Sunday, September 20, 2015

Get Your Mums, Kids

It’s impossible to avoid them. Chrysanthemums are ubiquitous to the point I try to avoid them. I don’t have a single one in my garden. It is a mum free zone, except for the better half. I don’t mind them, but I can view mums any time. One trip to the grocery store, two minutes staring at their glowing heads and I'm mummed out, but I’ll admit they do look a lot better than bags of softener salt. 

Don’t get me wrong; I've no objection to others buying these plants. In fact I encourage it. There’s nothing finer than a pair of simulated headlights at the head of every driveway. I guess my mild aversion to them matches the feelings I have towards poinsettias and Easter lilies. They’re all plants — kind of. That is they’re all grown in greenhouses, but that’s where the similarity ends. They barely qualify as house plants. They’re really just decorations with a half life of a few weeks; then they’re done.

Regardless, however nebulous the connection with gardening might be, I have a responsibility to provide advice on the care of mums. Here it is: Simply place them in a sunny spot — or shady, and water them regularly until it’s time to replace them with pumpkins.

If you’re beginning to get the feeling that it would be a better idea if they grew in your garden as fall blooming perennials, there is no reason this can’t be so, but not with the ones that you buy at the grocery store. Okay, maybe, just maybe, depending on the quality of the plant, the time of planting, and winter weather, it might just be possible to have one survive and flower again in your garden. I've done it, but the odds of success are slim. Alternatively you could try wintering the pot over in a cool, non-freezing location such as an insulated garage or porch. Cut back the foliage as it dies down then keep the soil barely moist until spring. If it survives and shows new growth, plant it out in the garden.

The reason fall mums don’t adapt to planting in the garden is they’re greenhouse grown. Sure, they can withstand frost, but they've been forced into bloom for the season. They don’t have good root systems and are often pot-bound. The flowering stage, which is the selling feature, occurs at the end of the growth period, not the beginning. The plant is confused. Under normal conditions in the garden, mums grow through summer, flower in September, then shut down for the winter. Stick it in the ground now and it won’t even consider rooting out as the ground is freezing up.

The answer is to plant mums in spring. They’re available at most garden centres but guess what — they’re often ignored because they don’t have flowers. Few people think about mums in spring, probably because they don’t look anything like the glorious monsters that are presently reigning over every front porch in the city.  

But buy and plant them in spring and you’ll have the pleasure of watching them grow. They won’t need much care — a sunny location in reasonable soil, regular watering, and they’ll grow well. For best blooming, they can be pinched or pruned back up until July to create a bushier plant with more blooms for fall. Mulch around the plant in late fall and they’ll be with you for years.  

Think of the anticipation as the plant sprouts new leaves in spring and those little buds begin to form. Imagine the pleasure when the first one opens. That’s gardening, not decorating.

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