Fall Decorating: Mums 101

fall decorating mums header

It is hard to admit at any point in the year that you are ready for cooler weather, especially here in the northeast. I admit it, I cringed a little when we ran out of vegetable and annual six packs in the greenhouse, I even panicked a bit when the black-eyed-susans and giant hibiscus buds started blooming, and when the back to school advertisements started flying I was the first to question where summer went. However, I think we may be at that point after the overly humid, too hot to breathe, “might have melted to the seat” weather may be getting a bit long in the tooth. All of these signs point to one inevitable fact. Summer will soon come to an end. The seasons fly too fast, especially when you work in a seasonal whirlwind. April-Mid July pass in the blink of an eye in a green house and I am just not ready to accept the likelihood that this winter may bring the wrath that last year’s left at home, possibly with a hidden vendetta. (Dramatic much?)

fall decorations
Most fortunately, to ease us into the cold we are gifted with arguably the most exquisite season of all: Autumn. Fall brings with it some of the best our area has to offer; crisp air, colorful foliage and crunching leaves, apple picking and cider donuts, hot drinks and sweater weather, the relief of picking your final zucchinis to pumpkin and butternut squash and Friday night football games, jack-o-lanterns, corn stalks and scarecrows…I could continue for pages.
Many of our guests visit in the springtime when the greenhouses are filled to the gills with bright and blooming annuals, but what so many don’t realize is as soon as summer is underway we are busily preparing for the fall; planting fields of pumpkins and over 15,000 fall mums. With irrigation fields at both locations we spend our summer nurturing the quintessential fall décor.

fall mums

“Why Mums?”
Mums are one of the most popular plants to decorate with in the fall as they can withstand cooler nighttime temperatures then most other blooming plants. They are also in a range of colors perfect for decorating your garden, porch or table throughout the fall season.

“Can you help me pick out my mums?”

  • Location: Where will your mums be planted? Will they replace your summer flowers in the garden, or maybe be planted around your mailbox? Are your mums going to be planted in containers on your patio or porch? Will they stay in their pots and adorn your island, buffet or table. When will you want color? Immediately or are you planning for an event or party? For instant color: select mums in full bloom. Their blooms will last a few weeks. For longer lasting color throughout the fall, select mums in bud and bloom. For an event or for color later in the fall, be sure to pick mums with tight buds. To ensure you get the most bang for your buck, continue to fertilize your mum with a balanced plant food. We recommend Fox Farm’s Tiger Bloom. Also be sure to keep the plant well-watered and take the time to pinch back any faded blooms making room for new buds and blooms to follow.
  • Shape: Examine the plant to be sure it is relatively evenly shaped and is free of broken stems. Once the plant has set buds, it is likely as big as it is going to get, so be sure to buy a plant the size you need for the space.
  • Color: Again consider where the mums will be planted. Select a mum color that provides contrast to its surrounding plants or its container. Don’t forget to consider companion plants to help create a complete fall décor. Mums pair well with ornamental grasses, black-eyed-susans, fall blooming sedum, ornamental cabbage or kale and asters. Don’t forget! Your marigolds and dusty miller from your spring plantings will also tolerate cooler temperatures and can be worked into your mum display!

“I have heard mums are perennial. Why don’t mine come back?”
Mums are considered a tender perennial for zones 4-5. If you are planting mums in hopes that they come back next year, there are a few things to consider:

  1. Select lighter colored mums. Whites and yellows have a tendency of being more hardy then darker colors. Plant the in full sun.
  2. Plant the mums in the ground NOW while they are still green with few buds or flowers. The longer they have to establish, the more likely they are to come back.
  3. Be sure to fertilize your mums and keep them well watered. Mums are heavy feeders so choose a plant food with plenty of nitrogen for plant growth and potassium for root development.
  4. After this season’s showy display be sure to mulch the plants heavily to protect them through the cold season. Also be sure to cut back the dead plant to make room for next years to grow.
  5. Expect a mum that comes back to demonstrate slightly different growing habits. They will bloom earlier in the season and will require more space as they grow.

“What is the best way to care for my mum planting?”
The most important things to remember is to be sure to water your mums well, and to pinch back any dead blooms to make room and encourage more buds to come.