Don’t Throw Out Your Autumn Mums

Don’t Throw Out Your Autumn Mums

There are a few telltale retail signs that autumn is here: Halloween costumes, candy, and decorations take over the seasonal aisles in supermarkets and big-box stores; pumpkin spice flavoured or scented products are everywhere; and customers are welcomed to retail establishments with an indoor and/or outdoor display of pumpkins and mums.

Vibrant fall mums have earned their place on front porches and stoops alongside pumpkins and various parts of dried-out corn plants as quintessential outdoor autumn decor. And so often, when the mums lose their colour, their join the pumpkins and corn corpses in the trash.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. That’s because contrary to popular belief, many mums are perennials, not annuals. Here’s what to know.

Why you shouldn’t throw your mums out at the end of the season

While annual chrysanthemums — as in the kind that only live for one year — do exist, and also appear in retailers in the fall (mostly in smaller gift-sized pots), a “large majority” of the mums sold are the hardy perennial varieties, according to Old World Garden Farms.

You can find out which type you have by checking the tag or little paper stake that comes with the plant when you buy it: Perennial mums will be labelled “chrysanthemum morifolium,” while annuals will be labelled “chrysanthemum multicaule,” Associated Press gardening columnist Jessica Damiano explains in a recent article.

If there’s no tag, she recommends checking the foliage: “Perennial mums have broad, deeply toothed leaves; annuals have narrow and less-notched foliage,” Damiano writes.

What to do with your mums over the winter

Once your mums lose their colour and start looking more like Halloween decorations, it’s time to take action. This means moving them indoors — pots and all.

Though it’s possible to plant mums directly in the ground in early fall, by this point in the season, that window has closed. That’s because they don’t have enough time to get their roots established in the soil, and will likely freeze and die over the winter.

Anyway, before moving your potted mums indoors, cut the plant back a few inches above the potted soil line, so it’s mostly stems and a few small leaves. Then, touch the soil. If it feels dry, give it a light sprinkle of water — not too much, or it can cause the roots to rot over the winter.

Ideally, you want to keep the potted mums somewhere indoors with temperatures between 7° and 15°, like a chilly corner of the basement, or a semi-heated or insulated garage.

The goal is provide the mums with the conditions to go dormant, while still keeping them alive. Give the mums a light sprinkle of water every few weeks, and that’s it. Then, in the early spring, you can either replant your mums in new pots, or plant them directly in the ground.

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