Every corner in my town is starting to glow with beautiful autumn displays. Residents decorate their yards and businesses create colorful entrances with straw bales, pumpkins and hardy mums. The mums are inexpensive and everywhere, from the big box stores, our local fruit stand and even the supermarkets offer them. The mums come in a rainbow of fall hues and most people don't realize it, but these are a hardy perennial that shouldn't be discarded after the season is over. These great plants can be placed in the ground to repeat their show each autumn if we wish. However, they cost so little, many folks use them as a throwaway decoration.
Although chrysanthemums take on many forms and colors these days, it was also historical plant well known by the ancients. The Greeks (who have given us the names for many things) gave us the familiar handle; chrysos (gold) and anthemon (flower) since the earliest examples of the plant were deep yellow. Native to the Middle East and Asia, the chrysanthemum was better known for its herbal and edible properties instead of decorative. Tea made from the flowers is antibacterial and anti-inflammatory. It was often used as a treatment for influenza, sore throats and high blood pressure. The dried flowers are still available in Asian health food markets or it is easy to dry the blossoms to make your own. Just remember to use clean flowers that haven't been sprayed with pesticides or been exposed to automobile exhaust. Use about 3 teaspoons of the dried petals in a cup of hot water and let it steep for 5 minutes. The effects are calming, much like chamomile tea. The leaves were also used in stir fry and as a potherb in Asian cooking and were also used as a traditional flavoring for rice wine. They also make a wonderful natural dye in shades of gold, brown and olive. Mordant with alum for the golds, iron for the browns and copper for the green shades.
Chrysanthemums are significant in many cultures around the world. They are known as a funeral flower in eastern and southern Europe and parts of Asia. However they are the special sigil of the Japanese Emperor and his Chrysanthemum Crest is one of the most iconic and revered symbols in Japan. In the U.S. The chrysanthemum is a symbol of celebration. There are very few homecoming queens in this country that do not have a large, puffy football mum corsage pinned to their shoulder and smaller varieties are often seen in wedding bouquets too. We do love our hardy mums that are so iconic of our autumn season and are a celebration of harvest and Thanksgiving.
Choosing the best mums for your display isn't hard and although we are all tempted to pick the containers in full, glorious bloom, it is much better to select plants where the flowers are just starting to open. This gives you a longer lasting display since the containers at peak will fade shortly. Treat the container mums like any other potted plant in your collection. Make sure they have ample water and plenty of sunshine. If they are situated in the shade, the blossoms will open, but not with the same numbers as the ones that have at least 6 hours of sun each day. Once the show is over and the flowers fade, you an incorporate the plants in your perennial beds.
Transplant them as you would any other perennial, making sure to untangle the roots that may be growing around the edges of the container. Chances are they are pot-bound and spreading the outside roots a bit will make for a healthier plant. Situate them in moderately fertile ground and in full sun, but remember that if they are close to street lights or other artificial lighting, those will upset the flowering schedule. The soil shouldn't dry out, but remember that mums hate wet feet so good drainage is essential. Continue to water as needed until frost kills the tops back. You can then trim the dead foliage and mulch lightly. Come spring as new shoots appear dress with an all-purpose 15-15-15 fertilizer to ensure healthy growth and once the plants reach about 6 inches tall pinch the growing tips to encourage branching. Do this every six weeks or so until the end of June to allow the flower buds to form.
If you have a favorite plant that is especially attractive, mums are easy to propagate. Take cuttings in early summer from soft, new growth before the flower buds have started to form. The cuttings should be 3 to 4 inches long and the cut should be just below a set of leaves. Strip the lower half of the stem of leaves and dip the end in rooting hormone. Place your cuttings in damp perlite and situate in a sheltered area with bright light, but no direct sun. Full sun will cook your fragile cuttings. Make sure that the perlite stays damp. Some people poke a couple of sticks or dowels in the soil and lightly cover with a plastic baggie to keep in humidity, but if you do this, make sure that you leave a small opening or poke a few holes in it so air can circulate. If the conditions are too damp, mold is a problem. You should see new growth in between 4 to 6 weeks.
Enjoy the season and cooler weather with hardy mums in your gardens. They are inexpensive and easy to grow.