FROM ONE GARDENER TO ANOTHER: Wintering chrysanthemums for spring planting | Columns

The fall color this year is extraordinary. I’ve been back and forth in central and southern Alabama, and the normally ho-hum reader is now full of vibrant colors. I have to be careful to keep my eyes on the road instead of admiring the passing scenery.

When I get home, I’m treated to the reds, oranges and yellows of my trees and shrubs, as well as the plethora of flowers covering the chrysanthemums I planted earlier this year and the potted ones that line my steps. .

They are pretty much at the end of their flowering period, and it saddens me to see so many spent chrysanthemum containers thrown away. Commonly referred to as mums, these brightly colored shrubs are actually perennials, which means they can be planted in the ground to enjoy year after year.

The best time to plant moms is in the spring. While they produce buds in the summer and bloom during the fall months, they put all of their energy into producing flowers, which means they put no energy into establishing roots. Mums can be planted when purchased in early fall, but they may or may not be able to establish roots before frost arrives.

Luckily, whether you decide to plant them in the spring or keep them in their containers for porch decor next fall, it’s pretty easy to overwinter them if you follow a few basic tips to make it happen.

First of all, make sure that you buy moms that are of the hearty variety. Moms sold by florists are generally not winter hardy. They are grown for their unique flowers, shape or size and are simply ornamental. Buy moms with buds that have not yet opened for a longer flowering period. Water potted moms frequently, as an abundance of flowers results in a thirsty plant.

You can overwinter chrysanthemums in pots by first cutting the plant after flowering is complete, leaving between 3 and 5 inches of stem. Water the plant well and cover with mulch. Moms can spend the winter in a cool, dark basement or in a cold closet. The key here is to keep them in a cool climate, between 32 and 50 degrees Fahrenheit, and in a dark area. Keep the soil slightly moist during the winter.

Moms can spend the winter in an unheated garage; however, garage temperatures can fluctuate with outdoor temperatures and drop below the ideal range. Although mums planted in the ground can withstand temperatures of up to 20 degrees with proper mulching, potted plants do not have soil insulation. Therefore, when wintering in a garage, additional insulation, such as burlap, will be required.

Gradually introduce the plant to the light before bringing it back outside, once the threat of frost has passed. If you are planning on planting your mom, ensure her success by following a few simple care instructions.

Plant the moms in a sunny location that offers some protection when the winter winds return. Mums should be planted in well-drained soil. This is especially important, as moms will die from ice that will form around its roots in soil that retains water.

The following winter, once in the ground and after a few frosts, the mother’s leaves will turn brown. Now is the time to reduce its foliage to 3 to 4 inches above the ground. Do not cut down to the ground as new stems will grow from the old stems. Cover the plant with a thick layer of mulch after the first frost to help isolate the plant and prevent heaving.

Uplift is the process of soil swelling and compaction when the ground freezes and defrosts. When not properly mulched, soil temperature fluctuates and roots can be lifted off the ground, leaving them unprotected and susceptible to cold damage. Remove the mulch from the plant in the spring after the last frost.

Potted and planted chrysanthemums benefit from pinching the stems from early to mid-summer to promote bushier plants and prevent early flowering, which will dramatically shorten fall color. To pinch, remove the top two inches of the plant and up to half its size, leaving at least 6 sets of leaves on the stem. This can be done several times during the summer, depending on the growth rate. Stop pinching in late June to allow buds to form for fall flowers.

Mums are a finicky perennial, but with the right care they can add beautiful color to your fall garden for years to come. See you next week, good gardening.

– Ireland, a member of the Limestone County Master Gardeners, can be contacted at [email protected] Visit for more information on Limestone County Master Gardeners.

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