Growing Mums in Your Southern California Garden

Written by Susan B.

We can’t think of any flowering plant that is more synonymous with fall than the mum (Chrysanthemum.) And mums are the ideal plant to use to infuse fall color into your garden. There are hundreds of mum species and thousands of hybrids, so you’ll have no problem finding various flower sizes, shapes, and colors to use in your garden or plant in containers to place on your deck, patio, or porch. You can also place pots at strategic locations throughout your garden. 

About Chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums date back to around the 15th century in China. Their flower size can be small (compare to the size of a quarter) or massively large (about the size of a 9-to-10-inch dinner plate.) Cultivars can have one or two layers of petals. They can have a mounding growth habit that looks like a blanket or carpet of flowers. Petal shapes can be tubular or quill-like. Some mums have frilly blooms, while others are shaped like pom-poms. (Think high school and college homecoming games and dances.) Others have daintier flowers. There is even a mum cultivar that resembles daisies. Mums come in a range of colors, including bi-color varieties and mums with lavender, orange, purple, red, yellow, and white flowers.

Using Mums

Garden mums are incredibly versatile because they’re perennials. And in our mild climate, they’ll continue to bloom for far longer than they would in cold areas. If you’re looking for a plant that will pack a dramatic punch at your front or back door, consider using mums. You can one large plant in a single color in a container or use several smaller plants in contrasting colors. You can also transplant container mums into your garden after you’re done using them for your fall display. 

You can create a container garden that mixes mums with cool weather annuals. Choose plants whose colors offer contrast. Consider making a mixed container garden with mums as the focal point. Use the “thriller, filler, spiller” method for a well-rounded design that packs a dramatic punch. Put taller mums in the center for the thriller effect. Then choose shorter annuals to fill in the spaces around the mums. Low-growing plants that cascade over the edges of your container will give you the spiller effect. 

Plant mums in your garden beds, along borders, or place containers in strategic locations throughout your garden. Butterflies are drawn to mums, so it’s likely that hummingbirds are, too. Mums are an excellent addition to a cutting flower garden. And cut flowers will last for up to two weeks in a bouquet. 

Growing and Caring for Chrysanthemums

Mums aren’t difficult to grow – as long as you understand the growing conditions they need and the care they require. Mums are shallow-rooted plants. That means they’ll need water often because the top layer of soil – whether in containers or the ground, dries out faster. And mums will need water more often when it gets unseasonably hot or if there’s little to no rain. Mums will benefit from a mulch layer – especially when grown in the ground because it helps soil maintain moisture for longer. 

Mums always do best when grown in full sun. And they need soil that is full of organic matter, so add well-rotted compost or aged manure. You can also add both for a more substantial benefit. Organic matter improves soil drainage, and because of their shallow roots, mums must grow in soil with excellent drainage. If you’re growing mums in pots, choose a container medium that has added organic matter, peat moss, vermiculite, or perlite. You can also combine potting soil with coconut coir to improve drainage. Coconut coir is resistant to bacterial and fungal diseases. 

During the growing season, prune your mum plants two or three times. Remove about one inch of growth from the top of the plant’s branches. Doing so encourages the plant to grow side shoots, and that gives them the desired bushy look. It also helps the plant produce more blooms. Stop pruning your mum plants in late June. If you keep pruning it, the plant won’t bloom once the cooler fall temperatures set in. 

Bug, Pest, and Disease Problems 

Mums are most prone to attack from aphids, caterpillars, leafhoppers, leafminers, and spider mites. Enrich your soil with compost and manure before planting. Well-amended soil is full of nutrients that mums will use to ensure their continued health. And because mums don’t appeal to deer or rabbits, you won’t have to worry about the potential damage they may cause. 

Avoid overwatering your mums. Because they have shallow roots, overwatering can lead to fast rotting. Plants can rot if the soil you grow them in doesn’t have good enough drainage. Wet leaves can also cause plants to rot. Water your container mums in a bucket or tub of water so that the plant can absorb water from the bottom of the pot. That way, the leaves won’t’ ever get wet. Water plants growing in the ground with deep soaker hoses or drip irrigation. These watering methods will direct water to the plant roots and minimize the contact that leaves have with water. 

Varieties to Consider

‘Fireglow Bronze’ is an 18-inch bush that has branches of double golden-colored flowers. 

‘Homecoming’ is a giant plant with 3-foot stems. Its blooms are peach-colored. Think of flowers the size of those used for fall corsages. Hence, the name. 

‘Ruby Mound’ has semi-double flowers. The lush plants produce large, ruby-red-colored flowers. 

‘Clara Curtis’ is an old-fashioned flower like those heirloom flowers passed down from generation to generation. It has small 2-to-3-inch diameter pink daisy-like flowers with golden-yellow centers. 

We encourage you to use mums in your outdoor displays. And to be sure that the mums you are getting are perennial garden mums, always buy them from a reputable nursery or garden center like ours. The foil-wrapped mums you find in grocery stores and flower shops aren’t meant to be grown as outdoor perennials. Our garden experts can help you choose mums for containers or to plant in garden beds. They can also help you find soil amendments to use to ensure that your mums put on the showiest possible display. 

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