In the Garden with Ed: Mums again


Last week, we talked about planting techniques that can be rendered in a one-syllable word: Blog or spot.

Let’s continue with the same grammar construction; this time: Mums.

Mums were the topic of a column two weeks ago, Aug. 28. It discussed breeders’ goal to improve the plant and tips for using potted mum plants for fall planting – and what to expect now and in the spring.

Seems that I confused readers about planting now or waiting until spring. Apologies for that and here’s my attempt to clarify:

Potted mums, in bud and bloom and lots of colors are widely available now. These are primarily grown to provide long-lasting fall color as annuals quickly fade out of the picture. And they are inexpensive – $7 for an eight-inch pot, which is about the minimum size needed to make a splash. Larger and smaller pots are likewise available. It’s surprising to see just how much color one plant can bring, much less, say, seven mums staggered in a bed with weary perennials and exhausted annuals.

And care is easy: Keep them watered so the soil is always moist. An extra step to make watering more sure and predictable is to tip the whole plant from its container and into a hole matched for the container’s size. This way, the pot soil and native soil mingle, sharing moisture, worms and such. If you hope to grow these same mums in the same place in 2022, then take a bit more care to be sure the planting hole is adequate rather than just cramming the plant in place.

Now comes the tricky part and there is little you can do about it.

It is not likely the variety of your mum has genes that make it winter hardy. It might, but there is no practical way to find out. This is not an Ancestry test. I’ll go out on a limb and say practically all mums sold this time of the year have been bred for dependable flowers, and lots of them, and not cold hardiness.

The core problem here is survival over winter requires the plant to have developed enough new roots to sustain life after the soil has grown cold and the plant slips into dormancy. The gardener can help it along by leaving stems and branches intact and essentially burying the plant with fallen leaves. Under the best of circumstances, this will keep the soil warmer, longer and give the plant more time to root heartily. Even so, I’d predict chance of success – keeping it alive over winter – is less than 50-50.

And one must consider the time and effort all of this takes. Burying the mum with leaves in late November is not one of the lovely times to be outside and for the cost of the plant, is it worth it? That is your call.

I would much rather see a mum-loving gardener go online late fall and search for “cold hardy mums.” Doing so will bring up lots of choices for mums that have, indeed, shown winter hardiness, be it from environmental, breeding or consistent good luck. My earlier column on mums spoke of this plant’s “willingness” to be bred for improvements – be it day length, color, flower form and yes, cold hardiness.

I’d much rather see a mum-loving enthusiast spend their time, effort and resources by starting with a known quality – hardiness – than hope one just purchased at Meijer’s will have that capability.

Ed Hutchison writes a weekly gardening column for the Midland Daily News.

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