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Midsummer mum tips: Pinch now for more later

Bushy rust-colored chrysanthemums
Pinching back mums promotes more flowers and more compact, bushier growth. (Photos: Debbie Arrington)

Favorite fall flower benefits from July attention

A pinch in time makes more mums.

Chrysanthemums are a favorite flower of fall. While mum plants are very tough, a little attention now will lead to many more brilliant-hued blooms in October and November.

Mums are divided into two categories: Garden and Exhibition. Usually grouped in the genus Dendranthema , the Garden varieties include cushion mums and florists’ staples with lots and lots of flowers per plant. Exhibition mums tend to be more stingy with just one flower or cluster per stem.

Left to grow without interruption, Exhibition mums often will form one long, winding main stem that just keeps getting longer and lankier. That usually leads to one bloom or flower cluster at the tip – no matter how long or tall the plant. To get more flowers, they must be pinched.

Usually, mum cuttings are first “pinched” when they grow to about 8 inches tall to keep the plant lower to the ground and to create a bushier look.

Chrysanthemum shoot
This lanky crysanthemum needs
to be pinched.

Taller young plants benefit from being pinched, too. Otherwise, their long main stems start to snake around for lack of support.

By pinching back that terminal bud, the mum will sprout lateral buds lower down on the stem. Those side buds will create more flowers – perfect for fall bouquets.

For a more compact and fuller bush in the garden, pinch back the laterals, too, after they’ve grown out 6 to 8 inches.

Some new Dendranthema mum varieties such as Igloo mums develop that mound look without pinching. Those mums start blooming in midsummer. After that first flush of flowers, cut the plants back by half. They’ll produce a second wave of flowers in fall.

Other keys to memorable mums:

* Mums like good drainage and consistently moist soil. Water deeply once a week plus more in hot weather. Newly planted mums or first-year cuttings need water two or three times a week. During triple-digit temperatures (such as Sacramento’s forecast for the next several days), they may need extra irrigation every day – especially if grown in containers.

* Mums appreciate mulch. It maintains that crucial soil moisture. Their favorite: Crumbled dried leaves.

* Fertilize once now in early or mid-July and again in mid-August, then cut off the plant food. Mums prefer fertilizer with more phosphorus (such as 5-10-5) to promote flower production and strong roots.

* Mums need full sun (at least six hours a day) to bloom. If your mums refuse to flower, they may be getting too much shade.

For more on mums, check out the website of the National Chrysanthemum Society, .


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Dig In: Garden Checklist

For week of June 4:

Because of the comfortable weather, it’s not too late to set out tomato and pepper seedlings as well as squash and melon plants. They’ll appreciate this not-too-hot weather. Just remember to water.

* From seed, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, melons, squash and sunflowers.

* Plant basil to go with your tomatoes.

* Transplant summer annuals such as petunias, marigolds and zinnias.

* It’s also a good time to transplant perennial flowers including astilbe, columbine, coneflowers, coreopsis, dahlias, rudbeckia, salvia and verbena.

* Let the grass grow longer. Set the mower blades high to reduce stress on your lawn during summer heat. To cut down on evaporation, water your lawn deeply during the wee hours of the morning, between 2 and 8 a.m.

* Tie up vines and stake tall plants such as gladiolus and lilies. That gives their heavy flowers some support.

* Dig and divide crowded bulbs after the tops have died down.

* Feed summer flowers with a slow-release fertilizer.

* Mulch, mulch, mulch! This “blanket” keeps moisture in the soil longer and helps your plants cope during hot weather.

* Thin grapes on the vine for bigger, better clusters later this summer.

* Cut back fruit-bearing canes on berries.

* Feed camellias, azaleas and other acid-loving plants.

* Trim off dead flowers from rose bushes to keep them blooming through the summer. Roses also benefit from deep watering and feeding now. A top dressing of aged compost will keep them happy. It feeds as well as keeps roots moist.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushier plants with many more flowers in September.

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