From the ground up: Mums the word for fall containers, spring flower beds

Aronia Berry Field Day on Sept. 21

March 28, 2014 | 8:28 pm

This is my favorite time of year. The availability of fresh local food, the happy birds and bees, changing trees and the cooler temperatures are just a few reasons.

I have mentioned before that I am a member of the Iowa Valley Food Co-op, which uses an online system for members to order fresh produce, meat and other local foods directly from the producers. This month’s offerings from local farmers will make you proud to be from Iowa.

If you aren’t already a member, become one. If you need an extra incentive, Cindy Hadish at is offering a chance for you to enter a drawing to win a membership as a way to celebrate the season’s bounty. To enter the drawing, just post a photo of your favorite vegetables, fruit or flowers any time during September on the Homegrown Facebook page, or describe one of your gardening successes in a comment on the page or on the Homegrown Iowan website. One name will be drawn at random on Oct. 1. Find details at

Now that it is mid- September, some folks are thinking about adding mums to their landscape. Linn County Master Gardener Lisa Slattery fills you in on what your options are and how best to care for your mums.

Q: Can I plant garden mums in the fall?

A: Beautiful potted mums are starting to show up at retailers throughout Eastern Iowa. Mums, formally called chrysanthemums, are one of the best ways to add color to the fall landscape. Mums are available in a wide variety of shapes, colors and sizes.

The most popular mums are pompom or cushion mums and have full fragrant flowers. These are the ones that you see most readily available and showcase bigger, denser flower heads. There also are mums that are single petal flowers that look a bit like daisies. Not only are there different varieties of mums, but there are many traditional fall colors such as yellow, orange, gold, maroon and burgundy. I favor the creamy white ones and deep purple colors. You’ll even find pink and lavender mums.

According to Iowa State Extension, 20 years ago mums were generally a 1- to 2-foot tall plant. But today there are many more cultivars including dwarf varieties and some that grow to be rather big shrubs.

There essentially are two types of mums.

The Florist or Greenhouse Mum and the Garden Mum or Hardy Mum. The greenhouse mums make wonderful container plantings for fall but are treated as late-season annuals because they won’t overwinter in the Iowa garden. The Garden mum or Hardy mum is the one that does have the ability to overwinter but can be finicky. These mums produce underground stolons that persist year after year making it a perennial. The florist or greenhouse mums do not produce stolons.

If you want pretty potted mums around your house now, buy them now, enjoy them and pitch them in the compost pile at the end of the season.

If you’re planning on adding mums to the permanent landscape, select hardy cultivars that say “garden” or ‘hardy” mum, preferably varieties that bloom early in the fall. Plant them in the spring and mulch them well. Even hardy mums planted in the fall don’t have enough time to get their root system established before winter.

Pinch them back in early to mid summer to promote branching and more fall blooms. Stop fertilizing mums by the end of July. Mums require a sunny, well-drained location that is protected from harsh winter winds, plus they require additional winter protection with 3 to 4 inches of mulch over the plants. Also don’t cut back any dead growth on mums until spring, as this affects the plant’s cold hardiness.

Hardy garden mums also can be propagated by division or root cuttings. Divide mums early in the spring as new growth begins to emerge. Dig up the entire plant and make clump divisions, with each division containing several shoots of the root system. Once divided, immediately plant the divisions, mulch and keep well watered. Cuttings can also be taken of new growth when it reaches 3 to 4 inches. Use a rooting hormone on the cutting and grow in rooting medium such as coarse sand or perlite. Keep moist. Cuttings should root in four to five weeks.


Questions on gardening, land use or local foods? Contact Michelle Kenyon Brown, community agriculture programs manager at Linn County Extension,

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