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Illinois Country Living

October 2007 Issue: FeatureCommentaryCurrents SafetyGardenEnergy SolutionsFinest CookingMore

Yard & Garden

Chrysanthemums--October Garden Stalwarts
Treat them like an annual plant or get them to overwinter

David Robson
Extension Educator, Horticulture, at the Springfield Extension Center, University of Illinois Extension.


October's weather runs the gamut from hot and dry to crisp and cool. Through it all, there's one stalwart in the garden - the chrysanthemum.

The "Chrysanthemum" genus is more than just the fall garden mum, though there's arguments over just what should be included or not. It's changed back and forth for the last 50 years and probably will change again. Genetic testing is the culprit.

Close relatives include the "Leucanthemum" and "Dendranthemum;" the garden mum was one time lumped into the latter.

The potted and cut florist mums, as well as the garden mums, are the two most popular members of the plant genus. Generally speaking, the florist mums are definitely not hardy outside, but for that matter, many will argue that the hardy mum isn't either.

The term "hardy mum" is somewhat a misnomer in Illinois when you consider the mums you buy in September and October. If you had bought them in May and tended them, they probably would overwinter.

But in the fall, the mum has spent all its energy trying to set flowers and little on developing a root system. Sticking the plant in the ground still doesn't give the plant enough time to adapt to the soil and prepare for winter.

Therefore, you're stuck with a plant that blooms its heart out this fall, but by next spring will be nothing but a bunch of soggy twigs that just take up garden space.

The plants are seldom hardy, pure and simple. Just remember that and you won't be disappointed.

True, occasionally you will run into a plant that keeps growing year after year. Chalk it up to good loose soil, a mild winter, or just a plant with stronger genes.

The good news is that mums, like poinsettias, seem to have gotten cheaper over the years.

Which is good. You can treat them like an annual plant that you just pop into the ground, sun or shade, garden or pot, and enjoy them for the season. That's wonderful.

Hardy mums are generally divided into three types depending on when they bloom - early, mid-season or late.

Early mums start in September, mid-season the end of September to the first of October, and late-season around Oct. 15 in central Illinois. You might want to add or subtract a couple of weeks depending on whether you're a farther south or north of the middle of the state.

Plants are marginally hardy, and can withstand a light frost with only some browning of the flowers but a strong freeze will do them in. Still, you can cover them with a flowerpot, leaves or even loose straw to get them through an early freeze.

Besides the season of blooms, you can categorize the plants by the type of bloom. For the most part, mums come as daisy poms or cushion types.

Daisies are just what you'd think they are. You have the colorful outer petals and a bright eye, usually green, in the middle. Flower stems aren't as long, nor are flowers as wide as typical Shasta daisies.

Cushion mums are just row after row after row of petals. There's not a center eye, just more petals.

Longevity isn't based on the type of flower but the weather and plant genetics.

When buying a plant, look for one with lots of buds and just a few open flowers. That way you'll be able to enjoy it for a couple of weeks or month.

The more sun you give the plant, the brighter the flowers will be. However, the buds are already set so you could put the plant in the shade and they'll still bloom.

The most important aspect, though, is water. Fall rains may not be consistent and a blooming plant really does need lots of water. The root system isn't growing in heavy soil; in fact, it's probably mostly peat moss. Watering the plant every day is something you might have to do.

If you want to try to overwinter the plant, cover it with straw or loose leaves for the winter, making sure the ground is moist before it freezes, but not soggy.

For More Information check out the University of Illinois Web site at:
You can contact David Robson via E-mail:

Or write to him in care of:

Illinois Country Living
P.O. Box 3787,
Springfield, IL 62708.

Telephone: (217) 782-6515


© 2007 Illinois Country Living Magazine.
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