The colors of autumn have arrived, and along with them the painful reminder that I have no talent for growing mums. Being born under the sign of Earth, I am an avid gardener, having completed master gardener and herbology classes. I have successfully grown everything from peanuts to horseradish to Rosemary. When it comes to growing mums, I am a failure.
This beautiful fall plant, with its large variety of colors, dates back 2,000 plus years, and over time gardeners have developed hundred of hybrid species. For hundreds of years they have been prized by Chinese gardeners. In the fall, I see them everywhere, on porches, in gardens, at grocery stores.
So why is it I can’t grown and enjoy mums? Although I had seen them growing everywhere, I didn’t have one until I received one as a gift from a friend a few years ago. It had yellow flowers and was displayed in a lovely brown basket with a big bow. I didn’t look into how to care for it, thinking it was like other plants, so I kept it on my shady porch and watered it when the soil felt dry. Before it got too cold I moved it to my garden. It did not come back in the spring of the following year. Why had it died?
I decided to try again. I started reading some books on the care of mums and talking with nursery experts (the internet was not available back then). One expert said I probably didn’t have the hardy type of mum. These are the kind that last through winter after winter. Fine; that fall I bought two purple flowered, hearty ones and planted them on either side of my sidewalk. They looked gorgeous there and I was ever so proud. I just knew these would come back in the spring. They didn’t. What did I do wrong this time?
I went back to the nursery and talked with the expert again, explaining that the mums did not come back. She asked where I planted them, how many hours of sun did they get each day, and about the soil drainage. From our discussion I believed that they weren’t getting enough sun. Once again, that fall I bought two burnt orange flowered, hearty mums, and planted them on either side of my sidewalk, but further down where they would get more sun. I checked the soil for proper drainage and was convinced this was the perfect place. Sure enough, when spring came, I could see small leaves starting to sprout up among the grass. I was very excited until I came home one day to find my husband, not knowing they were there, had mowed them down. They never came back. No need to wonder what went wrong this time.
Not to be discouraged, the next fall I bought two more purple flowered, hearty mums, planted them in a sunny, well drained, safe area in my garden and waited. Spring comes and everything sprouts, except for my mums. Ugh! By this time, the internet is popular, so I turn to it for research, read more books, and talk with more nursery experts.
Although some people can stick a mum in the ground and see it return year after year, there are some, like myself, who can not. What I learned from my experience and research is you need a safe, sunny spot (at least eight hours a day), well drained soil, and protect the plant in winter with some sort of covering, like mulch. Also, mums do better if they are planted in the spring because they develop a better root system. To grow plants that produce more flowers in the fall, you need to pinch back the growing tips in the spring to mid summer.
Knowing what I know now, I could probably successfully grow mums. I just haven’t had the courage to try yet.