Dear Miss Floribunda,
Each year my guests for Thanksgiving dinner give me beautiful potted chrysanthemums and each year I plant them in my garden. Very few survive, and those that do are pathetic scraggly things with few blooms. I look around town and see magnificent mounds of chrysanthemums blooming in other gardens. They even get bigger each year. I’ve asked neighbors for their secrets but they just shrug and say that chrysanthemums are among the easiest flowers to grow. I know there is something I should know that I’m not being told. Help!
Mum’s the Word on Manorwood Drive
Dear Mum’s the Word:
Because your chrysanthemums are gifts, you don’t know where they came from and whether they are hardy. Very few of the beautiful varieties you see in florist shops and at supermarkets will survive outside. This is often true of such other gift plants as azaleas and cyclamen. It is better to buy your own mums from a nursery with knowledgeable personnel and make sure you get varieties that can overwinter.
Also, the timing of the gifts means that you are planting your mums at the earliest in late November. Truth to tell, the best time to plant chrysanthemums is in the spring so they can be well-established before frost. However, the enticing varieties become available only in the fall. Be sure to mulch your autumn-planted mums well, and make sure you place wiring or something else over the mulch to keep it from blowing away. This should keep the roots from freezing.
I showed your letter to Ivan Grozni, a grumpy but expert chrysanthemum gardener whose plants are never leggy or scraggly.He is of the opinion that you are “babying” your plants. He advised an annual discipline of whacking them back in early June to about eight inches high, and then “beheading” them in July. After they finish blooming and it gets really cold, he slashes them almost to the ground.
Alarmed, I asked a kinder, gentler gardener, Flor de Otono, for her advice. She confirmed that cutting back chrysanthemums in summer does keep them in uniform shape and that they flower much better if not allowed to bloom too soon. She even agreed that cutting them back severely after frost is good for them and doesn’t prevent them from coming back luxuriantly the next year.
She would like you to know that while it is true that chrysanthemums are easy to grow (and to root from cuttings, she added) they do have two important requirements that you might have overlooked: They like good drainage and good air circulation. She wonders if you planted them too close together or too close to a wall or to other plants. She agreed with me that winter mulch would help late-planted mums survive the winter.
To hear a lecture by an expert from the Chesapeake Chrysanthemum Society, please come to the next meeting of the Hyattsville Horticultural Society at 10 a.m. on Saturday, November 19, at the Municipal Building, 4310 Gallatin Street.