinese Garden designates the month of November as ‘Mumvember’. During this month, they have over 750 potted chrysanthemums on display throughout the garden. Longwood Gardens’ Chrysanthemum Festival is another display of national repute. Their famous 1000-bloom mum is a fantastic work of engineering and horticulture.
While you may find blooming garden mums at any month of the year at a florist or garden center, their natural bloom cycle is in the fall. So, this is the best time to enjoy them. To learn more about Chrysanthemums, visit the National Chrysanthemum Society.