Fall care of mums is low maintenance; just be aware that the word ‘hardy’ is used rather loosely in the marketing of these fabulous fall beauties.
Chrysanthemum is a Greek name meaning golden flowers; very fitting for these fair flowers of the autumn garden. Introduced to the US in the 1700s, mums have become the most popular flower for spectacular fall color in the landscape.
Hardy mums or garden mums are marketed as perennial in zones 5 to 9. However, many varieties won’t overwinter well. Although die back is common among chrysanthemums, some varieties will survive the winter with ease.
Mums purchased in the late summer to fall can be planted directly in the garden or placed in decorative pots or baskets for the season. They need approximately six weeks to become acclimated to their new home and have the best chance at surviving the winter. Remember to plant flowers from baskets before the ground freezes!
Mums like slightly acidic soil and hate wet feet. They should be planted in an area with full sun and good drainage. Any good garden soil should be adequate, adding peat moss to the soil when planting will help make the soil slightly acidic. Poorly drained soil is one of the leading causes of winter mortality for mums.
Mums need a lot of water. Avoid plant wilt by checking your plant every few days. Mums not subjected to stress from lack of water will have a better chance of surviving the winter.
Water chrysanthemums heavily during summer and fall, especially during autumn droughts. Soak the ground thoroughly once or twice a week and allow drying in between watering. Sprinkling a little water over the plants will do more harm than good; encouraging fungus and inadequate moisture for the roots.
Fertilization should be discontinued in late July to August so late new growth is not encouraged. New growth will have a tough time surviving winter.
Mulch is essential for winter survival of garden mums. According to Iowa State University, plants should not be cut back. Chrysanthemums whose foliage has been left standing over winter have the best survival chances. After the ground freezes, add a three to four inch layer of loose mulch around the base of the plant. Loose mulch such as pine branches or straw should be used; leaves or peat moss does not work well because they will pack down and promote ice formation around the plant.
Low maintenance chrysanthemums add spectacular color to the autumn garden. Fall care for mums should concentrate on watering and mulch for winter survival; however, don’t feel too bad if your plants don’t live through the winter, just plant more of these autumn beauties!
Personal experience, especially with die-back!!!