Chrysanthemums: the Golden Flower
By Kathy Jentz
I’ll confess I had a longtime aversion to chrysanthemums. Both their smell and commonness turned me off. But recently I had a change of heart. I discovered a whole new world of mum growing that goes far beyond those boring mums sold in bunches at your local supermarkets.
Chrysanthemums are an asset to any perennial garden. They provide quiet foliage all through the growing season and then set bloom right when most everything else is finished. From gold to pink to white and maroon, there is a color for every planting scheme. Don’t limit yourself to just the pompon cushion variety either. A personal favorite of mine mum is the Sheffield Pink, which looks like a peach-colored daisy on tall stems. It is terrific for cutting and is especially nice planted next to Autumn Joy sedum.
The flower is significant in many world cultures. The name “Chrysanthemum” is derived from the Greek, chrysos (gold) and anthos (flower). Chrysanthemums were first cultivated in China as a flowering herb as far back as the 15th century BC. In many countries, it is associated with funerals and grief. In the United States, mums are generally seen as a cheerful bloom. The flowers have medicinal, culinary, and insecticidal properties – aside from their ornamental attributes.
According to Gary Mangum, president of Bell Nursery, who supplies plants to Home Depot throughout the Mid-Atlantic, “Yellow is the most popular mum color for us.” Bell Nursery has taken the love of mums to the next level by breeding giant mums that are upwards of three feet across! “We find that people get instant gratification by covering a lot of area and getting a lot of color with fewer plants,” said Mangum. “We have seen a huge growth in the popularity of the giant mums each year they are in the stores.” Home Depot expects to sell 30,000 of the giant mums in the region this year, doubling last year’s sales, as well as selling 500,000 of Bell Nursery’s regular sized mums.
Whether giant or mini or in between, mums deserve a place in your garden. Here are some chrysanthemum growing tips:
- Mums are ideal container plants and can then be planted after blooming.
- Be sure you select plants that are cold hardy and healthy.
- Plant in full sun and give them space. They need good air circulation.
- Every three years divide the plants in spring.
- They need good drainage and a light mulching in spring helps.
- Pinch them back before July to create compact, bushy plants with more blooms.
- Provide extra mulch in fall for winter protection and do not cut them back until early spring when some new basal growth begins to emerge.
- A hard frost will turn the blooms brown, so if you know a freeze is predicted, you can give them protection to prolong the bloom life by covering with a frost blanket.
Both Longwood Gardens in Kennett Square, PA, and Brookside Gardens in Wheaton, MD, hold chrysanthemum shows each autumn. The displays include a variety of chrysanthemum colors and forms – from cascading baskets to topiary to single, large blossoms. Plan a visit to one or both to get an overview of the mums available to you.
If you find yourself growing more interested in breeding and cultivating chrysanthemums, you may want to join a local mum enthusiast group.
The Potomac Chrysanthemum Society (PCS). The club holds an annual plant sale each May in various locations around the beltway. All plants are $1.25 and selection is wide. The club also hosts monthly meetings at the Twinbrook Library in Rockville, MD, and other regular events such as a plant exchange. For more information, contact the PCS President Warren Pfeiffer at Potomac@mums.org.
The Old Dominion Chrysanthemum Society is based in Alexandria, VA, meets monthly at the Falls Church Community Center in Falls Church, VA. For details, contact Jim Dunne at email@example.com.
About the Author:
Kathy Jentz is editor/publisher of Washington Gardener magazine. Washington Gardener magazine, is a new gardening publication published specifically for the local metro area — zones 6-7 — Washington DC and its suburbs.
The magazine is written entirely by local area gardeners. They have real-world knowledge and practical advice with the same problems you experience in your own gardens. They share their thoughts on what to plant in deep shade, how to cover bare spots, which annuals work best throughout the humid DC summers, and much more. If you are a DC area gardener, you’ll love Washington Gardener magazine!
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