Q: I see mums of all colors at the grocery store at a very good price. Are they just for inside use or for planting outside next spring?
A: Mums are a fine transition between seasons, as we are getting close to the end of the growing season. Mums are called “the last flash of lighting in the garden,” but we must prepare for that flash if we expect it to come at all. The question is not “Do you want to grow mums,” but rather, “How many do you want?”
Mums are especially economical perennial plants, and they are at their best right now. Remember last spring? You were paying at least $15 for a potted perennial plant that was not even in bloom. In the fall, you can buy a pot of perennial mums, in full bloom, for less than $5. Mums also do double duty as permanent garden plants, temporary houseplants, gifts and decorations.
Where else can you buy an armload of flowers that will decorate the whole house, inside and out, and then be planted permanently in your garden?
First, you can use them outside on the front steps, inside on the table for a centerpiece, or in a basket by the fireplace. They can be a gorgeous, living gift for a friend — think mums for a hospital or nursing-home gift. They are long-lasting, do not need attention and are not messy.
You could use pots of mums to decorate a room for a special party, anniversaries or political rallies, and then the plant could go home as a raffle prize. These very same plants, for less than $5 a blooming pot, turn right around and have a second life, going straight out into the garden where they will live for many years and help landscape and add value to your property.
Try doing that with a bunch of daisies or a cut-flower arrangement. Mums really do give double the value and double the enjoyment.
If you use mum plants indoors first, here are hints to keep them healthy:
Keep them in the brightest spot possible.
Keep them evenly moist — don’t ever let them dry out.
Keep them cool — good air circulation is important.
At first sign of yellowing of leaves (usually from the bottom of the plant), rush the plant outdoors and plant it in the garden, into its permanent spot.
The plants that you buy now have been nurtured, fed, watered and pinched, and will most certainly be well-budded or in full bloom. Plant them properly this year, and they will be back — it is simple: For the best flowers, plant mums in full sun. Prepare a properly dug hole for the pot size — like a tree or shrub, the hole should be twice as wide as the pot. Prepare the soil in the hole well, allowing the new plant plenty of room to spread its roots. Add a little fertilizer — it should be dug into the hole and watered in well so the roots will not burn, and the plant gets the benefit of the fertilizer being readily available. Tamp the earth firmly around the base of the plant — you will have an instant garden this year and a healthy perennial addition to your garden the next.
Although mums tolerate a light frost, you might want to prolong their color a bit longer by covering them with light sheets or blankets or even newspapers on very cold nights.
As the month goes on, the foliage will yellow first, and then the flowers will fade and die. Cut stems to the ground after killing frosts and mulch well after a hard freeze. Now sit back and enjoy your mums for this year, because the end is near!
This week’s dirt
Begin your fall cleanup now — it will make it easier to do a little this fall ... and the weather is certainly nicer! As the summer winds down, do not leave the entire cleanup job to spring and cold weather when it is uncomfortable to garden. Besides, you will have other things to do later on, like planting spring bulbs and raking leaves.
North Shore Gardener by Barbara Barger is a periodic feature of Friday’s Living section. Reach Barbara at email@example.com or write c/o Gloucester Daily Times, 36 Whittemore St., Gloucester, MA 01930. Previous North Shore Gardener columns can be found at www.nsgardener.com.