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Growing Green: Chrysanthemum is November in bloom

In its native Asia, November’s birth flower, the chrysanthemum, or mum, came only in shades of gold, hence the prefix “chrys” which means golden.

Gone are the days when gold is the only color available. A rainbow of colors can be found at your local nursery in single colors and bi-colors.

Autumn is when mums are in full bloom, Autumn is also the time when you can buy mums by the bushel for decorating.

Horticultural-speaking, mums should be planted in the spring. By the time they are in full bloom, they are past their prime. If planted, mums will most likely not survive the winter. Why?

Mums put all their energy into blooming and have none left to encourage root growth. With no strong root system, they can’t survive.

Even spring planting can be hit or miss if you are in an area where winter temperatures regularly fall below zero degrees Fahrenheit. Fortunately, the Lehigh Valley region typically does not get below-zero temperatures for an extended period of time.

Iowa State University conducted a study that found that unpruned plants will survive at much lower temperatures than plants that have been pruned or “neatened up.”

Even though it may not look as good, leave the dead foliage on your plants after the bloom period to give them every possible chance of making it through the bleak midwinter. Four to six inches of mulch applied after the ground has frozen will keep them snug.

If you bought mums for decorating, you can try bringing them inside to a basement or cool, dark closet or garage for the winter. With a bit of luck, they will hibernate until spring when you can plant them.

When planting, keep in mind that mums grow best planted in full sun. Mums’ shallow roots can’t compete with larger roots, so don’t plant them too close to trees or shrubs. Make sure the planting site has good water drainage.

Mums will grow in just about any soil. Before you plant, dig in plenty of organic matter such as composted manure or garden compost around the area where you will plant your mums. Space your mums 18 to 24 inches apart.

Mums need a lot of nitrogen. You can provide the needed nitrogen and other nutrients by using a balanced fertilizer (10-10-10) sprinkled over the roots of the plant or by using a generous amount of organic fertilizer (garden compost or manure). Carefully follow fertilizer label directions in order to prevent over-feeding the plant and causing fertilizer run-off.

Plants that go in the ground healthy require less care in the long run. When you are looking at plants to buy, make sure you get plants without diseases or insects.

How will you know if there are diseases or insects? Look at the leaves for signs of disease (spotted or wilted leaves) and signs of insect damage (holes, strangely-shaped leaves, or winding trailing inside the leaves).

Also look at the flowers. If many are lopsided, then there are either insects on the plant now or there were insects at one time.

After the mums are growing, mulch with two inches of organic mulch, but not grass clippings. Mulch the root area of the plant but try to keep the mulch from touching the plant stems. Mulching will cut down on the amount of watering you need to do and control weeds.

Water the plants for the first few weeks following planting. Water the plants slowly and deeply to avoid a shallow watering which will not do the plant as much good. Watch how dry the soil is because mum roots are shallow and the plants may get dry quickly.

“Growing Green” is contributed by Lehigh County Extension Office Staff and Master Gardeners. Information: Lehigh County Extension Office, 610-391-9840; Northampton County Extension Office, 610-813-6613.

CONTRIBUTED PHOTO BY DIANE DORN The Chrysanthemum is November's birth flower.