Chrysanthemums, or garden mums, are a traditional favorite in autumn landscapes. They are unbeatable for adding a fresh burst of color to the late season garden.
Golden yellow varieties glow in the lower light of fall and mirror the burnished leaves of trees and shrubs. Warm reds and oranges are common colors in fall and a natural balance to cooler temperatures. Pink and lavender mums soften the rich burgundy and purple tones of changing foliage.
Mums have intense, saturated colors that create visual arousal as everything else around us is beginning to fade to a neutral palette of grays, tans and browns. There are many ways to use mums in the fall garden.
Interplant them with spring-flowering bulbs. After the mums turn light brown in early winter, leave their foliage for winter interest. Their dried flower heads hold snow beautifully.
In March, cut down the foliage to showcase emerging flowering bulbs. Then complete the flowering cycle with summer annuals that hide the yellow foliage of bulbs after they have finished blooming.
Mums give new life to summer-worn container gardens. Simply pull out the tired plants and pop in the mum. Remove some of the soil to make room for the mum, then plant, loosening the roots gently. Water thoroughly.
Use mums in clusters on the front porch, by a light post with pumpkins and cornstalks, or march them up the steps of a deck. If they are growing in a large nursery container, you can leave them in the pot. Take a piece of burlap, gather it around the nursery pot, and tie with a piece of twine or decorative ribbon.
Most garden mums sold in the fall are not reliably hardy in our area. Plant them in raised beds or very well drained soil for the best chance of winter survival. Mulching around plants after the ground has frozen is also advised.
New varieties become available each year with new shades, better color retention, more vigor and longer bloom times. By choosing a few of each type, you can mums blooming continuously from early in September to the end of October.
Red mums stand out in the landscape with their rich color. Combine them with ornamental grasses or yellow-toned fall foliage. Begin the season with Bonnie or Hestia; Brandi will continue the show through September; and Kathleen will keep your landscape seeing red to the end of October.
Yellow mums combine nicely with pink or purple-flowering perennials. Let Diana get the yellow started; Yolanda will keep it going through September; and Mildred Yellow will be lovely with your Halloween jack-o-lanterns.
Orange mums complement gourds, Indian corn and the dried seed heads of ornamental grasses. Delightful Victoria begins blooming in mid September; Hailey blooms from September into October; and Andrea saves the best orange flowers for last.
Pink and lavender mums are a little less conventional, but they are growing in popularity. Plant them between grasses or shrubs with burgundy-toned fall foliage. They are also exquisite planted among late-blooming roses, helping them blend into the fall landscape. In very early September, Symphony boasts bright pink flowers; Chelsey Pink blooms a bit lighter pink; and the flowers of Barbie are lavender.
When it comes to color in the fall landscape, mum's the word!
• Diana Stoll is a horticulturist and the garden center manager at The Planter's Palette, 28W571 Roosevelt Road, Winfield. Call (630) 293-1040, ext. 2, or visit planterspalette.com.