Mums used to be for grandmas, but now they’re for anyone who’s into fall. They pair well with oversized sweaters, pumpkin spice lattes and white girls dressed like Han Solo.
Mums are easy to care for, but also hard. What the hell does that mean? It means that if you think watering plants is a lot of work, you’re not going to like mums. They are THIRSTY.
But if you don’t mind watering them pretty much every day and you can give them plenty of sun, they’ll be your BFF (until they wither up and die in winter, as we all do).
There’s a bit more to keeping your mums happy and blooming all season though. Follow the tips in this article to make sure you get the full color explosion mums offer.
How Do You Care for Potted Mums?
Mums are perfectly happy to live in containers for the fall season. Pop them into terra cotta pots for some extra fall color or plant them in a window box with other fall plants like coleus or kale.
Or if you’re lazy like me, just leave them in the pot they came in and set them on your doorstep. They’re pretty enough to razzle dazzle your neighbors with little to no effort on your part.
How Do You Choose the Best Mum Plant?
Making sure your potted mum looks amazing all season and doesn’t die an untimely death starts with picking the right plant. Healthy plants will have deep green leaves and no sagging or droopy limbs. Pretty obvious. But what you also need to know is that mums go through five blooming stages.
The Five Stages of Blooming:
1. Totally green, all buds, no blooms open at all
2. Still mostly buds, some blooms beginning to open
3. Roughly 50/50 buds and blooms
4. Very few buds left, most blooms open
5. No buds left, all blooms open
Choosing the right stage means considering when you want the most color. If you’re shopping for mums the day before Halloween and you want plenty of color for the trick-or-treaters to enjoy, choose a plant in stage four or five. If you’d rather enjoy a longer transition from green to color explosion, choose a plant in stage one or two.
Avoid plants with brown or fading flowers. They’re nearing the end of their bloom cycle and will soon be nothing but a crispy mass of brown sticks.
Do Mums Like Sun or Shade?
Sun, sun, sun (that song almost always pops in my head when I talk about full sun plants). Yep, mums are like those leathery old beach bums who’ve spent the last eleventy hundred years working on their tan. They LOVE the sun, like 6+ hours of it per day.
BUT they don’t love the heat. They’ll tolerate warmer days if you give them plenty of water, but being fall plants, they’re happier on those sunny fall days, when the sun is warm but the air is crisp and cool. Sweater weather.
If mums don’t get enough sun, they’ll get “leggy,” which means they’ll stretch way out to try and reach the sun, making them look kind of scraggly. They’ll also produce fewer, smaller flowers.
So it’s best to put mums in a sunny spot outside, but they can also do well inside if they’re near a bright, sunny window.
How Often Do You Water Mums?
Mums are like a cross between a dog that’s been running around the dog park all day and a hyper-dramatic Victorian lady. They’re SO DAMN THIRSTY, and if they don’t get enough water, they’ll act like they need a tiny fainting couch to collapse upon.
Mums like soil that’s constantly moist (but not soggy), so if it’s early fall and the temperatures are still pretty warm, you’ll probably have to water them every day. If temperatures are cooler, you can get away with watering them every two or three days. Just check the soil each day and water when the top inch or so of soil feels dry (read more about how to properly water your plants here).
If you notice your mums starting to wilt or the bottom leaves starting to brown, give them more water. Allowing them to wilt too much can cause buds to fail and blooms to fade.
If you experience one of those oddly hot days in the middle of fall and come home to your mum looking like a sad old mop head, you can probably still save it. Fill a bucket or container with a couple of inches of water and set the potted mum in it. The plant will soak up the water through the drainage holes and slowly revive like some kind of plant zombie.
Okay okay okay, but LISTEN. Almost as important as how often you water mums is how you actually do the watering. Since they’re such dense, bushy plants, water can easily get trapped between the stems and leaves, causing mold or rot. So make sure you water at the soil level and avoid getting the foliage wet.
How Do You Deadhead Mums?
If you’re a busy person who doesn’t have time for deadheading (or a lazy bum like me), know that you don’t actually have to deadhead your mums. But removing the wilted blooms and any dead stems or leaves will make your mums bloom longer.
Plus, it’s pretty fun to sit on your porch with a cup of coffee on a nice fall day and pick all the dead crap off your plants. That sounds fun, right? Right? Maybe you have to be a weird plant hoarder or crazy cat lady or something. I wouldn’t know anything about that.
Anyway, it doesn’t take long to deadhead mums. Just take a few minutes once or twice a week to trim off any crispy or yucky bits. That way the new buds and blooms aren’t competing with the old buds and blooms for water or nutrients.
