Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Mum’s the Word

I didn’t go on the mushroom walk last weekend.  I’m having allergy issues for the first time in my life.  I’ve never had a problem but these last two weeks I’ve been coughing and sneezing enough to generate electrical power.  I read that fall allergies are triggered by spores and mold so I thought walking in the woods and poking around in leaf mold looking for mushrooms, might not  be the best way for ME to spend an afternoon.

It’s beginning to cool off fast here in the northeast, so I thought instead of sharing my mushroom adventure with you,  I’d talk about “mums” or I should say chrysanthemums because they’ve been out for a couple of weeks now in the garden centers and blog photos_sept 2012 009supermarkets and because they are the most popular fall flower purchased in the US. 

My garden is winding down. This past week we’ had one or two nights that dipped into the 30’s—and many of my annuals and perennials have halted blooming.  They survived the dip in temp but got the message that it’s time to ripen seeds! The morning glories are still trying to make up for lost time but, if you live south of the Mason/Dixon line, you’ve got another 4 to 6 weeks of summer—lucky you!

Mum’s poSept_16_2012 005pularity is due partly because they come in colors useful for fall decorating and not found in many other late blooming flowers--bronze, gold, mahogany, maroon and brown.  Other than mildew, they seem to be immune to bugs and diseases.  The reason for this being that they contain pyrethrum in their cells which give them that somewhat pleasant/unpleasant citronella like scent when crushed. Pyrethrum  is a natural and organic insecticide and an ingredient in some commercial repellants.   


If you decide to plant your potted fall mums in the garden, make sure you do it as soon as possible after they’ve finished blooming.  Mums need about 6 weeks to get established  and for roots to adjust before the ground freezes, but if you can’t give them 6 weeks, then heavy mulching around the roots might help buy some time.  The further south you live, the less this is a problem.

Sometimes gardeners are disappointed when their wintered over mums  grow tall and lanky and don’t have as many buds as the previous year.  Ask me how I know this?  

A chrysanthemum’s  natural form is tall and lanky like their daisy 2nd cousins, so in order to keep them compact and well budded, they need to be pinched back on new growth before their stems get woody.   The rule of thumb is to pinch them back 3 times before the 4th of July or 100 days before blooming.  Translated to lay gardener terms that means when plants are approximately about 4 inches,  again at  6 inches, and the last time at 12 inches tall.   After July, it’s too late for pinching and you’ll do more harm than good because the stems get woody and buds have already started developing.   Ask me how I know this too?

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One disease that mums are susceptible to is mildew, a fungal disease that looks like the leaves have been dusted with flour.  To prevent mildew, mums need to be spaced far enough apart to allow good air flow around the plants.  Mulching helps to control moisture around the plants and also fungal spores.  Soil should be kept barely moist—overwatering is a quick kill.  Mums should be planted where they receive 4 to 6 hours of sunlight a day for best flowering. 


You can take cuttings of mums in spring or early summer and root them.  I worked in a garden center years ago and we grew all of our mums for cuttings.  The best way to do this is to cut the parent plant back about half-way in the late fall or early winter.  This encourages strong spring shoots that make good cuttings.  sept. 25 2012 pics for blog 029Cuttings should be taken from this new growth, not the woody stems.  They should be about 4 to 6 inches long.   The best time to take cuttings in in the morning.   Pick off all the lower leaves, leaving about three near the tip of the cutting.  Dip the lower end in rooting hormone (you can buy a jar of rooting hormone at most garden centers).  Use a pencil or tongue depressor to make a hole in the wet potting soil and stick the cutting in so that only an inch of stem below the leaves is showing.  Put the cutting in six-pack  filled with moist potting soil and seal in a plastic bag.  Place the cuttings in a well lit area but not in direct sunlight.  It takes about three to eight weeks for them to develop roots.  When they do they can be planted in a slightly larger pot size and placed outdoors to harden off before planting in the garden.More Sept. Pics 2012 for blog 022

Established chrysanthemums planted in the garden can also be divided in early spring.  Dig up a large clump and carefully separate it.   Because they’re kind of brittle, you might be better off using a knife to cut a clump rather than breaking it apart with your hands.   Discard old woody and dead sections and replant what’s left.  An addition of fertilizer and  compost will encourage vigorous regrowth.  Clumps should be divided every 3 to five years. 

Some interesting facts about “mums” (Chrysanthemums)

1.  Chrysanthemums were cultivated in the orient for more than 2,000 years before reaching Europe in the 1700’s.  European botanists gave this flower the name “chrysanthemum” meaning “golden flower”

2) The Japanese venerated the chrysanthemum as Ki-Ku (The Queen of the East).  It became the perennial emblem of the emperor.  Long before reaching Europe they had cultivated most of the flower forms we see today such as the spider mum, anemone flower and double.

3. Mums are a botanical cousin to the common daisy.

4.  The Japanese have a national Chrysanthemum Festival every year on September 9th.  It is also called “The Happy Festival”


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  1. In Australia, chrysanthemums are the flower associated with Mother's Day (traditionally white ones). Funnily enough, I've never heard an Australian call them "mums", which perhaps we should, as that is what we call our mothers. We normally shorten the flower name to "chryssies".

    1. Thanks so much for your comment. I never would have thought of it, but it makes sense that they would be popular for Mother's Day down under because your winter is our summer and our fall is your spring which is the time when "chryssies" normally bloom. I like it, I think it's cute :)


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