Alabama Fall Gardeners: How NOT to Kill Your Moms

Chrysanthemums, also known as chrysanthemums, are iconic features of each year’s fall horticulture. Many Alabamians love to see the bright blooms of chrysanthemums contrast with the fall landscape.

As beautiful as the mothers can be, they can be difficult to care for, said Lucy Edwards, Chilton County outreach coordinator.

“There are two main categories of mums: floral and garden,” Edwards said. “Flowering chrysanthemums are those that are not normally grown outdoors and are sold by florists for making arrangements. Garden mums are the ones people see in garden centers in the fall.”

Chrysanthemums are classified by flower type and shape. The two most common types are daisy chrysanthemums and decorative flower chrysanthemums. Colors range from white, bronze, yellow, red, coral and pink, to lavender and red.

Choosing the right moms

For some chrysanthemum enthusiasts, choosing the best mum might be just as important as choosing the perfect Christmas tree. Edwards said there are a couple of characteristics to consider when choosing the right mother:

Mothers require water, well-drained soil, and plenty of sun. (Mississippi State University Extension / Gary Bachman)

Buy chrysanthemums with unopened flowers. When shopping for a chrysanthemum, it can be tempting to choose the largest, fully blooming plant. Be sure to buy chrysanthemums with the flowers not fully open. This choice will allow for a longer flowering time once you get it home.

Always check for insects and disease. Nobody wants a sick plant. Watch for powdery mildew on mothers. This disease can occur after the hot and humid fall seasons. To control mildew, remove all infected leaves and treat the stem with a properly labeled fungicide.

caring for moms

Once you’ve learned about mums and how to choose the right one at your local garden center, the next step is to keep them alive. Here are some guidelines on caring for mothers:

Check the soil and the sun. To reduce it, mums need moist, well-draining soil combined with more than six hours of daily sunlight. Whether you prefer a mum transplanted from its original pot or planted in a landscape, the same rules apply.

Planting depth is important. “Plant your mums as deep as the size of their original containers,” Edwards said. “It is better to plant too shallow than too deep.”

Divide and conquer. Edwards said that garden mums will flower best if they are divided every two to three years. Otherwise, any new growth will be long and spindly with fewer flowers.

Make a little pinch of spring. Pinching back new growth in the spring will stimulate side shoots, providing more blooms and a fuller plant. Do not pinch after July or the mother may not have time for the flowers to develop.

Potted or planted mums are a staple of fall gardens in the South. (Mississippi State University Extension / Gary Bachman)

Water, water and water again. Edwards said the most common mistake in caring for moms is forgetting to water them every day. In the autumn months, rainfall can be scant, meaning regular watering may be required, ensuring that excess water drains from a pot or runs off naturally outside the planting site. A good routine is to feel the soil for moisture each day to a depth of 1 inch. If it feels wet, wait a day and check again. If it feels dry in the top inch, be sure to water that day.

If you’re prone to forgetting to water, replant the mum in a container that has a reservoir or add a saucer to catch the water. These will extend the time between waterings.

“It is easy to assume that the plant is fine. Too often, cooler temperatures lead us to neglect watering,” said Edwards. “Before we know it, there’s a dead plant on the front porch.”

Share these “mom musts” with others. Now that you know your mom’s needs, help a neighbor by sharing these tips. For more information on mums and other seasonal plants, visit the Alabama Extension website at www.aces.edu.

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