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How to keep mums looking good and blooming

Tips for growing chrysanthemums in Sacramento area

Gold chrysanthemum
These stunning gold chrysanthemums were grown
from cuttings from the Sacramento Chrysanthemum
Society. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)

Chrysanthemums seem to be everywhere this month. No surprise; mums are the birth flower for November.

Mums make an excellent cut flower and last in the vase for many days. And mums come in many forms and colors, so there’s a mum for almost every taste.

Mums also make beautiful gift plants. Potted mums are widely available now as these flowers are at their height of bloom. After the flowers fade, the plant can be added to the garden or kept in the pot to bloom again.

But how do you keep mums looking good and coming back year after year?

Here are tips from the Sacramento Chrysanthemum Society:

* Mums need good drainage. That’s why they grow best in pots or raised beds. In the ground, they’ll tolerate almost any kind of soil, but amend clay soils with peat moss, compost or other organic material to improve drainage.

* Mums need consistent irrigation; not too wet or too dry. Keep soil consistently moist so plants don’t dry out completely. In pots, expect to water mums three times a week (or more during hot weather); twice a week when planted in the ground. Avoid wetting foliage; it can mildew.

* Mums don’t like competition. Plant them in an area with no shrubs, trees or other perennials that may fight the mums for root space, water or nutrients.

* Mums prefer full sun (at least five hours a day), but not too much sun. An east-facing spot is best with filtered or light shade in the afternoon.

* Mums are heavy feeders and appreciate monthly fertilization while growing. Use a balanced fertilizer with equal amounts of the big three macro-nutrients: nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. The mum society recommends bone meal, leaf mold, compost, dried blood meal, alfalfa and aged manures, using different fertilizers over the course of the year.

* Mums grow quickly from cuttings. These mums (pictured here) all grew from cuttings rooted this spring. So, one mum plant can produce many more.

* As mums grow in spring, pinch back new growth to train the plant to produce strong and healthy stems. By pinching off lateral growth and side buds, the plant will concentrate on bigger (but fewer) flowers.

Spider mum
Desert Magic spider mums are show-stoppers.

* Mums tend to be lanky (especially large-flowered varieties). Stake stems to help support those big flower heads.

* Mums not blooming? It may be too much light. The amount of light that mums get each day triggers their bloom cycle. As days get shorter, mums push out their buds. Too much light such as from porch lights or other artificial sources disrupts that cycle.

“Avoid streetlights, porch lights and car lights shining on your mums,” advises the mum society. “Unwanted light will cause your buds to set late or not bloom at all. Light prevents the bud formation.”

* When the flowers have faded, trim mum stems down to 4 to 6 inches tall. Water the plant once a week or as needed over the winter. In spring, it will start growing again and begin a whole new cycle.


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of March 19:

Spring will start a bit soggy, but there’s still plenty to do between showers:

* Fertilize roses, annual flowers and berries as spring growth begins to appear.

* Watch out for aphids. Wash off plants with strong blast from the hose.

* Pull weeds now! Don’t let them get started. Take a hoe and whack them as soon as they sprout.

* Prepare summer vegetable beds. Spade in compost and other amendments.

* Prune and fertilize spring-flowering shrubs after bloom.

* Feed camellias at the end of their bloom cycle. Pick up browned and fallen flowers to fight blossom blight.

* Feed citrus trees as they start to blossom.

* Cut back and fertilize perennial herbs to encourage new growth.

* Seed and renovate the lawn (if you still have one). Feed cool-season grasses such as bent, blue, rye and fescue with a slow-release fertilizer. Check the irrigation system and perform maintenance. Make sure sprinkler heads are turned toward the lawn, not the sidewalk.

* In the vegetable garden, transplant lettuce and kale.

* Seed chard and beets directly into the ground.

* Plant summer bulbs, including gladiolus, tuberous begonias and callas. Also plant dahlia tubers.

* Shop for perennials. Many varieties are available in local nurseries and at plant events. They can be transplanted now while the weather remains relatively cool.

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