Nothing says “autumn” quite like those gorgeous orange-yellow mums that show up in gardens, grocery stores, and front porches around this time of year. But if you want to keep the colorful, cheerful magic going all season long, you’ve got to learn how to care for them.
Here, we’re sharing all the answers to your most frequently-asked questions about how to grow fall mums, plus tips for when to plant them, how to best water them (consistently!), and whether or not to divide them. We’ve even got a few answers to florist-level questions you never thought to ask—but should. Each tip and trick will keep your garden looking lovelier than ever so you can enjoy this plant’s beauty all the way through to Christmas (and maybe even for a little while after!).
It shouldn’t be too difficult, anyway: Mums are typically pest- and disease-resistant, making them an obvious garden staple for gardening amateurs and pros alike.
Whether you’re simply hoping to spiff up the area around your front door or your resident homecoming queen is looking for a fresh corsage, this gorgeous fall flower is the answer—and reading through our guide is the easiest way to stay in the know about how exactly to care for it.
- Exposure: Full sun
- USDA Hardiness Zones: 4 to 9
- When to plant: Spring to late summer
- Recommended varieties: Hillside Sheffield Pink, Clara Curtis, Mary Stoker
- Pests and diseases to watch out for: Aphids, leaf miners, leaf spot
How to Plant Mums
Dig a hole twice as wide as the pot, and place the plant in the hole so that the crown (where the roots meet the stems) are at ground level. Backfill the soil, water and add mulch to retain moisture and keep down weeds.
How to Care for Fall Mums
Chrysanthemums, called “hardy mums,” are not super-heavy feeders, so add a little compost when you plant them, then feed with a general-purpose fertilizer in early summer. Water regularly. In order to encourage a plant that’s less likely to flop over, trim off (called “pinching”) the tips of your plants anytime from late spring to early July, taking off no more than half the total height. You can do this a few times a season, if you like, but not any later than mid-July or you’ll cut off the flower buds.
Regardless, don’t expect all that pinching to produce the nicely-mounded plant you first brought home from the nursery; those are treated with growth regulators to produce a low, dense shape. If remembering to trim new growth seems like way too much work, leave your mums alone and let them sprawl.
Do fall mums come back every year?
Technically, mums are perennials, which means they do come back every year. If you plant mums in spring, the plants have time to settle in and will return in subsequent seasons. But here’s the kicker: Most people plant mums in fall, which is too late in the season to get them established in time to survive the winter.
How do you divide fall mums?
If your plants are getting floppy, too big for the space, or you’d like to have another plant, use a hand trowel or spade to separate a piece of the plant with the roots, to replant elsewhere. Do this in early spring when you first see new growth.
Should you cut off the dead flowers to help them bloom longer?
This is called “deadheading,” but, nope, mums bloom too late in the year so you won’t prolong their season by removing spent flowers.
Can you grow fall mums indoors?
Mums need cold to initiate their flower buds, so you can’t really enjoy them for years indoors like a houseplant. However, you can buy florist mums, which are grown in greenhouses and given as gift plants, much of the year. But don’t count on these surviving being planted outdoors unless you live in a warm climate.
Do fall mums need full sun?
The short answer: Yes. These beautiful flowers require quite a bit of sun in order to look the way you’d like them to.
“Mums need at least six hours of sun to perform best,” says Marianne Binetti, a horticulture expert and author of more than a dozen gardening books. “Truthfully, they can adapt to a few less hours—but they’ll have less flowers.”
What soil do fall mums like?
Fertile, well drained soil is important for mums. Why? Well, it may not be pleasant to think about—and it certainly won’t make your garden look lovely—but they do tend to rot easily. “You want to steer clear of any clay or poor-draining soil, as well as low spots,” offers Binetti.
Are fall mums perennial?
Not all. Some mums are perennial, and those varieties are often called “garden mums.” Others aren’t quite so fortunate and tend to die in the cold. Grown in greenhouses and sold by florist, it’s no surprise those non-perennial varieties have been dubbed “florist’s mums.”
How do you keep fall mums blooming?
As described above, you’ll want to take care of your mums to ensure that they continue to bloom. Keep them well-watered—”a mum that dries out will stop blooming,” cautions Binetti—but don’t get the foliage wet. You’ll cause mildew on the leaves.
How do you winterize fall mums?
Depending on your climate, some hardy perennial mums can be over-wintered depending on your climate. Other varieties of mums—typically “florist mums” or annuals—cannot be grown outdoors over the winter.
With the hardier species that you plan to winterize, remember not to cut them back after flowering. Binetti points out that this is new information to many at-home gardeners, popularized just a few years ago. “It’s understood now that the black stems help to hold mulch in place over the winter, so you don’t want to remove those.”
Once cold arrives, use wood chips around the base of each plant so that a mulch of two to three inches covers the roots. This keeps the plants protected from winter freezes. In spring, you can cut back the old growth, taking care to pinch out the top two inches of mum growth all summer until July. Then, let them flower!
GROWER TIP: “If you’re planting mums in late summer or early fall, choose those in bud to give them the best chance of getting established before winter,” says Nancy J. Ondra, author of Grasses: Versatile Partners for Uncommon Garden Design and The Perennial Care Manual. “Mums in full flower are putting energy into flowering, not into growing strong roots.”