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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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Garden Checklist for week of July 7

Take care of garden chores early in the morning, concentrating on watering. We’re still in survival mode until this heat wave breaks.

* Keep your vegetable garden watered, mulched and weeded. Water before 8 a.m. to conserve moisture.

* Prevent sunburn; provide temporary shade for tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, melons, squash and other crops with “sensitive” skin.

* Hold off on feeding plants until temperatures cool back down to “normal” range. That means daytime highs in the low to mid 90s.

* Don’t let tomatoes wilt or dry out completely. Give tomatoes a deep watering two to three times a week. Harvest vegetables promptly to encourage plants to produce more.

* Squash especially tends to grow rapidly in hot weather. Keep an eye on zucchini.

* Some weeds thrive in hot weather. Whack them before they go to seed.

* Pinch back chrysanthemums for bushy plants and more flowers in September.

* Harvest tomatoes, squash, peppers and eggplant. Prompt picking will help keep plants producing.

* Remove spent flowers from roses, daylilies and other bloomers as they finish flowering.

* Pinch off blooms from basil so the plant will grow more leaves.

* Cut back lavender after flowering to promote a second bloom.

* One good thing about hot days: Most lawns stop growing when temperatures top 95 degrees. Keep mower blades set on high.

* Once the weather cools down a little, it’s not too late to add a splash of color. Plant petunias, snapdragons, zinnias and marigolds.

* After the heat wave, plant corn, pumpkins, radishes, winter squash and sunflowers. Make sure the seeds stay hydrated.

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