About those mums.

ironbelly1December 8, 2004

JustPutzinAround asked a question about mums on another thread. I thought it might be better to just start a posting dedicated to this topic. Mums are interesting but seem to create a lot of confusion and questions. The original question is copied below.

I am wondering if you have to pinch back mums sometime during the summer to get that absolutely full and gorgeous flush of blooms on them in the fall. What if they set buds too early in the year?

The rule of thumb for our area is to continue pinching back hardy mums until about the 4th of July. I will pass along my opinions (I stress MY opinions because I am sure others have different practices that work quite well for them.) First, I think we have to define what is a hardy mum and what isn't.

You can buy blooming mums at all times of the year. These are almost always a plant that will not endure Iowa winters and/or Iowa weather in general. They are most often simply called "florist mums" and are bred exclusively for a hot house environment. Most of these are what is called daylight neutral plants because they really don't care what time of the year they bloom. The cut-flower industry and florists prefer these because the grower can determine when they want these to bloom rather than depending upon natural, seasonal conditions. Hardy mums determine when to set bud dependent upon the number of available daylight hours (actually hours of darkness). This translates to blooming in the autumn.

Unfortunately, when purchasing "hardy" mums, you often are not sure that this particular variety is going to be hardy for you. Just because the tag says "hardy" it is no guarantee. I define hardy mums as those that will survive in MY garden. Most mums succumb to "winter kill" not from excessive cold temperatures but rather excessive winter wetness. Good drainage is imperative. Over the years, I have bought lots of so-called hardy mums. The ones that survive, I propagate and plant masses of them to great effect. The ones that don't survive winter, I consider a good riddance. I have a number of them that reliably bloom in the colors I like. These also reliably bloom in a predictable succession. The yellow ones start things off and two weeks later come the bronze ones followed in another two weeks by a red one with yellow centers. This order of bloom succession took a few years to dawn on me but now I use it to stage my plantings.

I offer this all as a round about way of answering JustPutzinAround's question. Each of my mums start setting buds at different times. Although the 4th of July is a pretty good rule of thumb, it really depends. I know of no place to gather this specific information other than through personal trial. The problem most people face is that they keep putting off pinching their mums until it is almost the 4th of July. All of a sudden, they realize they had better get it done pretty quick or it will be too late. Well, for that "absolutely full and gorgeous flush of blooms" you really need to have been pinching them several times long before Independence Day. The advice to stop pinching by the 4th of July unfortunately gets translated in practice to mean the mums (if lucky) got pinched back only one time on the 4th.

Invariably, when people ask if they can pinch back mums after they have set bud, they are admitting that they have procrastinated far too long. I do not pinch back after buds are set. However, there may be hope for us procrastinators yet. I recently attended a symposium where the director of the University of Minnesota's horticultural development program showed slides of some new mums they are growing that do not require pinching to get a full, rounded blooming habit. Promising things are happening in Gopher country.

I would like to hear about other people's mum experiences/practices as well.


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Nice summary, IB; I guess I'm really a tardy pincher... I've been meaning to pinch back my mums for the 8 years I've had this garden, but haven't gotten it done yet! You've got me pumped up, though; next year for sure!

    Bookmark   December 8, 2004 at 8:24PM
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Thanks, IB; finally someone who tells it like it is. I've been puzzled by the mum phenomenon forever. Seems like some people have all the luck -- or maybe they just plant those gorgeous mums each year. Now I know how to go about it to at least have a fighting chance.

    Bookmark   December 10, 2004 at 9:50AM
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sos_acres(Z5 SE IA)

Iron Belly you wrote "The ones that survive, I propagate and plant masses". Could you elaborate on how you prefer to propagate mums? I've snatched a few seeds this fall :)
What, if any, is your experience with mulching mums to help avoid winter kill?
Thanks for bringing this subject up!

    Bookmark   December 11, 2004 at 1:13AM
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Great questions, SOS.

As I stated earlier, excessive winter wetness kills more mums than excessive cold. Excellent drainage is a must. However, in spite of perfect conditions and planted side by side, some mums are just duds for survivability while another next to it thrives. Simply by trial, I have come up with survivors that do extremely well for me in my garden.

