Caring for Your Fall Mums

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So you bought some mums this fall…. I mean why not, they are gorgeous!! They add so much color to your front porch decorations and they are perennial so you could “potentially” plant them around the house for next year… right??

Chrysanthemums or ‘mums’ can be perennial in our area if we don’t have a really harsh winter. The best recommendation for keeping perennial mums, however, is to buy and plant small mum cuttings/seedlings in the spring. This way they have all spring to develop a strong root system for summer and into fall. You would also need to “pinch” your plants in the spring/summer to keep the plant growing vegetatively and not reproductively (producing flowers).

You can try to overwinter fall mums, but first they must make it past the fall and even after that there are no guarantees. A lot of people “kill” their mums before fall is even over by not watering them, overwatering them, or buying a stressed plant in the first place.

So here are some pointers to help you take care of your annual mums (just for the season) and your “potential” perennial mums!

Step 1: Buy a strong plant

  • A plant that has been continually stressed from repeated drying and dousing is more likely to die when you bring it home
  • Look for sturdy plants with deep green leaves
  • Try buying from a local market (for local markets contact the N.C. Cooperative Extension – Alexander County Center at 828-632-4451)

Step 2-A: Repot your mum when you get it home (if you don’t want to keep it for next year)

  • Roots may be “pot-bound”, meaning roots aren’t spaced properly and have grown together tightly at the bottom of the pot
  • Get a slightly bigger pot and add some soil to the bottom
  • Break up those roots by rubbing them
  • Add plant to pot, filling fresh soil around the root ball
  • Do not pack soil too tightly in the pot
  • Water freshly potted mum until water drains from the bottom

Or Step 2-B: Plant your mums in your flower beds

  • Dig hole that is twice as big across and same size deep as root ball
  • Break up roots that may be pot-bound
  • Backfill with soil from hole and any extra bagged soil as needed
  • Lightly mulch over planting area to help keep soil moist

Step 3: Sunlight

  • If your porch is fully shaded, try moving your planters into the sun during the day when you aren’t at home, then move them back to the porch when you get back
  • Make sure you plant in a mostly sunny location if planting in the ground or permanent planters

Step 4: Watering

  • Mums don’t like for the soil to get completely dry
  • Use the finger method (especially for perennial mums)
    • Stick your finger down into the soil up to the second knuckle; if it is dry up to there, water it
  • Use weight method (for pots)
    • Pick up your pot; if it is pretty light, water it

Step 5: Deadhead

  • Remove spent flower heads with pruners/ sharp scissors to encourage new blooms
  • Prune back to 3-4 inches above ground in spring for mums that you’ve overwintered

Step 6: Spring/Summer Care

*Perennial mums (whether overwintered from fall or planted in spring) need to be “pinched” throughout spring and summer for them to bloom in the fall and keep them at a nice shape.

  • Pinching – nipping early flower buds in spring/summer
    • Pinch off buds down to a full leaf (approx. every month)
    • You can do this until the end of July for pretty fall flowers
  • Fertilizing
  • Apply at the end of May and time with your pinching dates