Mums send garden season out with a bang

Chrysanthemums always remind me of my wedding day. I know most brides probably think of roses, but Hubby and I decided to get married in October, our favorite month of the year, to avoid the spring wedding insanity.

This left us with fewer choices as far as flowers go, unless we wanted to spend a fortune. I opted for chrysanthemums, since they would be almost guaranteed to flower and (because I can’t resist being practical) the plants could live on in people’s gardens for years after their usefulness as table arrangements.

I fell in love with mums a long time ago. Their cheerful blooms represent the last crescendo of the garden season, one more burst of color before it falls silent for winter. Chrysanthemums are a dependable, resilient plant that is sure to flower year after year.

There’s something merry about pompoms of brightness blooming among the fallen leaves, coming out of hiding just when everything else is dying. That joy continues for weeks, if you bring mums inside as cut flowers. They seem to last forever, which is probably why they are an ever-present staple in mixed bouquets from florists.

Some mums look more like daisies, with open centers that reveal their place in the daisy family. Others were hybridized over the years to be more like small, petaled buttons or to sport bi-colored blooms.

There are even chrysanthemums bred to display skinny petals that round out like tiny spoons at the tips. If you think they look like dahlias, marigolds or zinnias, it’s because they’re all cousins in the flower world.

According to the National Chrysanthemum Society (, the flower was first cultivated in China as a flowering herb, and people used its roots to treat headaches and its leaves for tea.

Eventually, the flower was introduced to Japan, which was so twitterpated with the chrysanthemum that it adopted the flower as an imperial symbol. Japan still holds a national Festival of Happiness to celebrate the flower. The mum is the subject of countless Asian poems and artwork, and remains an important symbol today.

However, according to the society, some European countries regard the mum as the “death flower,” because it’s so often used to decorate graves. I feel the same way about calla lilies, but I see them at more weddings than funerals these days.

Not only are mums the star of autumn gardens, they also are quite useful in medicinal ways and in battling garden pests. For years, gardeners have used mums as companion plants to deter pests on their other plants, as they are thought to repel pests such as aphids.

Insecticides called “pyrethroids,” which are widely used to control orchard and garden pests, as well as head lice and houseplant pests, include active chemical ingredients inspired by natural insecticides in chrysanthemums. They are effective but relatively low in toxicity, according to Colorado State University Extension.

Whatever you do, don’t waste a perfectly good potted mum. If you get one as a present, dig a little spot in your garden and it will likely return in the springtime.

If you decide to add this gorgeous plant to your landscape, make sure to cut it back after it’s done blooming for the season. I find that mums come back stronger the next year if you cut them back to about 3 or 4 inches from the soil level.

Also, after it gets really cold in about a month or so, I mulch around my mums to protect them from the bitter cold temperatures. They usually survive to come back every year, but a little bit of insulation will help protect them from a really hard winter.

Erin McIntyre is an advanced master gardener, writer and Grand Valley native. Please email her at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address) with story ideas or feedback.


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