I have read where some people claim great success with a given mum grower that they can depend upon. Good for them. However, I never had that luxury and just bought colors that I liked (from wherever) and gave them a try. To be fair, however, you have to buy those mums when they first become available in the fall so that you can plant them, allowing enough time to generate an adequate root system to be able to survive the winter. Perhaps another way to select truly hardy plants would be to keep track of what your neighbors are getting repeat performances from. Try and get a few divisions from them in the spring.

As for mulching, I only put down my regular mulch that I maintain through the year for weed control. I provide no additional winter mulch. (See link below on the Perennial Forum that outlines my feelings on winter mulching.) However, research has found (and my personal trails seem to agree) that mums survive winter much better if you do not remove the dead remnants until spring. They are not exactly sure why but the data supports this practice. I also do not cut back my mums until spring.

Having said that, what I actually do is wait until I see an inch or so of new growth and then trim off the old dead stuff. Typically at the same time I will dig up about half the plant (you could dig it all up) and divide off the new shoots with some roots included. I then pot these up to propagate them to a size where I can plant them. You can get a lot of new plants this way and these new little divisions take right off. By leaving half of the original plant, the size of the plant will be much bigger that fall than if I divided the whole plant -- although you certainly could. As a helpful hint: I shake as much soil off as I can and then slosh the plant around in a five gallon bucket of water to get the rest of the soil off. Then you can really see what you are doing and can actually get more divisions and do a better job; plus you retain a lot more of the roots without breaking them off. Many of the new shoots will just pull apart with some root attached or you can use a sharp knife or a pair of shears. Just give your babies a little TLC until they start putting out new growth and they should transplant into the garden just fine. I usually do my first pinching back when I plant these out.

As an aside...
Although I have not found a source yet, the University of Minnesota developed a "bush mum" a few years ago. They sold exclusive rights to (I think???) Ball Seed Company. When I say bush, I mean about three to four feet tall and about as wide. If I remember correctly from the symposium, they recommend planting these on four foot centers! Yikes -- four feet apart. This guy assured us that by the second or third year, you would effectively have a mum hedge. And yes, they are supposed to be hardy to zone 3 or 4. I must run down a source for some of these.


Here is a link that might be useful: Winter mulching.

    Bookmark   December 11, 2004 at 2:36AM
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IronBelly, I have the "My Favorite" mum which fits the description of the U of Minn bush mum described above. It has red petals, a yellow center, and spreads at least 3 1/2 feet in a globe shape. "My Favorite" mums came out with great fanfare in gardening magazines four or five years ago but, unfortunately, they didn't sell. I believe they were developed in Europe and that the "Clara Curtis" mum was one of the parents.

"My Favorite" comes back reliably every year, doesn't require pinching, and can be divided like a traditional mum. I believe the reason "My Favorite" was not a big seller was due to the color combination; the red petals were a bit muddy and they faded to dull pink. The "My Favorite" breeders were supposed to come out with some additional color combinations in subsequent years but I haven't seen them come to market. "My Favorite" would be a good choice in a public landscape that doesn't get tended very often.

Hopefully, the U. of Minn. varieties will have greater eye appeal.


    Bookmark   December 11, 2004 at 8:27PM
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When I cut back the mums during the summer I dip the ends of the clippings in rooting powder and plant them. Most don't root but I always do have some that do and this way have new plantings; anyone else have success doing this or another method?

Also, what is the difference (if any) between the terms 'mum' and 'chrysanthemum'?

    Bookmark   December 17, 2004 at 7:54PM
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Vieja, I've never tried planting cuttings of mums as you describe. Glad to hear you have some success with the method. I might try it next summer to see if I can propagate some of the mums I like the best.

The terms 'mum' and 'chrysanthemum' are synonyms. 'Mum' is the shortened form of 'chrysanthemum.'


    Bookmark   December 18, 2004 at 6:11PM
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perennialprincess(z4 MN)


allow me to expand upon the comments of yourself and Rhoda Azalea regarding the My Favorite mums - which were developed at the University of Minnesota, not in Europe.

