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'Mum's The Word'

'Mum's The Word'

By Larry A. Sagers | Posted - Oct. 16, 2010 at 7:00 a.m.



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If your summer annuals or the perennials in your garden are starting to fade, it might be a good idea to think "mum's the word."

This flower is almost synonymous with fall and has a long and rich history of beautifying gardens around the world.

As I visit gardens across the country, I see beautiful displays of these flowers. The rich shades of orange, bronze yellow and crimson are accented by white, lavender and purple flowers, and mums put on a spectacular, long-lasting color display.

Not everyone has beautiful chrysanthemums in their gardens, but that is not a problem. Your local garden center has everything from small starter plants in 4-inch containers to large, showy planters overflowing with flowers.

Because of the availability of the plants, many gardeners choose to use them more as annual bedding plants instead of long-term perennials. Whatever method you choose for your garden, there are many ways to use these in your flowerbeds.

Consider these possibilities:

Add mums where flowers have faded away. Look at your garden where flowers — such as hollyhocks — have already bloomed and been cut down.

Slip in some blooming mums to give a boost to those bare areas.

Look at where diseases took out some flowers. Cut your losses on plants such as tall phlox, monarda and zinnia that may be covered with powdery mildew.

Put the mums into those areas for more great color all fall.

Even if your other flowers look good, add some mums as transition flowers.

As you remove your summer annuals to replace them with the spring bulbs, pansies and other flowers, use mums to avoid the empty-bed look.

Although these flowers are low maintenance, there are a few factors to consider before planting.

Soil is important. Most plantings are short lived and do not come back in subsequent years because of what is usually called "winter kill."

Most garden mums are perfectly cold hardy in Utah, but the roots have to have oxygen. In heavy clay or compacted soils with inadequate drainage, the roots quickly die and the top of the plant soon follows.

Add coarse organic matter to the soil, create raised beds or grow the plants in artificial soil in pots.

If you do choose to grow them as potted plants, they need special protection to keep them alive during the winter.

Plant mums in a sunny location that gets at least six hours of direct sunlight. Avoid planting mums too close to trees or shrubs, as their shallow roots do not compete well with larger woody plants. They also need protection from hot, dry summer winds.

For those who are planting them as bedding plants, give them adequate irrigation. They are shallow rooted and need moisture to get them established. Watch the temperature to determine how frequently they need watering.

Always plant garden mums. They will grow 12-18 inches in height and spread 12-36 inches. Most garden mums are covered with clusters of 1- to 11/2-inch flowers.

Cut-flower mums are disbudded to create larger flowers on longer stems. In some cases, only one flower bud is left on each stalk to produce what are commonly called football mums.

Florist or potted mums are likewise not suitable for garden planting. These types have long stems that flop over when you try to grow them in the landscape.

These usually bloom at the wrong time unless they are artificially shaded or lighted.

One curiosity that affects mums and very few other garden flowers is the length of the day.

These flowers put on their spectacular displays in the fall because they bloom when the days are short and the nights are long.

In order for them to bloom at the right time, they can't have too much light. Mums under street lights or near other lights that interrupt their dark period will not bloom normally.

In some instances, even car lights can prevent the plants from blooming.

Primp up your fall garden by planting some of these ancient Chinese flowers in your own landscape. Let them add a great fall show for you to enjoy.

Larry A. Sagers

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