Now is the time to plant your mums

Autumn officially started on Sept. 22, but you could easily determine this time period by the cooler nights and shorter days. One could also use front porches as a useful tool to help establish what season we are in.

Fall means decorating the porches and sidewalks with traditional displays. Typically, an array of bright orange pumpkins and gourds frame the porch entrance or garage front. Sometimes bales of straw are used to place pumpkins upon and give them height. Corn stalks are often utilized to also give the display some height or maybe hide some pillars. Finally, no design is complete without mums.

Mums (chrysanthemum is just too long to say) are a perennial that responds to the shortened days by flowering. They come in a variety of colors and can really add oomph to a display.

One question buyers usually ask is “Are they hardy?”

It is confusing because florists sell mums all year round. The florist mum also responds to short days to induce flowering, but this is done by regulating the greenhouse light. The florist mums don’t have the overwintering structures to survive our winters.

Our traditional fall display mums (sometimes called garden mums to contrast to the florist mums) do have overwintering structures, stolons or underground stems that allow them to regrow in the spring.

But many gardeners who plant their garden mums in the fall, are met with disappointment the following spring as nothing emerges from the ground. The problem is timing.

It takes several weeks for those underground stems to get established and gain a foothold in the surrounding soil. We like those mums in full display on the porch, and it is only after the flowers are spent that they get planted into the landscape. This is too late and cold weather follows very shortly. The garden mum dies as it never had a fighting chance to get prepared for the next several months.

Right now is the time to plant garden mums in the landscape in order to get them through the winter. It is also a good practice to water on a very regular basis while green leaves are present. Most mums are planted in a soil-less mix and they can dry out very quickly on warm days.

If there is no desire to have mums in a flower bed or you want that fall display up until Thanksgiving, simply discard the plant into the compost. This way, your degraded mum can still be used next spring as a soil amendment.

Tom Butzler is a horticulture educator with the Pennsylvania State University Cooperative Extension Service and may be reached at 570-726-0022.