How to Care for Fall Mums
One of the number one questions at a garden center in fall! These autumn beauties are easy to care for and will give you weeks of color…. read on to learn more!
In a previous position as a manager at a garden center that specialized in fall mums, I learned a ton about them and loved giving tours of these fall beauties.
The hard working ladies at Darvonda Nurseries will stick nearly 300,000 mum cuttings into pots to create these beautiful planters. The Tri-Colored combo’s below are grown specifically for Costco in Canada… so now you know where to get yours if you really want one.
They also have what is referred to as the ‘mum field’ where they let some of the plants color up naturally. You see, this is a science and in order to meet a 2 month long demand for mum’s, you need to carefully grow some at different stages to hit your retail dates. I’ll explain more about that later.
It’s an amazing site seeing these perfectly shaped domes all lined up getting ready to explode into the rich fall hues they are known for, whether they are in the green house or lined up in a foggy morning field.
I decided to do this as a Q & A to answer all the questions I got every day about how to care for fall mums. If you have a question you don’t see here, be sure to comment and I will be happy to answer!
What is the difference between Fall Asters and Fall Mums?
Asters are generally hardier ( Zone 4 ) than mums ( marginal Zone 5 ). They are compact mounding shrubs that are covered in star-burst like daisies in the fall. They usually start to blooming mid September.
They are limited in their colors and only come in blues, pinks, purples and whites.
Fall mums have a much bigger range of colors and come in pinks, reds, rusts, deep plums, pure white or white blends, garnets, purples and of course yellows.
What should I look for when buying a fall mum?
Buds… lot’s of them! A perfect plant to take home will be 80% buds with just a little color starting to show so you can see what your getting. More buds = longer show. You can expect 4-6 weeks of fabulous color that way.
But if you are planning a special event… like a wedding two weeks from now, grab one that’s 1/2 to 2/3 in bloom so you can be sure you have lot’s of color for the big day.
If I plant my fall mum in the garden, will it come back?
The best time to plant mums is in the spring when they have plenty of time to put down root growth. In the fall they are putting all their energy into producing flowers… which of course is when people buy them because they look so amazing…. but it’s not the ideal time for planting.
In the above picture, the yellow mum is one I bought this year and the two behind it just getting ready to bloom are from three years ago… they come back religiously every spring in those planters.
I’ve had some come back that were planted in garden beds in the past, but none the last couple of winters…. and it’s not just because of the cold.
I live in Vancouver…. it rains…a lot! Mum’s need good drainage, which is exactly why they’ve done so well in those pots all these years even though they are fully exposed on a windy corner of the patio.
Wind chill, poor drainage and extreme cold temperatures will prevent a fall mum from coming back. Try to create a micro climate to protect them from these elements by doing the following:
- If you leave them in their pots, put them against the house or in an unheated garage.
- If you plant them, be sure to put them in a full sun area with great drainage.
- Make sure the soil doesn’t completely dry out over the winter
- Cut back the dead branches to with in 1″ of the soil
- Top planted ones with mulch or leaves
- Surround potted ones with newspaper or leaves to protect the roots.
- Then talk really, really nice to it…
Does my new mum need to be fertilized?
Not now. Since you just brought it home from a nursery, it’s been on a liquid feed diet for months and has slow release fertilizer in it’s soil mix. All the buds are formed and now the plant just needs to do it’s job.
Begin feeding in spring until August, then stop.
How do I get my Mum to be nice and round?
Well that depends on the variety. Their are mums that need to be pinched and others that don’t. Pinching it back… once the plants reach about 4″-6″ you’ll want to pinch it back about 1″-2″ or half way down the stem. Then do it again once it doubles in size. This process could be repeated several times but no more pinching after July… it’s time for it to set it’s buds for fall.
Are Mum’s Toxic to pets?
The answer is yes if they ingest it, symptoms include diarrhea and vomiting. But this is a toughie though… as there is a very long list of plants that are considered toxic to pets. I have two cats, and 2 dogs and about a god-zillion plants inside and out. I’ve never had problems with them trying to eat their green family members, but then again… I think that my animals understand perfectly well that the green people rank pretty high in the household.
But do be cautious.
The mum’s I planted in the garden came back, but they don’t want to bloom. What am I doing wrong?
Fall mum’s are short day flowering plants. Meaning, they need a sufficient amount of days of cooler temperatures and darkness before they set buds and bloom.
This is the science part I was talking about earlier. Depending on the variety, these plants need a certain amount of long days for vegetative growth (leaves and stems to get to certain size) then a certain amount of short days (to set buds and then bloom).
Because this can be timed perfectly, shade cloth is used in greenhouse production to ‘fool’ the plants into thinking the days are getting shorter. Do this in each growing bay a week a part and the mum’s will bloom exactly when you want them to, 1 week apart. Shipping to retail begins as early as Aug 1st and will continue each week until the crop sells through.
Mum’s grown in a field under Mother Natures control will bloom last according to the seasonal temperatures.
Now that you just had a horticultural lesson in the magic of mums… time to answer your question….
If it has been an unseasonable hot summer into early fall, they won’t set buds. If they’re dark period (nighttime) is being interrupted by light, they won’t set buds. Is there a motion light or street light near by? This could be the culprit.
In some cases, your plants FINALLY will set buds in late fall, but now it’s too late because the first frost will bite them off before they get a chance to bloom.
Lastly, there may be nothing you can do about this depending where you live. Southern states that stay warm and bright most of the year won’t have very much success trying to grow these types of cool weather, short day loving plants.
How do I use mums in my fall decor?
I thought you’d never ask! Well now, I love my mums paired with fall gourds, hay bales, in planters and in garden beds.
Please visit my post on 14 Gorgeous Fall Planters to see how you can pair fall mums with other fabulous fall plants to create breathtaking containers.
So I hope that answered your burning questions about how to care for fall mums. If I missed one… I expect to see it in the comments below.
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