There's no better autumn accent than chrysanthemums for Ann Morton, of Augusta.
"Mums just seem like fall for me," Ms. Morton said, the yellow poms on her latest purchase bobbing in her hand. "Azaleas are for spring, and mums are fall. I put them out for decoration; they're just a little bright spot."
In every color, except blue, from lilac to lemon, burgundy to white, mums are the quintessential fall plant. Hardy, affordable and pretty, the native Chinese plants are a perennial must-have.
"When everything is pretty much done for, mums wait until the days get short to bloom so you get this really big burst of color," said Barbara Pleasant, the author of The Southern Garden Advisor. "The garden really looks ragged, and then October comes and (the mums) just pop."
The flowers are perfect for adding a touch of color to an otherwise drab landscape or for complementing the changing hues of leaves, and Travis Still, an owner of Bonnie's Vegetables and Herbs in North Augusta, has witnessed the high demand for mums during the early fall.
"Mums are the fall plant, and people want them. We sell loads and loads of them. Most people like them for their color," he said. "They look great next to pumpkins."
Customers also like their versatility and their strength, said Troy Wood, of Wood Produce in Columbia.
"They're a real hardy plant, and easy to take care of," said Mr. Wood, who sets up in a parking lot on Washington Road every October to sell mums.
Because mums are capable of withstanding light frosts and cool temperatures, they can usually last in pots until Thanksgiving, Mr. Wood said.
They even fare well cut and displayed in vases, Ms. Pleasant said. With a change of water about every other day, cuts from a plant can last for nearly a month.
After selling more than 30,000 mums in a month at the three stands he supplies in both Augusta and Columbia, where he has two, Mr. Wood said his customers are drawn by the mums' ability to be a perennial or a temporary fix.
"People like to use mums for decorating around the holidays, and they can plant them later," he said. "Since it's a reasonable-priced plant, they can plant a lot in their yard and not spend a lot of money, or they can throw them away and buy some more next year."
For those seeking to keep their mums, planting the flowers is simple.
Once the blossoms start to lose their colors, Ms. Pleasant said, putting mums on the south or east side of the home (to protect them from cold north winds) and keeping them pinched back usually ensures their return.
Although those mums planted by mid-October have the highest probability of coming back next fall, the chances are about 50-50 for those planted now.
"The good thing about planting mums is that next year they'll be bigger and better than they were in the pot," Ms. Pleasant said. "If you're a gardener, experiment with mums and you'll find a perennial you'll like. A mum will be one of the favorite perennials you've ever grown. Just give it a chance."
Besides looking good, Ms. Pleasant said, mums also can be a signal for winter garden preparation.
"Mums just about close out the season," she said. "When the mums look bad, it's time to start planting bulbs. Once they're gone, you know to get started on next year. "
MUM'S THE WORD
Looking to plant your mums? Try these tips:
Location: Plant mums in a place that gets at least six hours of sun each day.
Soil: Mums do their best in well-drained soil. Plant them about an inch deeper than they were in the nursery pot.
Water: Water newlyplanted mums thoroughly; never let them wilt.
Fertilize: Don't fertilize plants set out in the fall as annuals, but plants you hope to overwinter should get high-phosphorus fertilizer to stimulate root growth.
Winterize: After the first hard frost, place mulch up to 4 inches. Wait to prune until spring.
Pinch: If you bought large, full plants in the fall,, you don't need to do anything except plant them.
Source: Better Homes and Gardens
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