(Mountain Grove) – Chrysanthemums that is. As if this season, with below normal temperatures in spring and a very wet summer have not been strange enough, it now looks as though fall might be early to arrive. In fact, the first potted mum plants have arrived in stores.
Mums belong to a very large family of plants called Asteraceae or Compositae, also called the sunflower family. That means they are related to many other popular garden flowers like sunflowers, but also to calendulas, dahlias, zinnias and various daisies. Its family tree also includes the not so popular dandelion and edible plants like lettuce and artichokes. Mums have a very long history in China going back several thousand years. In Japan they have grown for nearly as long, and they are part of each country’s history, legends and culture in many ways. Mums are the official flower of Japan.
Mums come in many sizes, flower shapes and colors. The size ranges from the small, tightly petalled button mums to the gigantic spiky football mums, and the height of the plant varies between 8 and 36 inches correspondingly. The original mums were gold colored (in Greek “chrysos” means gold), and today their colors range from white, yellow, gold, amber and rust reds. The lilac color is less common.
Many mums are hardy in zone 5, but most often the more unusual types of mums and those used by florists in flower arrangement are not quite winter cold hardy around here. Those that do survive can sometimes be downright invasive, as I found out after a friend gave me some starts of a daisy flowered Korean mum. It spread not only by short runners, but also by seed. I did not mind too much though, because they spread slowly and form nice clumps in the process, and the seedlings turn out to have variations in color. Also this particular type of mum does not require cutting back during the summer.
If you want to plant mums bought at a local store in the fall, don’t plant them too late; they won’t have time to establish their roots in the new soil before the ground gets too cold. Mums are available in the spring, mostly from mail order sources, and these will bloom in September/October if you cut or pinch them back every 4-6 weeks. Short types of mums should be pinched back when the shoots are 3-4 inches long, tall types 6-7 inches long. This will force the plants to branch out, becoming denser with more flowers and shorter, sturdier stems. You can do this until about the middle of July, and then let the flowers develop. Pinching delays bloom, otherwise, like those mums that I forgot to pinch back this year, they might start blooming in August, leaving nothing for the much needed fall color!
Mums that are not hardy in Missouri can be grown as annuals, often added to otherwise bare borders in fall just when they are starting to bloom. The Missouri Botanical Garden featured some really amazing looking spider type mums in their Chinese garden last year. These are not pinched back, instead all side shoots are removed to produce a plant with just a single, but huge, showy flower.
Direct comments or questions concerning this column to Marilyn Odneal via email at MarilynOdneal@missouristate.edu; write to Missouri State Fruit Experiment Station, 9740 Red Spring Road, Mountain Grove, Mo. 65711; or call (417) 547-7500. Visit our Web site at http://mtngrv.missouristate.edu.