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MUM’S THE WORD

Making your fall garden explode with color

Although their name may be hard to pronounce, we have plenty of positive things to say about chrysanthemums. Just as our summer gardens start to fade, mums pop up in exhilarating shapes and colors in our nurseries, garden centers, and markets.

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Beyond beautiful, mums are also edible and they were used for medicinal purposes in Asia as early as 1500 BC. Today, this herbaceous flowering plant is so popular in the United States, that the National Chrysanthemum Society established an intricate classification system dividing bloom forms into 13 separate classes!  

Chrysanthemums naturally flower in our region when daylight hours shorten. They are hardy and easy to grow and care for as long as you choose the right locations and follow some basic gardening rules.

“You’ll have healthy and happy chrysanthemums when you know how to select the right plant for the right place,” says Helen Purcell Montag, a University of California Master Gardener for San Diego County. “Temperature plays an important role in determining if a plant will grow successfully, so be sure you know what climate zone you are in.” 

Climate zones are determined by an area’s temperature, humidity, and amount and type of precipitation. Since San Diego County is home to several different climate zones, check out The United States Department of Agriculture’s climate planting zone map online at planthardiness.ars.usda.gov. Just enter your zip code and your climate zone will be revealed. Now, it’s time to go chrysanthemum shopping!

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At the store, look for a tag in the plant’s soil or check the pot’s sticker listing climate zone information and tips for planting and growing your mums. Be sure to select plants that have as many unopened buds as possible for a longer season of blooms.

When you bring your chrysanthemums home, plant them in the ground or in pots. In either case, first prepare the soil by mixing in compost or another organic matter. You may prefer to keep your mums in pots because you can easily move them around your garden. Later, you can bring them indoors for the winter.

Just be sure your pot provides room to grow because over-crowded chrysanthemums will not thrive.

“The soil should be slightly moist, and pots should have good drainage holes, so the plants don’t sit in water,” Helen says. “Fertilizing your potted chrysanthemums is also important to promote healthy plant roots and encourage new blooms.”

Whether planting your mums in the ground or in pots, they will do best in spots where they can bask in morning sunlight and rest in afternoon shade. Because chrysanthemums have a shallow root system, you will want to water them regularly. When blooms fade, remove the dead flowers to encourage the plant to develop more brilliant blooms.

“Chrysanthemums are excellent companion plants and are often planted next to edible gardens. Some varieties produce a natural chemical, pyrethrum, that repels insects.” Helen says. “Some chrysanthemum varieties can also be used for teas that promise unique health benefits.”

Start your love affair with the chrysanthemum now by buying a variety of potted mums and practicing our simple gardening tips. Next spring, you can broaden your horizons and plant pompon, button, spray, cushion, or spider chrysanthemum varieties from seed! Check out the National Chrysanthemum Society’s website, mums.org, to learn more about this amazing plant as well as upcoming chrysanthemum shows in the San Diego area.

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