Chrysanthemums, those gorgeous, show-off flowers of autumn greet visitors at the door, give gardens and flower beds one final hurrah with late fall color, and hop from place to place in containers. Homecoming revelers sport mums on their lapels. November claims the chrysanthemum as its own flower and Thanksgiving tables are graced by the gorgeous blooms. Why not jump on the fall hay wagon and grow chrysanthemums, the beauties of autumn?
Chrysanthemums grew as loved and honored plants in China as early as the 15th century BC. The Chinese considered it an herbal plant attributing the power of life to it. Chrysanthemum roots were boiled to relieve headaches and the tender petals and leaves tossed in salads. Reaching from ancient times to modern, chrysanthemum tea still refreshes with a lightly sweet taste. Chrysanthemums were introduced to the Japanese around the 8th century CE. A love affair began with the queen of autumn flowers and the Japanese that continues today. The Festival of Happiness honors the chrysanthemum and its long historical tie with Japan. Eventually, in the 17th century CE, the western world became acquainted with the flower from the daisy family and like the ancient civilizations that came before, embraced the chrysanthemum with adoration.
The alluring chrysanthemum is a perennial that if well-cared for will keep coming back each year to offer gardens late autumn color and form. Like most plants of any kind, herb, vegetable, or flower, 6 hours of sunlight and good drainage are keys to healthy chrysanthemums. Small seedlings or plants, purchased in the spring can be planted in the spring. The large containers of mums that are found in summer can be planted anytime including fall, as long as the plant has time to establish roots within the earth. Space each plant about 18" to 24" apart, but read any instructions that come with the plant to provide the correct needs. Chrysanthemums do require winter protection, so try to plant them in an area that can act as a buffer to strong winds and severe winter weather. After planting and throughout the growing season, water the plants on a regular schedule being sure to wet the soil down 6" to 8" for best results. Once planted mulch your seedlings or large plant with 2" to 3" of a mulch like shredded bark, shredded leaves, or straw.
If you're wondering how the lovely bushy, compact chrysanthemum plants came to look like that, one word will suffice: pinching. Pinching a plant back encourages a rounder form with more energy going towards growing rather than into the production of buds and flowers. Of course you want your plant to bloom, so knowing when to stop pinching and allow the plant to begin budding is important. Pinching should begin after four new leaves appear on the stems of the plant. Always disbud early in the season. The label that accompanied your plant when purchased should tell the approximate blooming date. Early bloomers should not be pinched back past June. Chrysanthemums that bloom later in the fall can continue being pinched back until late June, but a good rule of green thumb is no more pinching after July 4th.
Like all living things, chrysanthemums are prone to disease and pests. Circumvent any problems by planting at the required distance which will allow for good air circulation. Overcrowding plants creates tightness that may look pretty, but does little to prevent infestations of pests and disease. Chrysanthemums like to feel the sunshine on their faces. Planting in shade does them no good and encourages leggy plants with few blooms and again, those pesky pests and debilitating diseases take hold. Keeping the weed population at bay in the garden or flower bed allows the plants you want to enjoy to grow with abandon that will bring you pleasure.
Chrysanthemums, charmingly nicknamed "mums," come in all shapes, sizes and colors to delight any palate. Divided into 13 classifications, the forms of mums range from pompom to spider. The colors cover the rainbow spectrum in reds, pinks, lavenders, burnt orange, apricot, yellows, creams, whites and almost everything in between. Some show a whimsical yellow center like a daisy while others reveal beige undersides to mahogany petals. You can find big balls of aromatic petals and long petals that curl into quills. Reflexed and incurved, double and singles chrysanthemums of one kind or another appeal to nearly everyone.
While most perennials and annuals are nearing the end of the growing season, chrysanthemums are just taking off on their flight of fancy. It's not too late to pick up a container or two to grace an entrance and announce to all that autumn robed in all its glorious colors comes hither with the beauty of the chrysanthemum center stage.