Gardening Articles: Flowers :: Annuals

Marvelous Mums (page 4 of 5)

by Barbara Pleasant

Making More Mums

By the time garden mums have finished blooming, you may want to cut them back. Don't! In cold climates, the dead branches catch blowing leaves and snow, and often manage to collect just the right amount of protective mulch. In warm climates, even exhausted plants are engaged in the work of accumulating energy for next season's growth. Trimming off dead blossoms and wayward branches is fine, but as the mum experts say, "Nature doesn't trim back the dead branches in winter, and neither should you."

Early winter is also the worst possible time to dig up mums, which often show a few feathery stems of new green growth near the base before winter. These delicate shoots are the plants' lifeline through winter. Chrysanthemums that put out a lot of new shoots often show excellent winter hardiness. When late-blooming mums are grown in warm climates, the appearance of a healthy fuzz of new growth halfway through winter means it's finally time to cut back last year's growth.

Opinion varies on how often garden mums need to be dug and divided. Some say every spring, others say every second spring, and some say every three. Before you decide, consider this idea: You can flank your mums with large-flowered daffodils or fancy tulips, which provide much-needed spring color while chrysanthemums are at low ebb (and vice versa). These bulbs often require dividing or replacing after two or three years, just like mums.

But there's a hitch. The best time to dig and replant spring-flowering bulbs is early fall, when mums are at their peak. So, at some point you must choose between keeping your mums or your bulbs, which is not difficult since mums multiply as willingly as rabbits.

Remember those little green shoots that you nursed through winter-- Around the time of your last spring frost, simply dig and divide some of these, and transplant them to new homes or pots. Pots are ideal if you must wait until bulb foliage dies back to renovate your bed.

Few plants develop roots as rapidly as chrysanthemums. After a few weeks in a pot, a skimpy little plant will become healthy and well-rooted, though in northern or short-season areas you won't get much of a plant or many blooms that first year. You can also root the stem tips you pinch from your plants in spring by sticking them in damp potting soil, sand, or vermiculite. Even with no help from rooting powder, stem cuttings will start rooting within a week.

At this point I must insert a warning: Growing chrysanthemums can be habit-forming. Collecting and showing them is addictive. Whether you want to compete or simply collect mums, the National Chrysanthemum Society has 35 chapters across the country. Membership costs $20 per year, and the society also publishes inexpensive pamphlets on the finer points of mum culture. For more information, visit the Society's Web site at www.mums.org.

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