Mum Time is Here
By Patty Cressman
Grayson County Master Gardener
Who can resist the gorgeous splendor of the mums for sale at nearly every grocery store, nursery, and home improvement store? Mums announce the approaching cooler fall weather. They usher in the welcomed season with a splendid array of yellow, orange, copper, purple or wine color. Unlike summer blooming plants which require more hours of daylight, mums begin to bloom when there is an equal amount of daylight to darkness, as is the case in the fall and spring.
The mum originated from a golden-yellow daisy-like chrysanthemum originally grown in China. The plant dates as far back as the 15th century BC. The mum entered American horticulture in 1798 when Colonel John Stevens imported a dark purple variety from England. Mums gained popularity in Texas in the early 1900s when the flower was used for a Baylor University homecoming celebration. Mums still play a role in homecoming celebrations today.
There are two types of mums, florist mums and garden mums. Florist mums are large-flowered plants that are used for floral arrangements and for decoration. Garden mums are the kind most gardening hobbyists plant. These plants are a cold-hardy perennial than are the ones sold this time of year.
Mums can thrive either as a potted plant or as a garden plant. This time of year, mums typically play a central role in decorating many front porches. Mums are relatively inexpensive and can be treated as an annual, but they are a hardy perennial with relatively minimal care.
Mums should be planted in the ground in September or early October to allow the roots ample time to take hold prior to the first freeze. The plant requires at least six hours of sun a day and prefers well-drained soil. Clay soil will need to be amended with organic compost to allow water to soak in better.
Prior to transplanting the mum, dig a hole one inch deeper than the pot. The roots of the mum are shallow and delicate; do not treat them harshly. Spread the roots out, backfill the hole, and press the dirt lightly to remove any air pockets. Water the plant thoroughly. Avoid getting the leaves wet to prevent disease. Maintain the soil at a moist level, neither too dry nor soaking wet. Pinch the dead blooms as they fade. Prior to the first frost, mulch the plant. Leave the dead or brown stems on the plant for protection.
In the spring cut the old dead growth off the plant. There should be new growth at the base of the plant. Fertilize the plant when the branches are six inches tall. Use a 20-10-20 fertilizer. When the plant begins to bloom, feed the plant with a 10-20-20 fertilizer.
The key to a full rounded dome plant is to pinch back the tops of each stem once it is six inches tall. Continue to pinch new growth every two to four weeks until early July.
Mums can be propagated from cuttings taken from mature well-established plants. This can be done in late spring to early summer. Prepare pots before gathering cuttings and fill with 3 inches of perlite. Water until it flows out the bottom of the pot. Select new soft growth from the “mother” plant and cut each stem 2 to 3 inches in length. Sever the mum cutting 1/8 inch below a pair of leaves. Pluck leaves from lower half, exposing growth nodes. Insert the cutting into perlite up to the lowest set of leaves. Place the pots outdoors under moderate shade or indoors on a windowsill with bright indirect light. Do not expose the pot to direct sun. Use a spray bottle to water the plant when the soil feels dry. Check for new roots which should appear in one to four weeks. Once the roots are 1.5 inches long, transplant the baby plant to a larger pot or to the garden. Pinch off one-half inch growth every two to three weeks to encourage fuller, bushier appearance. Stop pinching growth in midsummer before flower buds begin to form.
Mums grown as perennials should be divided every two or three years. Dig the plant up in one piece after the last frost and after new growth has appeared. Separate the outer pieces from the center and replant the outer portions. Discard the original center part of the plant. Three to five vigorous shoots make a beautiful round domed shaped exquisite mum with many blooms to enjoy.
It is no wonder the mum has been called the queen of the fall garden. With a little effort, the mum plants you purchase this fall can be enjoyed next year. Happy mumming!
Grayson County Master Gardeners Association is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization sponsored by the Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service. Reach us by email at email@example.com, by phone 903-813-4204, our web page https://txmg.org/grayson/, or our Facebook group.