Mum's the Word

Chrysanthemums: A fresh look at a fall favorite.

By Rebecca Sawyer-Fay

Photography by Rob Cardillo


mums offer a wide selectionWhen you think of chrysanthemums, do you picture showy corsages on homecoming queens or the all-too-familiar orange and yellow varieties you see in grocery stores at this time every year? Get ready to be amazed by the choices you have for growing what is still the brightest and most reliable fall-blooming flower. Mums' blossoms may be as extravagant as a cheerleader's pom-pom or as dainty as a powder puff. They come in a rich palette that echoes autumn's vibrant golds, garnets, and corals and includes traditional solids as well as bicolor and even tricolor flowers. Whatever your style—flashy or casual, restrained or formal—there's a mum for you. And best of all for organic gardeners, mums are generally pest- and disease-resistant and make few demands beyond ample sunshine and consistent watering, which are easy to provide at this time of year.

Grand Finale
In late summer, when other plants are calling it quits, mums hit their stride. Like poinsettias, they are photoperiodic, meaning they rely on specific amounts of light to send the signal that it's time to start putting on a show. On average, garden mums will not start to set buds until the nights are about 10 hours long. Blooms follow in 6 to 10 weeks. Cool temperatures don't bother mums, either. In fact, chilly weather intensifies colors and keeps blossoms looking fresh until a hard, killing frost drops the curtain on the gardening year. If you choose early-, mid-, and late-blooming varieties, you will enjoy a full seven weeks of bloom—a brilliant last act for any landscape.

When selecting varieties, you have a wide range of types to pick from (as you can see in the photos on these pages): decorative, daisy, and low-growing cushion mums as well as early-blooming anemones, quills, and spiders. The new European-style Prophets Series, from Yoder Brothers, an Ohio-based wholesale breeder and nursery, boasts more than 100 blossoms per plant. These sturdy-stemmed, ball-shaped beauties were inspired by varieties beloved in Belgium, where All Saints' Day is celebrated each November 1 with lavish mum displays.