Ah – the sights, sounds and smells of autumn… grasses and the leaves on trees changing from vibrant greens to oranges and yellows, fallen leaves crackling underfoot, and the aroma of brisk air and… mums. If you have been to the store recently, you will have seen rows upon rows upon rows of mums that are ready to decorate your yard and your containers for the fall.
In Wisconsin, garden mums (Chrysanthemum spp. and their hybrids) are emblematic of autumn, but the flowers are popular around the world. Native to Asia, mums have long been used in traditional medicines to treat lung diseases as well as to relieve cold and flu symptoms. The Japanese hold an annual festival to celebrate the chrysanthemum, which symbolizes the beauty of the flower and to honor Japanese culture. To the Victorians, mums represented cheerfulness. Festivals abound in the United States as well, but most of us are happy just to enjoy the site and aroma of mums around our home gardens.
One concern that is voiced frequently is whether or not mums will return the following year. The answer is a definite… perhaps. Mums are considered a tender perennial and in our northern climate, we generally enjoy them as annuals. Because of that, you may ignore spacing for the future when you plant them, and instead mass them closely together for a spectacular fall effect.
Still, I always hope to see them reappear in the spring despite the many variables over which we have no control, including repeated freeze/thaw cycles or an especially bitter winter. Certainly the sooner you plant them in the ground in order to give them the chance to develop their root system, the greater chance they will survive the winter. After the frost kills the foliage, cut them back, mulch them heavily with straw or leaves, and make a wish for good snow cover.
While mums epitomize the fall garden, they are just one of the many celebratory plants of the season. Great companions include cool weather-loving pansies, ornamental kale, ornamental grasses, and perennials such as sedums and asters, both of which are pollinator favorites. Consider colorful Swiss chard (both lovely and delicious), and vibrant purple Celosia to add spice to your landscape. Any of these can be used to replace a bare spot in your flower garden, or to replace a flagging annual in your summer flower containers. Try including an herb as a condiment in your containers, such as thyme or golden oregano, both of which will flow over the sides of pots and are infinitely useful in the kitchen.
Come into the store to celebrate cooler weather and brisk mornings! See you soon!