Mums the word, says Anne

Right now, local garden centers are full of mums, or chrysanthemums, covered with flowers in a wide variety of colors, including white, off-white, yellow, gold, bronze, red, burgundy, pink, lavender and purple. Besides the wide range of colors, these late season flowers can grow to be 2-3 feet high, depending on the cultivar and growing conditions.

Chrysanthemums are usually considered herbaceous perennials. However, the plants need to be planted at least six weeks before the first killing frost and should be the correct cultivar to grow in zones 3 or 4. The local county Cooperative Extension offices can offer advice on the correct cultivars for our area.

Potted chrysanthemum flowers are sold by the millions at nurseries in fall because they've become a staple for outdoor fall decorating. But, these plants are grown for their fall display and are not necessarily cultivars meant to be grown as perennials in the North Country. Secondly, these plants are often ready for sale during the fall. Since the mums should be planted at least 6 weeks before the killing frost, there is not enough time to allow these plants be become established before the frost and upcoming winter. Therefore, the best time to plant mums that you would like to have as perennials, spring is the best time to plant these flowers.

When planting mums you would like to establish as a perennial, plant chrysanthemum flowers in full sun and well-drained soil, enriched by compost. Chrysanthemums are photoperiodic, meaning they bloom in response to the shorter days and longer nights experienced (in the Northern Hemispere) in fall. Therefore, do not plant chrysanthemum flowers near street lights or nightlights: the artificial lighting may wreak havoc with the chrysanthemums' cycle. Also, don't overcrowd chrysanthemums: good air circulation reduces the chance of disease.

Pinching chrysanthemums yields compact, bushy plants with more blooms. Pinching simply means removing the tips of new growth, thereby stimulating the chrysanthemums to send out side-shoots. Start in the spring when the new growth has reached 4-6 in length. Thereafter, every 2-3 weeks, pinch the center out of any more growth when it reaches 6 . But, stop pinching chrysanthemums in June, or else bud formation won't occur soon enough to ensure flowering.

The hardy mums sold in the garden centers this time of year are a beautiful addition to any fall landscape. And, the proper cultivars of mums planted in the spring, properly watered and fertilized, and pinched can add beauty to the landscape year after year.

Anne Lenox Barlow has had experience in the agricultural field as a horticulture educator with Cornell Cooperative Extension in Clinton County. She can be reached by e-mail at a.lennox.barlow@gmail.com.

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