The first introduction in this series of mums was My Favorite(TM) Autumn Red. There have been four subsequent colors released (a yellow, a white, a pink and a coral). Initially they were given exclusively to the My Favorite company which was a joint venture of Ball Seed and Anthony Tesselaar (of the Flower Carpet rose fame). Right away, Ball Seed dropped out of the venture, so they have been controlled over the years by AT. Did you buy any Autumn Red? They were initially sold in this bright blue pot, and were incredibly expensive - many retailers selling them for $14.95 to $19.95 per plant - a big turnoff for many gardeners. They were supposed to have smaller plants available in spring, but I never saw them. The majority of plants seemed to be sold through big box stores, mostly Home Depot.

I work in the perennial business and have seen the mum breeding work, now under the direction of Dr Neil Anderson at the University of Minnesota. There are some awesome plants coming down the road, but not sure how they will be produced and marketed yet. I was just in the breeding fields this fall with Neil and saw them for myself.

I have had all five colors in my yard, and they have all survived zone 4 winters. They do get large - they can easily reach a height of 18-24" and spread to 3 or 4' wide.

It is too bad that so many of the old U of M cultivars, (such as Minngopher, Minnwhite, Minnred, - you get the drift) have been almost lost in the trade. Unfortunately, they are very specific to our neck of the woods, and none of the big mum propagator/breeder companies have cared to produce them for the Midwest - it competes with their own breeding (which is geared to warmer climates - thus all the dead 'hardy' mums in our gardens).

I agree with Rhoda Azalea that the color of Autumn Red can get a bit washed out - I think Neil will ultimately have a red that holds its color better in the late summer heat.

It's nice to talk plants on a cold, icky winter day!


    Bookmark   December 28, 2004 at 4:09PM
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Thanks for clarifying this "Minnesota mums on steroids" issue, Princess. I can remember the big hoopla when the University of Minnesota sold the rights a few years ago but I was never able to track down any of the plants. It was only a few months ago that we got a Home Depot (the main retailer for this product) so that might also help to explain their absence in my local, Quad City area.

In a posting above, I mentioned a symposium. I am now sure it was Dr. Neil Anderson of the University of Minnesota who was speaking. It is too bad that the now apparent politics for these mums were never mentioned. It is such a shame that decades of developmental work remain largely hidden and unavailable to the general public.

Thanks so much for your contribution to this thread!


    Bookmark   December 29, 2004 at 9:23AM
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perennialprincess(z4 MN)


happy to talk to folks in Iowa! my husband is from Iowa (and from the nursery industry - do you remember the old Ferris Nursery in Hampton, IA - that is his family).

Did Neil show you the pictures of his 'prostrate' mums? These future introductions are much shorter than the My Favorite mounding types. They look as though they will reach about 9-12" in height and be rather spreading. There is a nice yellow for sure and a few other colors in the works. He is still working on hardiness, but with you being in the Quad Cities and zone 5, I'll bet they will work beautifully for you - I am jealous of zone 5'ers! I actually have a few of these plants in test gardens here at the nursery, and will know more next spring. Am terribly worried about winterkill on perennials right now - no significant snow at all in the Twin Cities, and Christmas week we were well below zero degrees. I guess it will be an acid test for these mums! Would really like some snow to cover the gardens right about now!

Take care, PP

    Bookmark   December 29, 2004 at 10:43AM
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Perennial Princess-

Sorry about identifying the My Favorite mums as European. I guess the Tesselaar source threw me. I would like to see the others in this series.

I got "Autumn Red" at the black top garden center next to the grocery store; they were being given away at the end of the season. I picked up four for free which turned out to be a really good "price." LOL The original price was way beyond what people here were willing to pay, as you pointed out.

Perhaps, U. of Minn needs to look at a more user-friendly marketing strategy.


    Bookmark   December 29, 2004 at 6:06PM
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Looks like a forum where people know something about mums! I am a total novice with mums. But this fall i got 4 of them (yellow, red, white, pink) and have them still in pots. I do not have a garden but have been putting out my plants in the balcony all summer. I understand that mulching makes sense for ground plants for the winter. But what do I do with the plants in pots? Will they survive the winter? And what should I do to make them survive. Also what happens to the blooms once they are through? Do I need to deadhead them or leave them until spring before I do anything to them.

