Chrysanthemums Take Center Stage In Autumn

In the perennial garden, Chrysanthemums are queen of the fall garden, while the asters are maids of honor. In Ohio, the cushion types of Chrysanthemums (Dendrathema x grandiflora) reign.

Not only for their colors and forms, but because they bloom with enough time to make a show and are frost resistant in a cold climate that turns most other flowers to brown and the annuals to a sodden mess.

Cushion mum colors seem to glow in the autumn landscape and blend rustically with the blazing foliage colors of the trees.
Chrysanthemums, New York Botanical Garden
There is no other herbaceous plant that comes close to comparison with the Chrysanthemums, and they are truly stalwarts of the perennial border in autumn.

Time to Plant Cushion Chrysanthemums

Best practice is to buy plants in the spring and grow them on in the garden. With proper feeding, watering, and some bud pinching, they will reward with an abundance of flowers covering the cushion mounded plants. This is the best way to ensure overwintering plants, since they have time to settle and grow a good root base.

But if you pop in nursery grown plants in September or October, let the tops remain to insulate the plants- they still might show up next spring.
3 Important Things To Know About

  1. Zone 5-9, although some are a little more hardy, and many are less.
  2. Division of plants every 2-3 years benefits longevity of the plant
  3. This autumn stalwart plant ought to be grown in full sun. They may not bloom well if subjected to night-time artificial lights.

Looks

[The Look] Medium green foliage with elongated and notched leaves something of the shape of a narrow oak leaf. When blooming the foliage can seem hidden under the burst of flowers; it is nondescript in appearance, anyway.

The flowers come in many colors: white, yellows, golds, dusky pinks, maroon reds, burnt oranges, and in combinations. Breeders have aimed for a number of distinctive flower shapes, too. Button, daisy, “decorative”, spider, spoon… there are less choices offered in the big stores, but if you have a wish for the more unique types, order from a catalog in Spring.

Flower Form Primer

  • Decorative is a flat, crested form.
  • Pom Pom is a smaller rounded shape.
  • Buttons have tight blooms that measure about 3/4 inch across- looking like big coat buttons.
  • Anemones have crested centers and a ring of flat outer petals
  • Daisy has central disk and flat rays ringing the yellow eye. Subsets are quilled, with the petals rolled up and spoons, which have the rolled petal tipped with an open spoonlike end.
  • Spiders are a graceful form with rolled petals displayed informally.

Chrysanthemums

How Dendrathema x grandiflora Is Grown

[Garden Guide]
Good growing practices:
You might feel this plant is a bit of a diva, requiring prima donna attention, but she is a queen when blooming and worth any labor given in terms of feeding, watering, and care.

  • All chrysanthemum plants are heavy feeders and need plenty of fertilizing during the season. Feeding with every watering is welcomed.
  • Full Sun
  • Soil that has slightly acid pH, with good drainage, Good soil enriched with humus and aged manure is appreciated.

Regular moisture is needed, and plants quickly “wilt” if denied adequate moisture.

Never use fresh manure on growing plants. It will “burn” them.

Hardiness

My experience is that there are widely differing levels of hardiness among the many varieties offered. The button and decorative types tended to be perennials for me, while some of the newer colors and styles did not make it through my winters.

The older types I grew had more longevity than any of the newer ones- which often act as tender perennials for in my garden (especially this rural garden). Be aware that the older cold hardy varieties can be hard to find. Growers tend to concentrate on newer forms that are often hybrids that won’t survive our cold Northern winters.
Older Named Varieties:

  • Grandchild‘ is a good lavender pink decorative
  • Minnruby, a ruby red, very hardy variety
  • ‘Baby Tears’ are small compact white blooms
  • ‘Burnt Copper’is a good orange copper
  • ‘Cameo’ beautiful shell pink decorative.
  • ‘Gold Strike’ is a bright, gleaming gold yellow
  • Rose Grenadine‘ is my favorite, subtle tawny rose coloring.

I’ve grown all these at one time or another. My city garden had best success for perennial stands of these cushion mums, which I increased through division. I think that attests to the fact that protection from wind, and a bit of snow cover goes a long way in the survival and flourishing of these perennials. I found all the above named varieties to be cold climate worthy, while the Rose Grenadine was slightly less likely to survive.

 

Garden Styles

Almost all mum styles have a formal appearance, although the cushion mums used in front of a border or in a mass planting blends with most garden styles. The sheer mass of bright color will arrest attention, so these are definitely focal points in the landscape. In that way, Chrysanthemums don’t “blend”.

The shape of cushion mums is self describe: they are a low mound. Grouped in front of shrubs, flanking paths and steps, or ruling over an autumn portion of the garden are beloved ways to display them. They are also perfect in urns and pots, as container displays.

Dendranthemum ‘Clara Curtis‘ is a very old variety that my mom had given me. It grows very loosely with pink daisy flowers. Some years it bloomed so late that we almost missed “the show”. It was tolerant of a northern aspect that got only partial sun, but I don’t recommend this. (Full sun is always best for Chrysanthemums)

Plant Facts

[Fun Facts]
Garden chrysanthemums are photoperiodic; flowering triggered by the shortening of days and lengthening of nights in late summer and fall makes the autumn blooms we love so well..

That light sensitive blooming mechanism means you should not plant under street lamps or post lights that will give light all night- it could disrupt blooming.

 

Can I plant my potted mums? Yes, but be aware that many will have very late bloomtime and might be cut off by your frosts when coming into bloom in late October to November.
Kiku is the traditional floral art form of training the chrysanthemum plants into a display that artistically shows off the flowers. Every year the New York Botanical Garden holds an exhibition of this fascinating practice.

Additional resources
Mums.org
How To Grow Mums- Factsheet
More About Mums

Resource books on growing chrysanthemums