Mum's the word when it comes to fall

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It seems chrysanthemums are on sale everywhere each fall. Many people discard them when they finish blooming, but they are perennials and can be planted in the landscape.

Mums grow well in any well-drained soil capable of producing a good crop of vegetables or turf. They grow in poorer soils if ample nutrients and organic matter are incorporated.

Depressions that might collect water should be leveled, or plant in raised beds.

Winter kill can occur if unadapted varieties are grown or if plants desiccate (dry out) during the winter.

Mums develop best where they receive full sun most or all day. Plants in shade or semishade tend to grow taller (be leggy), have weaker stems and smaller flowers, and bloom later in fall. Try to avoid planting where there will be in competition with trees for light and water.

Before planting mums, till the soil to a depth of 8 to 12 inches. Adding compost or peat moss improves the soil structure and the water-holding capacity of the soil.

It may be necessary to use fertilizers. Nitrogen is the element most likely to be deficient in Georgia soils. In some occasions, soils may need additional phosphorus and potassium.

Plants can be fertilized four weeks after planting and again periodically during the growing season, but excessive fertilizing causes elongated, leggy growth and fewer flowers. During the summer, it is best to pinch back growth to keep the plants growing in a more compact manner.

Newly set mums should be kept moist, not wet, during establishment. One good watering or rain per week is adequate in most soils, but in sandy soils, they may need it every four to five days.

Try to keep weeds from growing around the plants (mulch helps). You can do a light cultivation to keep weeds down, but avoid deep cultivation that can damage roots and rhizomes.

Fall planting

Fall is the best time of the year to plant shrubs. Here are five common mistakes to avoid:

1. Planting too many plants for the site. The temptation is to get a full look right away. In a few years, plants are overcrowded and need to be constantly pruned, or removed.

2. Planting shrubs that will get too tall for the site. A one-gallon Burford holly or ligustrum will soon cover the windows and require severe pruning to keep it in check.

3. Planting shrubs that prefer dry soil in wet areas, plants that prefer sun in shade, and vice versa. Plants that are not adapted to the conditions that exist will never be as healthy or look as good as they might.

4. Planting shrubs too close to the house. I see this all the time. I even inherited this situation at my house. I have Indica azaleas (the ones that get really large) that were planted 6-8 inches from the house. Shrubs should be planted one half their mature diameter plus one foot away. That is, a plant that will be 6 feet wide at maturity should be planted four feet from the foundation. Planting too close to the house makes it extremely hard to get to parts of the house you may need to paint, clean or work on.

5. Planting trees and shrubs at random in the yard. Plants should be grouped to enhance the landscape and be in mulched beds to facilitate their maintenance. Have a plan on paper before you start.

Reach Sid Mullis, the director of the University of Georgia Extension Service Office for Richmond County, at (706) 821-2349 or

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