Just because temperatures are cooling down doesn’t mean that you can’t still enjoy some flowers in your landscape — you just have to choose the right ones. In Kansas City, frost comes in mid to late October, but hardy chrysanthemums can stand up to some cold nights without looking any worse for wear.
Mums are the stars of the autumn garden because they’re both tough and beautiful. Here’s how to get the most out of hardy chrysanthemums in your landscape.
Growing Zones: 3-9, depending on variety
Bloom Time: Late summer through late fall
Exposure: Full sun for garden perennials; full sun to part shade for container plantings
Appearance: Chrysanthemums come in a range of colors, including yellow, orange, red, purple, pink and white. Double flowers look like carnations while singles resemble daisies. Bright pom-poms are the most common.
Growing Chrysanthemums in Containers
The easiest way to add a punch of color to your fall landscape is to pick up some potted mums at your local nursery. These have already been expertly tended throughout the summer to shape the plant into a pleasing, rounded mound. Though mums are long-lasting blooms, you’ll get the most out of your flowers if you choose ones that are still in the bud stage rather than fully open the day you bring them home.
If you don’t mind the way the plant’s original container looks, you can simply arrange a few pots of hardy mums on your porch for a pop of color. If you prefer to transplant them into a decorative container or window boxes, be sure to use a rich potting soil with a healthy dose of organic compost mixed in. Keep your mums watered by checking the soil daily: If the soil is dry up to your first knuckle when you insert your index finger, water your mums until water runs out drainage holes in your pot.
Most hardy mums can take a light frost, but if you’re expecting temperatures to dip down to 30 degrees, consider covering your pots with a blanket overnight to protect them.
Growing Chrysanthemums in the Landscape
Though they’re most popular for use as potted plants, your mums can survive the winter if you plant them in the ground. Unfortunately, it’s too late for a plant purchased in October to put down enough roots to make it through a KC winter, but you can plan ahead to enjoy mums in your landscape by planting them in the spring. Ask your nursery for very young transplants, or purchase seeds to start your mums in pots indoors at the beginning of March.
Plant your spring mums outside after all danger of frost has passed, typically by the third week of April. They’ll look tidy at the front of your garden border or along a path. Be sure to amend the planting area by adding compost to the soil — up to a 50-50 mixture is good for these heavy feeders. Water your transplants well, and track your rainfall: They need about 1 inch of water per week to flourish, so you may have to water them during any dry spells.
For neat, low mounds of flowers, pinch your mums back once they reach 5 to 6 inches in height to encourage bushier growth. Continue tipping them back until mid-July, then let them grow without further intervention for a big show of fall color. If you prefer taller flowers on long stems — a good choice for the middle of your flower border — you can skip the pinching process entirely.
Once the flowers and leaves have died back in the winter, you can trim the stems to just above the ground for a neater appearance. It’s also a good idea to mulch over the mums with straw to protect them from freezing.