Every year, faithfully right around football time, mums make their appearance in nurseries, garden departments, and even grocery stores. They are everywhere, and they are beautiful. Mums are some of the longest lasting cut flowers, and if kept moist but not soggy, potted mums can last for weeks indoors and look wonderful.
There has been a great deal of carrying on in the nomenclature sector about how to classify mums. No longer are they included in the Chrysanthemum genus; theyre now officially Dendranthema X grandiflorum. So many ex-chrysanthemums have been bred and crossed with so many others that nobody really knows which species started it all. That need not concern us; they will always be known as mums, and mums the word! They are still in the Aster family. At least that hasnt changed!
These hardy perennials make great container plants, are easy to grow, evergreen through winter, bloom prolifically, and make lovely, long lasting cut flowers. The leaves are dark green, deeply lobed and aromatic, with soft grey undersides. Flowers vary widely as to shape, size, and color. The names of the flower shapes are themselves colorful: pompom, reflexed, spider, quill, and spoon shaped, among others. All bloom when the nights become longer, in late summer or fall, and many cultivars flower in spring as well. Some are low-growing, and some reach up to 5' in height.
Mums prefer slightly acidic soil, with organic components and moderate moisture, but they will grow in less than ideal conditions. Pinch back new growth throughout spring and summer to produce a broader plant with more branching. For really big blooms, eliminate side buds to allow a larger terminal flower to develop. This is altogether unnecessary, however, and flowers will be lovely without such pinching; there will simply be more flowers rather than bigger ones. Divide plants in spring or in fall, preferably after blooming. If conditions are dry, keep watered, especially if the plant is potted or in bud. Mums in the ground are fairly drought tolerant once established. Overall, mums are very easy to grow, and they bloom prolifically.
So, why not stock up and have a garden full of them? The answer is: there are plenty of annuals and perennials that will bloom for a much longer time in the garden. If you have a lot of space, you can grow mums and lift them up when they are budded, putting them in a mass in the most prominent place in the yard. After the blooms fade, they can be lifted out again, and returned to their regular home. If the maintenance is feasible, go for it! If not, choose from the myriad of other flowers available, and buy potted mums for the dining room table, the bedroom, the patio or porch, in season and in full bud or bloom. They are a great value, and pack more "bang for the buck" than almost any other flower.
For more on chrysanthemums see the Plant Profile Dendranthema X grandiflorum.