Would appreciate any help on this.


    Bookmark   October 4, 2005 at 7:06PM
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This is a question that comes up fairly often. In short, the odds of your plants surviving until next year are quite slim. Even under the best conditions, if you had garden soil space, it is getting pretty late in the year to give them adequate time to become established. Probably the best advice is to just enjoy them while they last and then toss them.

I know this sounds rather harsh but that is the almost inescapable reality of the situation. And ... for all practical purposes, that is the real concept and expectation of the growers anyway. They grow this type of mum for the express purpose of looking good at this time of year and put no emphasis on longevity -- they expect you to toss them.

The way that you really need to look at this is as if you purchased a pretty bouquet -- albeit one that is held in potting soil instead of water in a vase. Enjoy it while you can and savor the memories. I am not going to tell you that it would be impossible to keep these plants alive but the "Law of Diminishing Returns" kicks in.

You would be expending a great time, money and energy to (maybe) keep a plant alive. For a few bucks, next fall you can purchase more mums for your balcony that will have been grown under ideal conditions. Odds are that these new purchases will look a whole lot better than the ones you invested so much into. Just think of them as they were intended -- a living bouquet.


    Bookmark   October 5, 2005 at 10:25AM
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Hi Ironbelly,

Well thanks for the advice. Not exactly what I was hoping to hear but the truth works fine with me. I was also wondering if this 'potted bouquet' rule holds true for both the garden variety as well as the florist varieties. Could you elaborate in general for future reference what needs to be done in terms of the flowers? Do you just let them wither and drop off in the fall or do you need to prune them? I have read varying opinions everywhere and would like to know what works best. Also the tempretures up here are still in the upper 80's! Would that be an ok tempreture to transplant mums or is there some other reason why its too late in the year to move them?


    Bookmark   October 5, 2005 at 11:09AM
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You are making a number of very common, false assumptions. Air temperature (still in the upper 80's) has very little to do with plant root systems getting established. The ground temperature is the controlling factor. In fact, many of the major "factory greenhouses" that produce so much of what you see on the shelves control the temperature of the root medium more closely than they do air temperature. (Of course, there are limits -- such as freezing.) They may keep the soil temperature at 80 degrees and let the air temps remain at 35 to 40 degrees -- of course, this is dependent upon the season of the year. Anyway ... what I am trying to say is that the roots will generally keep growing as long as the ground temperature is 45 to 50 degrees. In many cases, plant growth is more dependent upon soil temperature than air temperature -- within certain limits and dependent upon what you are growing. In short, planting mums at this time of year probably will not allow adequate time for the roots to become established -- especially since the plant is now concentrating upon pumping out flowers, not roots.

Removing spent flowers (generally called "dead-heading") is a practice used earlier in the year to encourage some plants to continue repeat blooming. What you are really doing is removing a mature flower head that is sending hormones to the plant telling it to stop blooming and start concentrating on the seed. Mums bloom so late in the year that they do not have time to set new flower buds. Also, with hardy mums, bud set is generally controlled by day length. Cutting off spent mum blooms would just be a cosmetic endeavor.

As I stated earlier in this thread, research has shown that mums survive winter better if the old top growth is left on over winter.


    Bookmark   October 6, 2005 at 9:17AM
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Thanks Ironbelly. That explanation about soil temperature makes a lot of sense. Thanks for the help!

    Bookmark   October 7, 2005 at 9:59AM
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garasaki(z5 IA)

Ok, Ironbelly, I'm cheap...

I bought a single mum that I really like this year, but used it in a container. Is it possible to propogate it thru cuttings or divisions to grow in containers for next year?

