Every year, year after year, with the arrival of pumpkin displays in front of grocery stores, come fall chrysanthemums, also called fall mums. They certainly are splendid! Simply place them in a beautiful decorative terracotta pot or nestle them in a wooden basket. You can also hide their simple black plastic pots with pieces of jute, holding them in place with raffia. And a one-minute search on Pinterest is enough for you to discover hundreds of photos of large hollowed-out pumpkins serving as a decorative container for fall mums in full bloom.
But the purpose of all this late-season effort? To add a splash of color where annuals are starting to fade. And to brighten up decorations for the coming little monster festival (yes, Halloween). It’s also because if you’re reading this blog, you’re probably like me! You love flowers and you want them to last forever!
Lately, I wanted to raise the bar a little higher, though, and explore the idea of creating compositions with fall mums.
When Annuals Are at Death’s Door
Whether it is because they simply reached the end of their life expectancy or because even the slightest cold snap starts to damage them, by fall some annuals are in worse shape than others. On the other hand, other annuals are still absolutely stunning and will remain that way until the very harshest frosts. Small-format fall mums can therefore just replace the dying annuals and give new life to many of your arrangements.
The best partners for fall mums are those you already have on hand. As you clean out your flower boxes and decorative containers and remove the annuals, you can reuse those that are still in great shape, such as sweet potatoes (Ipomoea batatas), globe amaranth (Gomphrena globosa) or ornamental grasses. They go perfectly with fall mums.
Friends That Cost Next to Nothing
It’s the end of the season in most garden centers and fall discounts are up for grabs! You can therefore pick up a few end-of-season annuals specifically designed for fall ornamentation at a very good price. You’ll find ornamental cabbages, pansies, but also cordylines (Cordyline australis) in particular ‘Red Sensation’ with dark red foliage. Dusty miller (Jacobaea maritima) and other annuals with woolly gray foliage, such as the stunning centaurea ‘Mercury’ (Centaurea ‘Mercury’), are also relatively easy to find.
Then, make a quick stop in the perennial department to pick up a few coral bells with colorful foliage (Heuchera spp.) or stonecrops (Sedum spp.) of all shapes and colors. With the latter, it’s little ‘Angelina’ (Sedum reflexum ‘Angelina’), with drooping foliage of bright lime green, that truly wins my heart!
Finally, all ornamental grasses, whether annual or perennial, are great choices as season extenders. Since it’s clearance season in many garden centers, you may even be able to pick up some nice big Chinese silver grasses (Miscanthus sinensis) or reed grasses (Calamagrostis spp.) at a fraction of their usual price. You can simply plant these very hardy plants directly in the garden the day after you take down your Halloween arrangements.
Just Plant Mums Pot and All!
At the end of the season, when growth is slowing down, you don’t have to unpot and plant fall mums and their companion plants. You can just bury the pots. Even if it’s cool and the weather is gray, you still need to water your arrangements occasionally to allow all the flower buds to blossom. That will extend their period of beauty.
When frost finally does its job and kills back the flowers, transplant the perennial varieties to a permanent spot, compost the annuals… and keep the pots! You can even try your luck and transplant fall mums to the garden, as some do survive the winter. Just make sure to cut off the dead blooms beforehand to increase their hardiness.
I would be very curious to see your fall arrangements. Why not share your beautiful decorations with us on the Laidback Gardener’s Facebook page?
Like many others, I buy a few chrysanthemums in the fall but recycle them one more year.
Even when the flower are finished I keep on watering them and just before the frost sets in, I cut the plant back to only about an 1/2 inch (2cm) is left and bring the pots indoors and put under moderate light in the basement. The plant slowly grows back and by Jan-Feb is usually a few inches tall at which point I increase the amount of light and begin to trim them to form a ball.
By about the end of May when the frost is finished, I plant them in my flower beds amongst the annuals and continue to trim them a bit. By Sept they are usually as big, sometimes bigger, as they were a year earlier and flower for several weeks or until the frost arrives usually near the end of Oct. I don’t repeat the process twice with those plants but start again with new ones. Thus, with most mums I get two years of flowers.
Russ, in Montreal.