Chrysanthemum: Fall Friendship Flower

Hardy mums are easy mainstays in the fall garden. Florist mums brighten the house with long-lasting blooms any time. What’s their special quality beyond beauty?

Red mums with yellow centers.
Hardy Chrysanthemum

November babies, this is your flower. It’s been a sign of friendship since Victorian times.

The chrysanthemum has different symbolic meanings in countries like China, Japan, Australia, Belgium and Austria. For most in the U.S., it’s a beautiful flower that’s in abundance in the fall.

There are two ways to buy them:  hardy mums to grow in the garden or florist mums to dress up your house.

Garden Mum

Features

Native to: Asia and Northeastern Europe.

Name refers to: Greek words for gold and flower.

Zones:  5-9, although some may be grown in Zones 3 and 4 – check the plant’s label.

Leaves:  Small dark green, three lobe leaf. It’s shape reminds you of a little animal’s paw.

Blooms: Many shades from gold to bronze to red, purple, pink, white and off white. One bloom is made of hundreds of smaller petals called florets. 

These florets have many different shapes. The National Chrysanthemum Society has listed 13 classes of bloom forms.

Bloom Time:  Depending on the cultivar, mums bloom early July, early fall in September or late fall in October. Flowering lasts 4-8 weeks.

Height: 1-2 feet sometimes 3 feet depending on the cultivar.

Width:  1-2 feet

Grows from:  Seeds, cuttings and divisions. Many people buy full grown plants in pots.

Seeds:  Planting seeds may not grow true to the color of the parent plant. Follow package directions.

Cuttings:  Taken in spring when pinching to control growth. Root the cuttings and transplant.

Divisions:  After a few years, a woody stem develops in the middle of the plant.

Dig up the whole plant and separate the young, newer plants from the outer edge of the root ball.

Plant in a new spot in the bed for pest control and to prevent disease.

Attracts:  Butterflies.

Care

  • Location: Find a place where it will be protected from the wind. Plant far enough apart from other plants for good air circulation to keep diseases from developing.
  • Sunlight:  Full sun but protected from late afternoon sun.
  • Soil:  High in organic matter that drains well.
  • Water: Frequent watering to keep soil moist but not wet.  Root rot occurs if the soil is too wet.
  • Fertilize: They’re considered heavy feeders. Feed monthly with an organic, water soluble fertilizer spring through July.
  • Pinching: To keep the plant small and bushy, pinch off the branches as they grow.

Pinch between your finger nails above the second set of leaves. This will cause it to branch.

Do this from the time they reach six inches tall until early summer.  Pinching also prevents leggy growth that causes the plant to flop over.

  • Winter Protection:  Sometimes they will survive the winter, sometimes not even if your plant is designated winter hardy for your area.

In late fall, after blooming, cut back to 6 inches.  Mulch with straw or pine straw.

These mulches are loose and open enough to provide protection from the cold, but still allow air to circulate to prevent the roots from getting too wet. 

Problems/Pests

Many pests:  Aphids, spider mites and thrips.

Many diseases:  Powdery mildew, rust, stem and root rot, viruses.

To prevent problems, rotate their spot in the garden when you divide them every few years.

Uses

Perennial or annual containers, edging for borders, grouped together for large displays.

White mums with yellow centers.
Bouquet of florist Chrysanthemum.

Florist Mum

These are the beautiful indoor flowers that are enjoyed for over a month and then thrown out.

Potted version:

Buy one that has more buds than open flowers to enjoy the show longer.

Blooms approximately 6-8 weeks.

Known for its air cleaning qualities.

Care:

  • Can place in a decorative pot that has no drainage holes.  This protects the counter or furniture surface from water damage.

A saucer underneath the potted plant will do the same.

  • Keep in a cool but sunny spot. Cooler temperatures make blooms last.
  • Keep soil evenly moist. Water generally twice a week.

Test top inch of soil with your finger. If dry, thoroughly water it at the sink. Let water drain completely before putting it back in its spot.

  • Throw out when it’s done blooming. Avoid the compost pile because the plant has been treated with chemicals to make it grow to the size and shape that is sold at the store.

Bouquet of Mums:

Last approximately 2 weeks.

Change the water at least once during that time.

Cut the ends of the stems as the original cuts have closed up. This allows fresh water to get to the blooms. Flowers will last longer.

Chrysanthemum’s Other Quality

In addition to cleaning the indoor air, outdoors the mum has another role. The flower of a particular species is turned into a natural insecticide.

An extract from the flower is toxic to most insects. When exposed to this substance it can numb and kill them.

Unfortunately, this substance is toxic to beneficial insects, fish and amphibians too. Although it’s a natural insecticide, use carefully following package directions.

You really want to target the infested plant without spraying other plants. By targeting you reduce harm to beneficial insects and reduce water pollution runoff.  

Whether you buy the chrysanthemum for indoor or outdoor decoration or use an insecticide product made from its flowers, the mum is a mainstay of the fall garden.

References

EXTOXNET Extension Toxicology Network

FTD by Design

National Chrysanthemum Society, USA

Copyright Juli Seyfried 2019

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juli

Juli is a writer and serious gardener. She gardens a small yard in an older suburban neighborhood. There is a lot of problem-solving and fun on a small property. She likes to share what she's learned. She learns from others too.

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