    Bookmark   October 7, 2005 at 10:33AM
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plays_in_dirt_dirt(Z7A VA bordering NC state line)

This is my first posting, and I don't know how to enter a new question, so am asking here. Forgive the long text, but I want to include all pertinent info.
Thanks----- Barbara

I live in Zone 7A where winters are not generally severe. I recently bought some hardy chrysanthemums in bloom in 3-inch pots. I do not want to plant them where we live now because we plan to move in early spring. I want to winter them over in pots until spring. I transplanted them 2 to a pot into 9-inch pots and watered, watered, watered. My quandary is what to do now. Will they survive outside over winter in the 9-inch pots above ground along an east-facing basement foundation with no shrubs or other vegetation but lots of morning sun? If I huddle the pots there, should I cover or protect them in some way? What way?

Another question: I have a place on the edge of a woodland road that receives partial sun at least 4 hours a day. It has lots of leaf mold on top of humusy dirt from a years-ago fallen tree. It would be fairly easy to dig deeply enough there to bury the 9-inch pots to the rim. That space is near our house site and water is not yet available. Would it be better to keep the mums in a sunny spot where I live now, water regularly, then move them to the woodland edge (if recommended) after the first killing frost? To take them now would require that I haul water for several weeks. I don't want to do that.

Please advise. All I'm trying to do is keep the mums alive outside in pots until next spring when I will have a well-prepared, sunny spot for them. Thanks so much.

    Bookmark   October 7, 2005 at 12:23PM
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I have gotten most of my mums from Wal-Mart and over the years I have a nice collection that keeps multiplying.The ones I plant in the summer by next spring they have spread enough to have plants for groupings. I never pinch my mums and I also cut them down when new growth comes in the spring.

    Bookmark   October 8, 2005 at 5:46PM
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Maude_IA(z5-SE Iowa)

to Plays in Dirt Dirt

You live in a different, warmer zone, so your question will probably get better response from the Virginia forum than here. In Iowa, the plants would die - no question. But we probably have no idea about overwintering mums in pots in Virginia, and there's a good chance that we'd give you poor advice.

I'd recommend that you repost the question here.

Here is a link that might be useful: Virginia Gardening

    Bookmark   October 8, 2005 at 8:31PM
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All I can really tell you is to spit on the dice & roll 'em. I think it is too late to think about propagating. If it is a "hardy mum", (Many of them are mislabeled.) by its very nature, it is going to want to take a winter nap. I would try to leave its root system intact and just plant out the whole pot in a somewhat protected area that does not remain soggy over the winter. A little protective mulch wouldn't hurt. If you are lucky, it will see growth next spring when you can start propagating like a madman.



My advice to you would be much the same. I would simply plant the entire pot in the garden when it cools off. You could also provide a little protective mulch and then see what survives. It is very difficult to tell whether or not the mums you buy off the shelf (although pretty) will be hardy for you in whatever your particular climate conditions. Sadly, I have found this to be pretty much a process of trial and error. When you find ones that do survive; hold on to them!


    Bookmark   October 10, 2005 at 12:29PM
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plays_in_dirt_dirt(Z7A VA bordering NC state line)

About those mums in pots -------- Thanks, Maude and Ironbelly!! I'm going to sink the pots into the soft, humusy, leaf moldy dirt in about a month, mulch, and keep my fingers crossed for green shoots in the spring. If the whole thing fails, I won't have lost much money but will have gained a good lesson about impulse buying, which, at my age, I should have learned decades ago!!!

    Bookmark   October 23, 2005 at 7:39PM
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lindac(Iowa Z 5/4)

I would remove the plants from the post....keeping the root ball intact. Plants sunk in the dirt still in a pot have a much greater chance of getting too wet and rotting their roots than plants just directly in the dirt.
But it's still a pretty slim chance of saving them.....and pile the leaves on top.
The trick to being cheap and having lots of beautiful mums is to find some in the spring, plant and mark those which do well. Then the following spring, take cuttings of those you like best and root them for next year.
I use foil cake pans, punch holes in the bottom, fill with pearlite, and stick it full of 3 inch tender cuttings as soon as you can in the spring dip them into rooting powder....moisten well....place the whole into a clear plastic bag and hang in a tree.....to keep out of any sun light and to keep the plastic from resting on the leaves of the plants. In 3 weeks about 3/4 will have roots and in a month they will be ready to plant out.
Linda C

    Bookmark   October 24, 2005 at 11:23AM
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garasaki(z5 IA)

So.....spring is the time to propogate these hunh?

