They are big, bright, bold and beautiful, but unfortunately their lives are brief.
I was talking with Dick Scaife about those huge pots of mums on sale everywhere at this time of year, and he suggested I remind people these fall garden mums are fine for temporary display, but are not designed to be long-term residents in the flower garden.
The growers ready them for sale in September and early October, making sure they are loaded with colorful blossoms in the brightest fall colors, to appeal to customers looking for decorative items for the patio, porch or doorway. And you cannot do better than to place those striking mums all around the house. If you select plants with plenty of buds ready to open, you will have a display that will last for several weeks, but trying to keep them going in the garden as perennials will probably not be successful.
These mums have been given copious amounts of water and fertilizer, and almost all the plants' energies have gone to producing more and bigger flowers, at the expense of the root systems that would be necessary for more permanent growth. Once in a while, a transplant may be successful, but as a rule, look at your potted mums as annuals and enjoy them while they last.
If you want dependable fall color in your garden beds, purchase mums in the spring. Those will be smaller plants ready for planting, and will have all summer to grow a strong root system and get established before cooler weather comes along. Plant them in a sunny spot, and water them well, with a good soaking at least twice a week. Early in July, pinch the plants back by half, leaving them six to nine inches tall, and they will give you a striking display in September. If you skip the pinching back, they will grow tall and leggy, and produce blossoms only on the top of the plant.
Another fall bloomer I would like to recommend is the Maximillian sunflower. I found this plant in a catalog last spring, and planted one outside the kitchen window with the other true sunflowers. Over the summer, it grew very slowly, but started to leap up in late August and now has multiple stems more than 8 feet tall with dozens of flowers, and is still growing. It is a perennial, and unfortunately the plant arrived bare root without a label and the catalog did not give the botanical name, but I will keep trying to identify it. To perform this well in its first summer is spectacular, and I will add another one next spring.
Asters still are doing well, with the Michaelmas daisies bringing purple and blue to the garden. And the faithful geraniums still are in full bloom.
The cooler weather brings thoughts of frost, and we already have had a small taste. This was a beautiful summer, and the fall so far is pleasant. I just need time to go and buy the pots of mums for the front steps.
Janet Del Turco is a local gardener and a graduate of the Ohio State University Master Gardener program.
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