If you would like to add some color to welcome the fall season, you can’t beat chrysanthemums.
It seems that everywhere you look in October you see chrysanthemums blooming. Widely available and relatively inexpensive, they are almost indispensable for providing quick color to the fall landscape. Whether you plant them into beds or feature them in containers, these cheerful plants covered in yellow, gold, bronze, purple, lavender, white, pink or burgundy flowers are a delight in the landscape.
Chrysanthemums, also called mums, are hardy, long-lived perennials that bloom in the fall. Chrysanthemums are triggered to bloom only when the nights are long enough. During the summer, when days are long and nights are short, chrysanthemums in the garden grow vegetatively. As the period of nighttime darkness increases in late summer and early fall, flower bud initiation occurs. This takes place here in August and September, with flowers of chrysanthemums growing in gardens opening from October through December. Blooming container-grown plants are available at nurseries as early as September. Plants generally stay in full bloom for about two to three weeks.
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When purchasing chrysanthemums at the nursery, it is important to choose the right type of chrysanthemum for your landscape. You may find three different types of chrysanthemums offered at the nursery — cut-flower mums, pot mums and garden mums.
Cut-flower mums are selected for their ability, when cultivated properly, to produce spectacularly large flowers with long, strong stems suitable for cutting. Typically, cut-lower mums grown in pots will have a number of stems, each one terminating in one large, showy flower.
Pot mums were developed to produce a beautiful container plant with large flowers. They are grown in greenhouses and must be pinched, disbudded and even treated with growth regulators to produce a shorter, more attractive finished product. By manipulating the greenhouse environment, growers can produce blooming pot mums all year. These are the mums commonly available in pots at florist shops, but you also see them in nurseries this time of year. The plants are more upright and produce larger flowers than garden mums.
Neither cut-flower mums nor pot mums are generally suitable for the flower garden. Both tend to grow tall and leggy in the garden, resulting in plants that are floppy and unattractive, even though the flowers may be pretty.
The best chrysanthemums for planting in the landscape are garden mums. These mums are bred and selected for growing in the garden. They are short, bushy plants about 12 to 18 inches tall that literally cover themselves with clusters of small one and one-half inch flowers in virtually every color except blue. This type of mum is available now at nurseries and garden centers in 4-inch, 6-inch and gallon-size containers.
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When purchasing, select plants with mostly closed buds and healthy foliage. Plants already in full bloom will not be attractive as long. Avoid plants whose flowers have already begun to fade or those that have broken branches and yellow foliage.
Some gardeners leave them in pots and use mums as temporary color on porches and patios. When the flowers fade, the plants are discarded (they make a great addition to compost piles). However, chrysanthemums planted in the garden will bloom in the fall for many years if grown properly.
Remove them from the container and plant chrysanthemums in well-drained beds that receive at least six hours of sun. After they finish flowering, garden mums should be cut back about one-quarter their height. In late January or early February, cut them back to about 3 inches from the ground. New growth usually begins in February or March when new shoots appear at the base of the old stem stubs.
When you see the new shoots, it is a good idea to dig up the whole clump and divide it into two to four sections. Replant them where you want them to grow, spacing the divisions about 12 inches apart. Discard the brown, woody middle of the plant and just plant the vigorous shoots from around the outside. Dividing the mums annually makes them strong and vigorous and allows you to keep control over them.
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Mums require no special care during the year. Fertilize with a general-purpose fertilizer when you fertilize your other flowers. Water thoroughly during periods of drought and keep them well mulched to reduce competition from weeds. Pinch the tips of vigorously growing shoots occasionally during the summer to encourage bushiness. Do not pinch or prune mums after mid-July.
Other colorful plants
A few other plants have become popular for providing color in the fall landscape. Crotons are used for their colorful foliage. The large leaves display a mixture of brilliant fall colors, like red, green, gold, magenta, orange and deep purple in beautiful patterns. The colors are more vivid when the plants are provided abundant sun.
Crotons produce beautiful, fall-colored leaves.
Crotons are not cold hardy and are not reliable planted in the ground. Keep them in their containers and move them inside during winter on nights when it will freeze. Repot as needed. Doing this, you can keep these plants going for years.
Ornamental peppers are also readily available at nurseries in the fall. This diverse group of plants is grown both for their attractive colorful fruit and foliage that may be green, variegated with white and lavender or a deep purple.
After a crop of fruit gets old and shriveled, remove it and plants will generally continue to bloom and set more fruit. Grow these like you would crotons. They may last two or three years, but are not as long-lived as crotons.
Dan Gill is a retired consumer horticulture specialist with the LSU AgCenter. He hosts the “Garden Show” on WWL-AM Saturdays at 9 a.m. Email gardening questions to [email protected]