Chrysanthemum Concepts

Fall is in full swing, meaning that beautiful Chrysanthemums are showing up not only at the nurseries, but at the grocery stores, drug stores, and lots of other places. It was easy to find a picture, also. I just swang through the local Home Depot parking lot. I didn’t even have to get out of the truck to take the picture.

You don't have to go far to find a chrysanthemum in October

You don’t have to go far to find a chrysanthemum in October

Other than when they are rooted cuttings, these plants rarely see the inside of a greenhouse. They are usually field grown. The wholesale growers usually order rooted cuttings from the breeders. These cuttings come into the grower some time around the first part of June. When the cuttings reach the grower they have already been treated with a growth retardant that will keep them compact and branching. The wholesale grower will pinch the tip and plant one or more cuttings to a pot—according to the size of the pot. I have seen acres of these pots sitting on a black landscape fabric and irrigated with a drip system that keeps excess water off of the leaves and flowers.

The plants are usually grown with a constant fertilizer injection through the irrigation lines. They may or may not be “pinched” to induce branching and the last pinch will be made the first of August. Mums start to bloom with the onset of short days. The finished plants hit the market around the middle to end of September looking like this:

Market mums are bred and grown for just the right shape

Market mums are bred and grown for just the right shape

One of my favorite gardening experiences happened a few years ago when I was asked to have the yard on the mountain ready for an October wedding. Since we had enough notice and enough time, I ordered a thousand rooted mum cuttings to be delivered on the fifteenth of June. The bride-to-be chose the colors. We planted the mums and then pinched the tips often to encourage branching. I fed the plants with liquid fertilizer every week.

I remember being a bit uptight about the thousand plants. The timing had to be perfect. One expert told me that they would never bloom in time for the wedding. A noted horticulturist told us that they would be bloomed out and gone before the wedding. I sort of averaged that out and the plants performed perfectly, being wide open and beautiful to greet all the guests who entered the yard.  Here are a couple of pictures I found—this occurred just before the wide availability of digital cameras.

1000 mums were planted in June and in bloom for an October wedding.

1000 mums were planted in June and in bloom for an October wedding.

Some came back the following year, then none.

Some came back the following year, then none.

All of the above is nice—but it’s not really what this article is about. I used the word “concept” in the title. To me, a concept occurs when something happens to make me think about something I never thought about before. I view a concept as a little ball that floats around in one’s peripheral vision, blinking on and off. Every now and then the ball will blink on at just the right time and you can grab it and open it. And what is inside? Questions. Questions that you never thought to ask. The concept then leads to the answers and new found knowledge.

The light for me flashed on one day last year when my mother asked, “Have you noticed that the perfectly grown mums we get these days don’t perform like the old fashioned ones?” She continued, “The old fashioned mums seemed to grow differently and they came back year after year. The new mums may come back for a year or two, but that’s it. I loved the old fashioned mums for cut flowers.”

Old fashioned perennial mums are reliably winter hardy

Old fashioned perennial mums are reliably winter hardy

This was new to me, but I knew just where to go to get the answer—My friend Marion. We discussed it and figured that in breeding the commercial mums, the breeders had paid attention to shape, the size of the flowers. They had bred the mums to bloom a bit earlier in order to lengthen the sales window before winter. They had bred out the longevity and the “wildness” of the mum. Marion sent some rooted cuttings of the special plants to my mother who was delighted with them.

Marion said they would be wide open in a week or so

Marion said they would be wide open in a week or so

I decided that I can relate to the old fashioned mums. They don’t quite fit the generally accepted mold. They bloom profusely, but only when they feel like it, and they spend a lot of time out of bounds. These plants are strong, too and withstand all sorts of adversity, coming back strongly from life threatening forces. Yes, I can relate to them.

We decided we could get away with calling them "Little Old Lady Mums." You got a problem with that, Mom?

We decided we could get away with calling them “Little Old Lady Mums.” You got a problem with that, Mom?

I asked Marion how we would differentiate between the old fashioned mums and the refined ones. I asked, “can we call them ‘old lady mums”? She laughed and said, “Well, I guess so, I got these plants from Virginia Starr before I moved into the Second Avenue house and I lived there 21 years. I still have them here at the mountain house and I have been here for 29 years.”

So, I have her permission-She is definitely a lady, and she is proud of being “old” (of course, she’s pretty close to my age and that makes her young as far as I’m concerned).

I noticed a large stand of mums that looked like they would be late bloomers. I can relate to that, also. Marion told me that these were the yellows and that they will bloom around November 9. She said they loved the frost. The plants were tall and straggly. I can relate to that, also.

Marion doesn't know where this one came from. Evolution, maybe?

Marion doesn’t know where this one came from. Evolution, maybe?

