Fall’s arrival can be found all around us. School is back in session. Chiefs football kicked off for another season. And coolness is in the evening air (sometimes). Fall’s yearly return is also apparent by the autumn colors. One noticeable sign of fall is the brightly colored chrysanthemums available for purchase. The garden mum is akin to the appeal of the Christmas poinsettia or pure white lilies of Easter.
Mums have long been a common garden plant. I can remember the pink and white ones popping up each autumn in my grandmother’s garden. Over the years mums have moved from common garden perennial to a staple of the fall decorating craze. Mums can be seen on the doorstep and porches of many homes, welcoming the arrival of fall.
Gardeners look at mums as a garden-worthy plant while fall decorators think of the plant as disposable. Many people want this plant to do double duty — be a focal point of their displays and make its way out into the garden to rebloom the following year.
Mums forced into blooming for the season are not always easy to get established in the garden. While mums have been a garden favorite for decades, many of the newer varieties bred for pot culture may not be as winter hardy as the old standby pass-along plants. This means with harsh winter conditions a fall-planted mum may not survive.
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Potted mums, while having an extensive root system in the container, do not always have roots that have time to spread out in the garden soil before winter. Small pot-bound roots are more subject to the extremes of winter, including freezing and thawing and dry periods. As a result, some potted mums just don’t survive the winter.
Gardeners that want to ensure mums survive the winter in Kansas City should plant them in the spring. Mum plants are available in the spring at garden centers. Spring planted mums have all summer to grow and develop strong, well-rooted plants. With well-established roots, these plants are much more likely to survive the winter than those planted in late fall.
Planting your autumn decor only takes a little work. Besides, you really have nothing to lose. Your other option is to throw them away, which means the plant is lost with no hope.
Mums are much like pansies in the spring. Although pansies signal the coming of another growing season, the mum reminds us of the changing of the seasons. No matter whether you enjoy mums for just a few weeks as fall decorations or year-round in the garden, now is a great time to enjoy their annual floral display.
Dennis Patton is a Johnson County Extension horticulture agent. To get your gardening questions answered by him, go to kcgardens.kansascity.com.