What Type of Soil Do Mums Like?
Since they like their soil moist but not soggy, mums prefer a potting mix that can retain water while staying fluffy enough to allow for good drainage. So if you’re repotting your mums, use a high-quality potting mix like Miracle Grow Moisture Control Potting Mix.
How Do You Fertilize Mums?
Potted mums that you buy in the fall usually don’t need fertilizer. They’ve been fertilized plenty at the greenhouse and will only bloom for a month or so before winter (their dormant period) sets in.
If you overwinter your mums, start fertilizing them when you see the first signs of spring growth. Use a fertilizer designed for flowers or blooms for best results.
How Long Do Mum Blooms Last?
Each individual bloom will last roughly two to three weeks, depending on temperatures and light levels.
Temperatures – As I mentioned before, mums are all about sweater weather (and pumpkin spice lattes). If it’s too hot, their blooms will quickly wilt away and then burn up like some kind of vampire.
Light levels – Mums are “short day” plants, meaning they need a longer period of darkness to form flowers. That’s why they bloom so much in fall – flower production is stimulated by the shorter days/longer nights.
Pro Tip: Be careful about placing mums where porch or street lights will shine on them all night. That added light can stunt flower production.
How Do You Care for Mums Planted in the Garden?
When most other plants are starting to lose their leaves and basically look like crap, mums can bring your landscape back to life. Stick with one or two colors for maximum impact or plant a gradient of colors for a cool ombre effect. Placing them in front of ornamental grasses or evergreens will really make them pop.
Garden mums have the same needs as potted mums – lots of water, soil with good drainage and plenty of sun, sun, sun. You’ll also want to give them plenty of space – at least 18 inches from other plants. This will give their roots room to expand and prevent mold from forming under their dense mounds.
Do Mums Come Back Every Year?
In zones 5-9 (basically everywhere in the U.S. except the coldest states), garden mums (as opposed to florist mums) are perennials, meaning they WILL come back every year.
Sidenote: Both garden mums and florist mums originally come from a golden daisy-like mum from China, but hundreds of years of hybridization (aka Frankensteining) has created two distinct species. Florist mums produce a weaker root system, which means they can’t survive cold winter weather like garden mums can (they can still be grown as houseplants though).
How Late in the Fall Can You Plant Mums?
Planting in early fall gives mums plenty of time to get their roots established before freezing temperatures set in. But they can survive late fall planting if you add three or four inches of mulch around the base of the plant. You can prune away any frost damage, but it’s best to leave major pruning for the spring.
How Do You Winterize Garden Mums?
Add three to four inches of mulch around the base of the plants to keep the root ball nice and toasty over winter. You can pinch off dead blooms if you feel like it, but leave the stems intact until spring. When you see new growth around the base of the plant in early spring, pull the mulch back and prune the old, dead stems to give the new shoots room to grow.
What Is Pinching?
If you buy budding mums in the fall, they’ve already been pinched. But if you want your mums to maintain their full, rounded shape when they come back in the spring, you’ll need to do some pinching. Doing this will encourage more flower bud formation and help delay flowering until fall.
Here’s how to do it: When your mum’s new spring growth reaches about five or six inches, pinch off about two inches from every branch. Once it grows another five to six inches, repeat the process (roughly every two to four weeks). Each pinched stem will divide into two new stems, creating a strong, bushy plant.
Stop pinching your mums in mid to late July so the plant can start developing flower buds.
Do Mums Bloom More Than Once?
Not really. If you buy a mum with 100 buds on it, you’re not going to get more than 100 flowers out of it this season.
BUT providing optimal care will help ensure that all 100 of those buds open into beautiful little flowers. Too much heat, too little water or anything else that makes mums sad will prevent at least some of those buds from opening. Deadheading spent blooms will help keep new blooms opening since they won’t be competing for nutrients with old blooms.
If you overwinter your mums and you don’t do any pinching, you may see blooms in spring as well as fall. However, it’ll just be a few blooms here and there, not the profuse mound of blooms mums are known for producing in the fall.
Can Mums Be Divided?
Mums grown as perennials can be divided. When you see new growth starting in the spring, dig up the plant and separate the outer pieces from the center with a clean, sharp trowel or knife. Plant the outer pieces and toss the original center from the plant into your compost pile. Once you see three or four new shoots develop, you can fertilize the new plants.
Do Deer Eat Mums?
Typically, no. But if they’re hungry enough, deer will eat just about anything. Such majestic, gluttonous creatures.
Is There a Video About How to Care for Mums?
Of course, sweet baby angel face. Here you go: