Mum’s the Word
Nothing short of trumpet fanfare could announce fall’s arrival more clearly than that colorful classic: the chrysanthemum.
Bursting with blooms and earthy colors that mirror the landscape, mums steal the spotlight every fall.
“Mums are a traditional fall item,” says David Hennenfent, farm division manager at Leider Greenhouses’ Knoxville farm, where they grow 120,000 mums in 40 varieties. “People seem to prefer traditional colors like yellow, bronze, red, orange and purple.”
Originally cultivated in China, the hardy perennial comes in many varieties. At Leider Greenhouses, the particularly resilient Belgian Padre proves a perennial favorite.
“Padre represents 35 to 40 percent of our entire crop of mums,” he says. “It’s bullet-proof – there’s really nothing that can go wrong with it.”
Multitasking mums work well as potted plants to make a porch “pop.” They also create bold borders and freshen fading flower beds. With blooms that last for weeks – and bloom times you can stagger from mid-August through mid-October – mums make fall a feast for the eyes.
Color Your World
Though mums come in a variety of bloom types, Mariah Anderson, who owns Triple M Farm in Clinton with husband, Greg, says color drives most of her customers’ decisions.
“We grow more than 100 varieties of hardy fall mums. Customers typically choose by color – and yellow is by far the most popular,” says Anderson.
Even within a single color category, many variations exist. For example, the farm offers 30 varieties of mums in orange alone.
Along with the tried-and-true traditional colors, the farm prides itself on offering more than garden-variety mums.
“We try to differentiate ourselves with specialty mums,” Anderson says. “We grow varieties you won’t see at the big-box stores.”
For example, their popular tricolor mums capture the spirit of the season with names such as Candy Corn, an orange-yellow-white combination, and Trick or Treat, a purple-yellow-orange trio.
“Every year, our customers would ask for the lime green mums they see in floral arrangements,” says Anderson. “But there has never been a lime green fall mum on the market until now. People are so excited about it.”
Managing Your Mums
Whatever color strikes your fancy, be sure to plant mums in a sunny spot in well-drained soil.
“They like full sun, and don’t like too much water,” says Anderson, who recommends caring for mums much as you would a rose.
The National Chrysanthemum Society recommends watering about 1 inch a week early in the season and increasing the amount as plants grow and temperatures rise.
Many buy this affordable perennial for use as an annual. However, if you would like your mums to return in the spring, plant them in a semiprotected area, fertilize once or twice a month and mulch after the first freeze.
Prompt planting also helps your mums weather the winter.
“As soon as you buy mums, put them in the ground. The more time they have to root out in soil before it freezes, the better their chance of surviving the winter,” says Hennenfent. “And don’t cut dead branches – they help insulate the roots from the cold.”
Pinching is an important practice for mums purchased in the spring. By creating more branches and blooms, pinching cultivates mums’ mound-like shape and ensures an abundant show of color when autumn arrives.
“Pinching keeps them from budding early,” Hennenfent says. “Otherwise, you can end up with a tall, spindly plant.”
Early in the season, the National Chrysanthemum Society recommends pinching or pruning about 1 inch from the top of each stem when plants reach about 6 inches tall – and again when the new growth reaches 6 inches.
Pinching through July helps mums peak in the fall, just in time to fill the void left by summer’s fading blooms.
Aside from their obvious charms, perhaps mums’ greatest appeal lies in the memories they evoke.
“Mums are a fall tradition that has carried over for generations. I always hear customers say ‘my mom or grandma always had mums,’” Hennenfent says. “People tend to buy the same color every year because that’s what they had at the house they grew up in.”
Along with their power to spark a memory, mums help to soften summer’s end.
“By the time fall arrives, a lot of the flowers people planted in spring and summer start to fade away. Fall mums offer something new to beautify the front porch and landscape,” says Anderson, who savors seeing her family’s homegrown mums brighten up other families’ gardens and porches.
“We plant them, we watch them grow, and we see the excitement our customers have for them,” she says. “It’s very satisfying.”