Carol Siddall, Master Gardener
When fall arrives, it is hard not to regret the passing of all the summer blooms. But take heart, for the fall garden offers beautiful blooms with just one plant, the chrysanthemum or "mum" or "hardy mums". Fall mums are available in a wide selection of colors, flower types, shapes and sizes. They are low maintenance, easy to grow, and a plant that can be kept in containers or grown in beds. They are drought resistant and generally free of insect and disease pests. They are pretty much the divas of the autumn garden. Their blooms can last for weeks, and the sheer number of flowers per plant will convince anyone that this flower really likes to show off. (Which any gardener likes!)
Because of their tight, mounding 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. You can always plant your mums to compliment your existing landscape. A large grouping of mums can excite even the most drab of fall landscapes.
According to Neil Sperry, "Chrysanthemums are photoperiodic." This refers to plants that measure the length of the dark period (night) to determine when the proper time to produce flowers has arrived. Sperry continues to state that "they have a flower-inducing hormone in their growing tips, and that hormone is destroyed by light". They bloom only when nights reach a certain length, which is why they only bloom well in the fall. Mums are completely winter hardy to all Texas cold. Grow them where they will receive at least 6 hours of sun during the growing season, and plant them in well-draining, highly organic garden soils. As the flowers begin to fade to light brown, you can look down near the soil line and see new shoots beginning to form. Those will become the plants' main stalks for next year. This years' stems will die away over winter, but you can clip the stems back near the ground as soon as the plants have finished flowering. The new shoots will begin active growth in early spring. Late February is the best time to dig and divide crowded clumps of mums according to Neil Sperry. Garden mums will sometimes bloom in the spring as the nights are longer like in the fall. Enjoy these flowers for a few weeks, then trim them off by July the 4th, so the plants will have ample time to produce new growth for fall blooms. If you do not do this, you will be disappointed with your fall blooms.
Garden mums also make great container plants. I plant most of mine in containers. By September and October I am ready for new bursts of color. Containers can be moved around to where you might need or want new color. Most garden mums will withstand a light fall frost. We usually don't have that problem here in the Permian Basin, with the key word USUALLY.
Fall mums should never be allowed to wilt, especially newly transplanted plants. Check your mums every other day for moisture until you become familiar with their moisture needs. That is especially true with a dry spell like we have had this fall. Newly planted mums will not require any fertilizer this season. Begin feeding your mums as new growth emerges during the next growing season. I have read that after several hard frosts or a freeze has blackened the plants, cut them back to within one inch of the soil. I usually cut all my mums back in February to get rid of the old stems. You will see some of the plant's new growth showing at this time.
The mums this fall season have been beautiful! The colors have been exceptionally bright and colorful. My husband has to keep reminding me to keep on walking! (I had promised him I was not buying any more plants!) I hope you have added some of these wonderful plants to your garden this year, especially if you have never planted mums before. I would like to thank the Odessa Parks Department for planting mums in selected areas within the city. They have been striking.
If you want to learn more about Master Gardeners, go to our website, westtexasgardening.org, or contact one of the AgriLife offices, Ector at 432-498-4071 or Midland at 432-686-4700. New Master Gardener classes will begin in January, 2017.