Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Annuals

Marvelous Mums (page 2 of 5)

by Barbara Pleasant

Meet the Mums

Gardeners have been enjoying mums for more than 2,000 years. By A.D. 400, these plants were the craze among Chinese gardeners. Today, most of the best kinds for North American gardens are known simply as garden mums, and are botanically classified as Dendranthea grandiflorum. This is a rather new name, and many catalogs still use the old name of Chrysanthemum morifolium.

A lesser known but very hardy, early-blooming type, Chrysanthemum rubellum -- particularly the varieties 'Clara Curtis' and 'Mary Stoker' -- are top choices for gardeners in USDA Zones 4 and 5.

As you might expect with a flower that's been in cultivation for so long, the pedigree of garden mums is impossible to trace. Most of the plants sold in garden centers are labeled "cushion" mums -- a huge group of compact varieties bred to flower like gangbusters in pots, or to be massed into vivid border plantings. The Prophets Series from Yoder Brothers (the largest producer of chrysanthemums in the U.S.) is this type, as are hundreds of other named varieties.

About 80 percent of the potted mums sold in the fall are Yoder Prophets, including 'Bravo' (red), 'Debonair' (dark lavender) and dozens of varieties with girls' names like 'Denise' (bronze), 'Jessica' (yellow), and 'Lynn' (pink).

All of the most popular Prophets have the "decorative" flower form, that is, dahlialike blossoms so packed with long, broad petals that you can hardly see their center eyes, even when the flowers are completely open. One of the advantages of the decorative flower form is that the many layers of petals make the flowers last a long, long time. As the petals on the back of the blossom fade, new ones from the center give the flower a freshly opened appearance.

But the best perennial mums for your garden may not be compact cushions with decorative flowers. Upright kinds, which grow more than 18 inches tall, are magnificent when grown in the ground, though their height makes them look gawky in pots. Alan Summers, owner of Carroll Gardens in Westminster, Maryland, thinks the best landscaping mums are upright types with flowers more than three inches across. He recommends a variety known as 'Single Apricot' (which is the same as or similar to 'Hillside Sheffield Pink'). He describes it as "absolutely spectacular, with luminous glowing color that can be seen a block away."

Garden mums have so many dramatic variations in growth habit, color, and flower form that we would sell them short by suggesting that a few are better than all others. In San Gabriel, California, mum specialist Phillip Ishizu of Sunny Slope Gardens struggles to keep his list of West Coast standouts at only 300 varieties. In Burlington, Kansas, Harry Huff of Huff's Garden Mums propagates and sells 500 varieties, and Minnesota mum man Vincent Dooley offers more than 200 that can survive under serious cold and snow. All of these experts give the same advice for choosing favorites Pick colors and flower forms you like, and get growing!

Since fall brings frost, which has a bad habit of turning mum petals brown, choose mums with bloom times that match what your climate has to offer. Mums bloom in fall because the shortening days (and lengthening nights) of late summer trigger flowering. Some react more quickly than others, and these are the early bloomers. Midseason and late bloomers respond more slowly to changes in day length. Throughout much of the U.S., gardeners can extend bloom season by combining early, midseason, and late-blooming varieties.

However, early and midseason varieties are ideal for the country's midsection. Midseason and late mums put on the best shows in the Sun Belt, where early-blooming types are often fooled into a sparse, generally unattractive bloom in spring. If you're stuck with such a plant, pinch or cut off blooming stems to force the plant back into a vegetative state. Where freezes come early, you need early-blooming mums. And wherever you live, you'll be happiest with mums that bloom after the hottest summer weather has passed, yet still have five to six weeks to dazzle before the first 26°F frost, which kills flowers.

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