Mums are probably one of the most popular plants of fall. Loved for their lush bright budding flowers, these plants are a perfect complement to Thanksgiving and Halloween decor. Mums, short for Chrysanthemums, are a perennial flowering plant or subshrub (meaning they actually return year after year). Although a hardy plant, they do have a few special requirements.
If you're like me, plants like these are imperative to bringing in the autumn season. Fall without them is pretty much equivalent to celebrating New Years without champagne. So you skip home every night with a smile on your face as their pretty petals greet you at the front door. But after a week or two you return home to be broken hearted with a dried out mum that's lacking all of it's former floral glory. Here are 3 important steps to help you avoid those amateur mistakes and keep your prized mums blooming all season long:
Two words; well-drained soil. Frequently finger test your mums for dryness by sticking a finger in their soil to check for moisture. Soil should be well-drained and watered frequently, but be careful not to over water as it can lead to root rot. The hotter the location the more frequent waterings your mums will require.
Check to see if your soil is well-drained by saturating a hole in your garden, or the pot (filled with soil) which you plan to use for your mum with water. If the water drains out of the pot or the hole in a few minutes you’re in the clear, but if the water stands for longer than 10 minutes you will either need to add organic matter to your existing soil, or create a raised bed. Potting soil is considered a well-drained soil, and can in fact require more frequent watering as some types do not retain moisture well.
In addition, be careful not to water the buds of your mum. This can lead to spotting and browning of blooms. Instead, aim to water the base of the plant. You can create a funnel by up-cycling a soda or water bottle. Simply cut off the bottom of the bottle and stick the neck into the soil, delicately tucking it into the plant to hide it from sight. When you mum is ready for a watering, simply pour water directly into the funnel to ensure it properly reaches the soil below.
You can also leave the cap on the soda bottle, drilling a small hole through it to allow the water to slowly drip-feed your plants. With the holidays coming up this is a nifty trick to keep indoor plants healthy and watered while you're away from home!
(P.S you can even make one with an old wine bottle by drilling a hole in the cork! How cute!)
Here’s a video with complete instructions on how to create your own self-watering water bottle irrigation system: https://www.todayshomeowner.com/video/diy-drip-irrigation-for-houseplants/
Not a DIYer? You can purchase an irrigation spike from most garden and home improvement centers.
If you’ve planted your mum in the ground you’ll want to be sure to cease watering once the ground cools. This usually happens between October and December depending upon your USDA zone. During this time, you should cover the soil around your mums with a nice layer of mulch (about 2 or 3 inches) to keep soil moist and protect the plant's roots from freezes. Mums can return next year if planted early and given a chance to establish a strong root system!
Mums do best in bright indirect light, like a sunny porch or near a west-facing window. In cooler climates these beautiful plants prefer full sun, requiring a “mini-mum” (pun intended) of 3 hours of full sunlight per day according to the National Chrysanthemum Society. In areas with hot climates mums will fare best in a spot which receives a few hours of some afternoon shade to prevent scorching.
Artificial light sources, like porch lights or indoor lamps lit at night, can interfere with a mums bloom cycle. If you are growing your mum indoors or near other artificial light sources at night, it's important to keep the plant in darkness after sundown from late summer into fall to allow buds to fully mature. By controlling the amount of light your plant receives you can help stimulate its flower production!
Fertilizer is essential in keeping these flowering beauties full and vibrant. If you already have existing mums from last year in the ground, nitrogen and potassium based fertilizers should be used during the growing season of spring and summer before buds form.
Traditionally, mums sold in nurseries already have buds or are in full bloom, so this type of fertilizer would not be needed. If you intend to keep your newly purchased mums in the ground throughout the year to enjoy them next fall as well, add a granular fertilizer once in the spring, and you may choose to apply one or two applications of a water soluble fertilizer (such as Miracle Gro) over the summer.
However, the key to helping your mums return next year is to plant them in the spring not the fall! When planted in the spring these perennials have a better chance at establishing a strong root structure in order to withstand the harsh winter to come.