5 Common Mistakes People Make With Garden Mums
Avoid these common no-nos and keep your gorgeous fall bloomers looking their best. Also, use these tips to transfer potted mums to the garden.
Often thought of as seasonal potted plants, many homeowners decorate their entryways with mums to celebrate fall. Sadly, once the flowers fade, the plants often end up in the trash or compost bin.
But did you know that hardy mums (also referred to as garden mums) are tough enough to get through winters as far north as Zone 4? When taken care of properly, garden mums will put on a colorful display each autumn. They generally bloom from September through November and will stay vibrant for several weeks.
If you plant hardy mums in your fall flower bed, stay clear of these five mistakes and your beautiful flowers will be viable for years to come.
Mistake 1: Planting Garden Mums in the Fall
While it’s true that mums are most often seen in garden centers in the late summer, you don’t want to plant them at that time of the year because it’s likely they won’t survive the winter. It’s best to plant them in the spring after the last frost so that the roots have a chance to grow a while before the colder months.
To plant them, find a sunny spot with well-drained soil. Mums prefer a slightly acidic pH, so conducting a soil test would help determine whether a pH adjustment is necessary. When the mums are in the ground, water once a week through fall.
Mistake 2: Neglecting to Prepare Your Mums for Winter
After the first hard frost hits your garden in the fall, it’s time to start prepping your mums for winter. Since cutting away faded flowers and foliage may stimulate new growth that wouldn’t survive a freeze, it’s best not to do so. Instead, focus on protecting the plant’s shallow roots by applying a 3-inch-thick layer of shredded leaves or wood mulch around its base. This will help to insulate the soil, keeping it at a constant temperature rather than fluctuating between freezing and thawing. Temperature swings stress plants and can even force them out of the ground, so the more you protect them from this, the better.
When it comes to the potted mums you find in garden centers in the fall, overwinter them indoors. To do so, cut off the stems at pot level and then position the pots in a cool, dark area. The basement or an unseated garage are perfect spots. Water the plants about once a week, just so the roots don’t dry out completely. They will go dormant until spring, when they can safely be moved outside again.
Mistake 3: Pruning at the Wrong Time of Year
Do not prune hardy mums in the fall, as the new stems most likely won’t be strong enough to survive the winter. The best time to prune them and encourage new growth is actually springtime. Once the temperatures warm and remain above freezing, use pruners to snip off last year’s stems at soil level. Remove any remaining mulch from around the plants and add either compost or some 10-10-10 fertilizer to fuel new growth. Keep the soil moderately moist as the plants begin growing and be sure that the bed stays weed-free.
If you have potted mums that were kept indoors for the winter, gradually start exposing them to light before taking them outside and putting them in the ground. Once they are planted, treat them as you would other mums in your garden.
Mistake 4: Forgetting to Trim Back Mums in Summer
Nearly as important as a spring trim, cutting mums back to about half their height in the middle of summer is also beneficial, as it prevents them from getting too tall and flopping over. For ‘Igloo series’ mum varieties, wait to trim them until after their first bloom, and then enjoy the second bloom in the fall. Use a water-soluble fertilizer supplement to advance strong bud formation and branching.
Mistake 5: Not Dividing Your Plants
Just like other perennial plants, hardy mums must be divided every couple of years so that they stay healthy and vigorous. Divide them in the springtime by digging up the plants after new growth has started. Using the side of a spade, slice through the root ball and divide it into several chunks. Then, replant the new pieces and water them well. By dividing the plants, you’re giving the roots plenty of space to grow and making it easier for them to get the water and nutrients they require.