Answers to your gardening questions
effective Deer Fence!
"Hardy" Mums —
Allow me to cut right to the chase: While most of those pots of gorgeous fall chrysanthemums that always show up in stores early in the Fall are technically able to make it through a tough New England winter, few actually do. There's a reason for that. Actually several reasons.
--They spent their short lives from birth (rooted cuttings) to flowering adults being fed a rich special diet designed to force them to look magnificent. That makes them appear strong and healthy but, in fact, they're fat, soft and weak.
--Most were badly abused while on display for sale, particularly those sold by big box stores in the "care" of only marginally trained employees who, in fact, are probably only concerned with their next break or quitting time. Badly wilted day after day...until the plants manager realizes he/she must either dump them...or sell them at deep discounts. Clearly, there's no bargain there!
--None come with the least instructions for preparing them for a long, hard winter rest. And even fewer receive proper after-purchase care and maintenance beyond either plunking them into the ground (usually in unbelievably poor soil) or sticking them out on the front porch (where the suffer further neglect).
Given that kind of care, little wonder the overwhelming majority of those sold don't have enough life remaining to wake up and perform the following season.
If you want to get yours through winter and enjoy them for at least another season -- if not several seasons -- follow a few simple steps:
First, purchase your mums almost literally the minute they show up in stores. Don't wait until they've suffered abuse and neglect by poorly-motivated and uncaring store employees. Wilting in the pot while on display places stress on the plant. Not good for longevity!
Plant them in the ground, in full, all-day sun...immediately. Take them out of the car, go get a shovel and plant them in good, improved, garden soil with a generous amount of deodorized bone meal (a couple of ounces) mixed into the soil at the bottom of the hole. Never feed them with Miracle-Grow at that time of the year. Miracle-Grow, while great for annuals, is inordinately high in nitrogen. Nitrogen promotes rapid, soft, tender growth, and a fat, lazy and tender new batch of roots, neither of which can survive freezing temperatures. A little light frost, maybe; 10 or 15 degrees below zero during an average northern-tier-states winter makes surviving highly unlikely.
The minute the flowers fade, trim them off. Remember that all those seed heads and extra physiological weight at the top draws nutritional resources to the top... not to the rebuilding and strengthening of the plant's crown and root system. When only a few final flowers remain, go after the plant with a good set of shears and cut it back to 4" to 6" above the ground, leaving a few green leaves. That takes the load off the top...and sends what's left to the crown where it belongs.
Just as the soil begins to freeze, bury what remains of the plant with at least a foot of either pine needles, loose straw (not feed hay or mulch hay!), or shredded leaves. Mulch prevents alternating freezing / thawing during winter.
Next spring, at the first sign of growth in your garden and when you see the first tiny leaves on trees, rake away all of the protective mulch, trim any remaining dry stems down to ground level, and feed with any balanced granular fertilizer -- cultivated into the top couple inches of soil all around the plant. An ounce or two will suffice. Now water in in well. We suggest granular 10-10-10 or an organic equivalent.
If you did nothing else beyond good gardening practices like food, water and some staking, your garden chrysanthemum will develop a few stems and grow quite tall. Two to three feet tall is not unusual. It'll need staking. Pinching at appropriate times encourages the plant to be shorter, stronger, with many more stems and with many more flowers...and probably won't need to be staked. Here's how:
FIRST PINCH: When the first new growth reaches about 4" tall, use your finger and thumb nail to pinch out the growing tip. A half-inch should do it. Make sure you remove the terminal bud (tip bud). Don't worry, it won't hurt the plant...and it won't jeopardize flowers or change the time of bloom. Instead of one stem, that first pinch will force several lateral buds below the pinch to sprout and produce usually 3 or 4 additional growing points.
SECOND PINCH: When that re-growth reaches about 4 inches long, give them all another pinch. So now you'll have a plant that has about 10 or 12 times as many stems....and the plant is still less than a foot tall. If you stopped there, you'll end up with a plant that's perhaps 18" tall with a great many flowers come fall.
THIRD PINCH (usually at about the end of June): Though not entirely necessary, the third pinch after the re-growth has attained about 4 inches long will double, triple, or maybe even quadruple the number of flowers on a short, very strong plant that will convince neighbors and passers-by that you just spent a fortune for this stunning display of fall color that very likely won't need staking.
When the flowers fade and begin to look a bit shabby, begin the entire process anew.
|Find your State and County Cooperative Extension Office||Which Maine Hardiness Zone Do I Live In? (.pdf)|
© 10/2007 Hill Gardens of Maine; 107 Route 3, Palermo, Maine 04354. All Rights Reserved. Updated: 08/07/11