Cool...my single mum is looking very good still, I took some great pictures of it yesterday. I may try to post them eventually.

With the frost/freeze coming up this week, now would be the time to bury that baby...right?

    Bookmark   October 24, 2005 at 12:02PM
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irinah(z5 NE)

Where can I buy those mounding MN mums? any catalog you can suggest?

Mums that I have are Menards and Walmart and Home Depot plants, every fall I buy the colors I like and so far I lost only one plant in 5 years.

I have a very nice arrangement of hardy pink mums and hot pink cascading wave petunias that took over big planters in the retaining wall. When mums get big they shade petunias and protect them from drying out in Nebraska hot summer and also cover "leggy" part of petunias in the fall. Right now it looks like a big mound of pink flowers with hot pink petunias "bleeding" from it.

Lovely :)

    Bookmark   October 24, 2005 at 6:01PM
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JennieRocket(6 ME)

What, exactly, could cause a hardy mum to have dying, dried out buds in early winter season? A floormate of mine recently purchased a pretty little pink one, and, though it has been blooming, most of its buds are dry and dead before they can bloom. Others come out small with missing/severely small petals. It was in a slightly too cold environment, I think, in her room(She keeps the windows constantly open), so I moved it to my room just a few days ago. It is only today that I notice the dried bud problem.

Any ideas or suggestions?

    Bookmark   October 26, 2005 at 9:40AM
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The answer to any horticultural question should always be prefaced with: "Well, that depends..." Especially without seeing this plant, any answer you get will merely be a best guess. Any number of things and/or a combination of things could cause this problem.

Mum plants in a small pot are living in a tenuous condition at best. The problem could be simply from letting the pot dry out too much a time or two. I rather doubt that cool window sill temps had anything to do with what you describe but then, anything is possible. Specific diagnosis is sometimes never a reality. You wind up with a number of possibilities but in the end, the real answer remains, "I don't know."


    Bookmark   October 26, 2005 at 10:21AM
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JennieRocket(6 ME)

Uh oh! I found out what's wrong with my friend's little mum! It has a case of mites, though I'm not familiar with mites or anything, so I don't know what type or anything. They are little yellow ones and all of the flowers are crawling with them on their undersides! I can't believe I didn't notice earlier! Is there anything I can do to try and eliminate them? Will rubbing alcohol and a soil change work, or should I really just give up on the poor little thing? My friend says she simply does not have the time or dedication to try any mite-removing, but I am certainly up to it if I can manage. The only problem is where to get the soil. Do I have to buy it, or would fresh soil from the ground suffice?

Sorry to be such a bother, but I don't want to have to give up on my first houseplant disaster.

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 1:40PM
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Interesting read.

I have only two mums, both gifts.
I had a third but noticed the bugs really ate it badly.
So I yanked that one. They must not taste the same- to a bug!

    Bookmark   October 28, 2005 at 2:50PM
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JennieRocket(6 ME)

So you suggest that I just berid myself of it? There is no other hope for little "Violet?"(My friend named it, not me.)

Furthermore, do you think there is a chance of the mites spreading to my Philodendron?

    Bookmark   October 29, 2005 at 8:31PM
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I test hardy mums by digging the clump and sitting it on top of the ground during the winter. Thus there is no mulch or protection of any kind. I have never lost a hardy mum by this method.

    Bookmark   September 12, 2006 at 2:40AM
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As a new and struggling gardener, I have found great advice and comfort here so thank you all for your pearls of wisdom. I am considering trying to grow mums in a bed that is 10 ft by 3 ft. I spotted 3 inch pots at loews for 98 cents and 6 inch pots for $2.98, all labeled "hardy" and all in a variety of colors. In striving both for visual impact and longevity, can anyone comment on (1) whether I should take a chance with a big box store vs. nursery (2) what size mums might you consider and in what color scheme/combination (3) is it advisable to plant mums at the end of August in zone 5. Thank you!

    Bookmark   August 27, 2008 at 12:40PM
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