I’ve never had much luck when it comes to growing chrysanthemums. Yet year after year, just about the time that pumpkins and pansies and hay bales begin appearing, so too do these bold blooms in rich shades of purple, pink, red, russet and gold. They never fail to lure me in.
Mums come to the fore on the cusp of autumn, when the days are shorter and there is a crispness in the air. Suddenly these plump plants with big beckoning blossoms are everywhere: in nurseries, big box stores, grocery stores, even convenience stores, beckoning me to give them one more try.
And autumn after autumn, I do. But no matter where I purchase them, or how I care for them, they never seem to last long enough for my liking.
My chrysanthemum enthusiasm wanes fairly quickly. I have given up planting fall mums in my flower beds. Instead, I now consider them as I do annuals, to be enjoyed while they last, in pots whether indoors or out.
The exception is a treasure I found at a nursery some years ago that has enhanced my garden ever since: Ajania pacifica. The tag read “Pacifica Mum” when I purchased it, and it has also been called chrysanthemum pacificum. It is a Japanese species in the aster family with small yellow flowers that bloom in the fall and lobed green leaves edged in silver. I discovered it in the spring and that is when it went into the ground, which has probably made all the difference because it gave the roots time to really get established. To my delight, it comes back year after year, forming a bushy mound, and pinching it back in mid-spring keeps it compact.
But besides this accidental discovery, along the way I have also learned a few tips about mums in general. Whether planted in pots or in the ground, they like well-drained soil, but they need the soil to be moist. Too wet, they die. Too dry, same result.
If you want to plant fall mums in your garden, get them in the ground fairly quickly. No lingering too long in their pots. While they prefer full sun, they bloom in response to short days and long nights, so avoid streetlights or other night lights. And find protected areas, away from exposure to cold, drying northerly winds. Deadheading the flowers as soon as they begin to fade keeps mums blooming until freezing weather arrives.
I continue to enjoy fall chrysanthemums in pots in sunny spots in my home, on the patios and porches. And I have learned that one of the best ways to extend that season is to repot them immediately after purchase in a somewhat larger pot to give their roots room to spread.
But I no longer struggle to try to “perennialize” them; I have my trusty “Ajania” for that.