Marion showed me one last plant just starting to flower. She said, “I don’t know where the apricot colored mum came from. It just showed up one day. The only thing I can figure is that a couple of the other ones cross pollinated and spread their seeds.”

I love the way these mums poke their heads up through the ferns.

I love the way these mums poke their heads up through the ferns.

So far, that’s as far as I’ve gotten into the concept. Marion told me that the pink mum is named Ryan’s Daisy and that she bought it from Blue Stone Perennials  That’s a new one for me, also. I guess I have some work to do because I WILL have me some “old lady mums” in my garden next year.

As usual, I would just love for you click here to go to Amazon and purchase the ebook edition of my wonderful book, Requiem for a Redneck to go on your Kindle. I have also noticed that Amazon now has a free Kindle app for iphones and tablets. Is that cool or what?

If you want a consultation in your yard in N.W. Georgia, send me an email at


How to deal with mums

How to deal with mums:

Ruth Shaw asked,

What do I do with my Chrysanthemums when they quit blooming?



Garden mums custom grown for a late October wedding

I am writing this with the expectations of being able to refer people to my blog instead of answering it six times a day.  You can plant and grow mums in the garden outside.  Here’s how it works:



In mid November, this mum has seen its better days

A lot of beautiful mums were sold in the months of September and October.  Chrysanthemums are fun to watch and grow. There is a trigger for the blooms on most plants.  Crape myrtles bloom with the effects of temperature.  Azaleas bloom after their flower buds have gone through a period of cold followed by a period of warmth.  (This excludes the Encore azaleas which are different—more about these in a separate blog.).

Chrysanthemums respond to a phenomenon called “photoperiodism”. This means that their blooming is regulated by day length (photo=light + “period”).  Mums grown in an unregulated environment will bloom naturally in the fall.  They will develop their vegetative growth in the summer months and then form flower buds in August and September.  There are many different varieties that bloom earlier or later.  The professional growers will produce several of these varieties in order to extend the selling season.  For seasonal mums at the nursery, rooted cuttings are planted in pots somewhere around the first of July and are “pinched” to form branching until about August 15, timing depending on variety.  The fully branched plants are then grown out into the specimens that you see at nurseries, grocery stores, and flea markets.

Poinsettias also set their bloom by the number of hours of daylight/darkness.

Florist mums are grown differently.  Special and fancier varieties are grown in a greenhouse in which the light may be regulated.  This is commonly done by pulling a shade cloth over the plants at a certain time of day.  The production of florist mums is highly specialized and takes quite a bit of knowledge, talent, and educated labor.

Chrysanthemums are perennial plants and should grow and return anywhere south of the Mason Dixon line.  I’m not quite sure how far north they will survive, but they do will here in north Georgia and my mother grows them in Kingsport, Tennessee.

When your chrysanthemum quits blooming cut off the spent blooms.  Cut the tops of the plants down to 2/3 of the plant’s original size.  Keeping in mind that mums like lots and lots of light, prepare a space in the garden.  Due to photoperiodism, you will want to find a place that is not under or near a street light or other long burning outside lighting fixture.

Shake the pruned plant out of the pot and look at it.  Most growers will put two or three or more plants in the pot, depending on the pot size.  You may divide these if desired, or you may just choose to plant the entire plant as it comes from the pot.  If you wish to divide the plant, carefully slide a butcher knife between the individual plants and cut the root ball.

It is important that you break up the root ball of the plant so that the roots will grow out and into the soil instead of remaining in a tight ball that is caused by the flower pot.  Don’t be afraid to be a little rough with the roots.

The rest is easy, dig a hole, add some organic material, add a teaspoon, more or less of  Osmocote,  cover the roots, pack the dirt down, and water when needed.

For growing out the following spring, you should cut back the dead stems from the year before and watch the little plants grow.  Prune the plants around July 1 and then again around August 1-15.  This will encourage branching which will give you more blooms.  During active periods of growth, fertilize the plants every couple of weeks with a little liquid feed.  This will supplement the effects of the Osmocote.

I found out by accident one time that you should leave the dead stems all winter and remove them after the plant starts to grow again in the spring.  This seems to insulate the new shoots from the cold.

Florist mums that have spent their lives either inside a greenhouse or in another warm environment may not do as well as the garden mums.  If you take a plant out of the warm house and plant it outside in the winter time it won’t have time to become acclimated to the cold and will probably croak. These plants will probably do better if kept in a warm, bright window until spring.

By the way, did you know that you can bonsai a chrysanthemum?  I think there is a chrysanthemum bonsai society.  I’ve never done it, but I have seen some beautiful pictures.

Enjoy the planting

Grow it.

John P. Schulz

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