When summer begins to wind down, there are a few telltale retail signs that fall is approaching: Halloween costumes, candy, and decorations take over the seasonal aisles in supermarkets and big-box stores; pumpkin spice flavored or scented products are everywhere; and customers are welcomed to retail establishments with an indoor and/or outdoor display of pumpkins and mums.
Vibrant fall mums have earned their place on front porches and stoops alongside pumpkins and various parts of dried-out corn plants as quintessential outdoor autumn decor. And so often, when the mums lose their color, their join the pumpkins and corn corpses in the trash.
But it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s because contrary to popular belief, many mums are perennials, not annuals. Here’s what to know.
Why you shouldn’t throw your mums out at the end of the season
While annual chrysanthemums—as in the kind that only live for one year—do exist, and also appear in retailers in the fall (mostly in smaller gift-sized pots), a “large majority” of the mums sold are the hardy perennial varieties, according to Old World Garden Farms.
You can find out which type you have by checking the tag or little paper stake that comes with the plant when you buy it: Perennial mums will be labeled “chrysanthemum morifolium,” while annuals will be labeled “chrysanthemum multicaule,” Associated Press gardening columnist Jessica Damiano explains in a recent article.
If there’s no tag, she recommends checking the foliage: “Perennial mums have broad, deeply toothed leaves; annuals have narrow and less-notched foliage,” Damiano writes.
Will perennial mums survive in every climate?
According to Damiano, the climate in about half of the United States—areas in horticultural zones 5 through 9—is suitable for planting and growing perennial mums. While they can handle cold winter weather, mums can’t survive the deep freezes of New England, and some parts of the Northwest and West. They also don’t do well in extremely high temperatures seen in the southern parts of Florida, Texas, and California, as well as western Arizona.
What to do with your mums over the winter
Once your mums lose their color and start looking more like Halloween decorations, it’s time to take action. This means moving them indoors—pots and all.
Though it’s possible to plant mums directly in the ground in early fall, by this point in the season, that window has closed. That’s because they don’t have enough time to get their roots established in the soil, and will likely freeze and die over the winter.
Anyway, before moving your potted mums indoors, cut the plant back a few inches above the potted soil line, so it’s mostly stems and a few small leaves. Then, touch the soil. If it feels dry, give it a light sprinkle of water—not too much, or it can cause the roots to rot over the winter.
Ideally, you want to keep the potted mums somewhere indoors with temperatures between 45° and 60°, like a chilly corner of the basement, or a semi-heated or insulated garage.
The goal is provide the mums with the conditions to go dormant, while still keeping them alive. Give the mums a light sprinkle of water every few weeks, and that’s it. Then, in the early spring, you can either replant your mums in new pots, or plant them directly in the ground.
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