It's time to choose from grand array of mums -- but mind the winter

Now is the time to select from the wide varieties of chrysanthemums that bloom from late summer through fall. Wherever you go you will see a grand array of these popular perennials. You can make your choice from the blooming specimens you see. Jot down the names in a garden notebook and be assured that the mums you buy in the spring will not disappoint you.

If you have already planted mums, don't risk the disappointment that many gardeners do. They find mums winterkill so easily.

First, be sure you have selected a hardy variety. Some of the mums produced by greenhouses and florists for mass sales are not winter-hardy varieties. They are meant to be enjoyed and then discarded when the flowers fade.

Second, select a well-drained location for your mums. Most flowers do not like wet feet. Mums are especially fond of an even supply of moisture. If your mums are already planted in a poor location you may be able to drain the spot by ditching it somewhat so the water will run away.

Third, mulch or mound your plants against heavy freezing, alternating with thawing. This damages the root system more than steady, severe cold.

After the flowers and most of the leaves have turned brown from the frosts this fall, mound up the soil to a height of 8 inches around the base of each plant. Then cut the branches back to 10 inches above the soil line.

Place mulch around the plants as soon as the surface of the soil freezes lightly. If you mulch before the soil freezes you will invite rodents to live under the mulch, damaging the mum plants. Good mulch material may be found in evergreen branches, straw, hay, and cornstalks. Leaves do not make good mulch for mums because they pack down solid when they get wet.

Remove the mulch and soil at intervals in the spring. By the time new green shoots appear the mulch and mound of soil should be entirely removed.

As you put your garden to sleep for the winter, make a plan so you will know how many mum plants you will need and which colors you will place where.

You can divide established mum plants in the spring. You can start mums from cuttings or you can do it the easy way by buying young potted plants from your florist or nursery or get field-grown clumps of mums.

If you buy blooming plants from your florist in the spring, keep them in the house until they finish blooming. Then cut them back to 2 to 3 inches above the rim of the pot. When all danager of frost has passed, plant the mums, placing the soil ball slightly below the level of the garden soil.

If you divide the clumps of established plants, do it in the spring; however, be sure the colors are marked in the fall while the bloom is still on. You can mark them with strips of plastic cut from a bleach bottle, using a waterproof marking pen.

In the spring dig up the clump of mums when the danger of frost is over. Remove the stronger shoots, which are usually those on the outside of the clump. Allow sufficient roots to remain with the shoots and plant them in the new location.

Plant the growing tip of each new division slightly above ground level. Everything is more attractive in threes. For good, abundant color, plant three shoots in a triangular pattern, allowing 12 ro 24 inches between each shoot.

Field-grown clumps that you may buy can be divided the same way as your own clumps from the garden.

To start mums from cuttings is a slower process. When a shoot is 8 to 10 inches high you can remove the upper 3 inches of each shoot with a sharp knife. Trim the lower leaves off this cutting and dust it at the base with a rooting hormone. Place each cutting in damp sand or vermiculite. It takes 2 or 3 weeks for the cuttings to root. When they have rooted well, transplant them to 3-inch pots. They can be transplanted to the garden when the root systems have grown strong.

Cuttings made in the spring will blossom in the fall. Plantings made from July cuttings will not flower until the next fall.

Make a note in your notebook or calendar to pinch half an inch off the top of mum plants in June. This will result in compact, bushy plants that give many flowers. Young shoots should be pinched back when they are 7 to 9 inches long. So should any new shoots that grow out of the first pinch. Keep the plants pinched back until July.

During an especially dry growing season you will want to water mums to a depth of 6 to 8 inches. This will ensure good blossoms. Applying a mulch of peat moss, grass clippings, or other suitable mulch will keep the weeds from growing and save the moisture in the soil. If you do not mulch, cultivate the soil regularly and not too deeply to harm the roots.

Apply three or four pounds of fertilizer to every 100 square feet of soil at planting time. Mums require a lot of plant food. You will have more flowers if you feed them a complete fertilizer every 10 days. Mix a heaping tablespoon to every gallon of water and apply it to the soil surrounding the plants. Good fertilizers for mums are 5-10-5 and 10-10-10.

In the fall, when the mums are blooming, is the time to choose the varieties you like.

There are three types of mums: cushion, formal, and informal. Cushion mums are symmetrical and compact. Formal mums grow compact but have their blossoms on top. Informal mums are spreading and upright, with the flowers mainly at the top. Cushion mums often give a hundred or more blossoms per plant, since flowers are found on the sides and base of the plant as well as the top.

Mums come in many sizes. Cushion mums are small-flowered. But there are varieties of formal and informal plants that yield huge blossoms. Some have single, daisy-type petals.

A chrysanthemum border is a galaxy of color!

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