Increase survival of mum through winter

By Marianne C. Ophardt, Special to the Herald September 26, 2009 

KENNEWICK -- Chrysanthemums are glorious perennials for fall.

For proof, take a stroll through the Master Gardener Demonstration Garden in Kennewick and find the Japanese Garden.

For the next month, you'll see a beautiful display of mums. However, a visit to this to this gorgeous garden might leave gardeners with some questions.

Q: The mums on display in the Japanese Garden are covered with flowers. Mine have some flowers, but not that many. What's the difference?

A: Mums are easy to grow and require little attention. Late last fall, I took two mums that had been in my fall container gardens and planted them out in my garden. They came out of four-inch pots and have more than quadrupled in size over the summer. But like your plants, mine are not covered with flowers this fall. That's because I didn't "pinch" them.

The trick is "pinching" them throughout the growing season to make them bushy. This will also lead to the production of more flowers. Pinching involves removing a half-inch to one inch of each shoot back to a pair of leaves using your thumb and forefinger to "pinch" off the growth. For more flowerful mums, pinch when the new growth is about six inches in length and again every two to three weeks until late June or early July.

Q: I have problems with mums not making it through the winter.

Are the breeders sacrificing hardiness to create prettier flowers?

A: First, make sure you're planting what are considered hardy mums, not florist mums. Chrysanthemum plants sold in flower shops as floral gifts are usually not hardy. When you purchase hardy garden mums, check to make sure that they're rated as hardy in zones 6 or lower. There are a number of very hardy mums on the market. That's because breeders have worked to develop hardy mums that will survive in much in colder zones than ours, such as in Minnesota.

If you're having a problem with hardy garden mums that you plant in the fall not making it through the winter, try planting them earlier in the fall months, at least six weeks before the first anticipated frost. You also could try planting them in the spring so they become well established before severely cold winter weather arrives. Be sure to water fall plantings during mild fall and early winter weather.

Other things you can do to improve mum survival include mulching with bark after the weather cools, leaving the dead frosted tops of the plants in the garden until spring, and not fertilizing the plants after the end of July.

UPCOMING CLASSES: It's not often that I get excited about waiting in a doctor's office, but I did last week.

In one of the waiting room gardening magazines I found instructions on how to make a bird bath with concrete and a pumpkin. I plan to make one out of "hypertufa" instead of concrete so it won't be quite so heavy to lift. What is hypertufa? It's a mix of Portland cement, peat moss, and perlite or vermiculte that creates a lighter weight mix that can be used to make stonelike planters using a mold.

The Benton-Franklin Master Gardeners are offering a class on "Making Hypertufa Planters" at 10:30 on Oct. 10.

The cost of the class is $15 and you get to make a planter of your own to take home. For information on how to register, call 509-735-3551.

* Marianne C. Ophardt is a horticulturist for the Washington State University Benton County Extension Office.

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