Well, here it is. My yearly column about fall chrysanthemums. They sneak into our favorite garden centers in late August and by the first week of September, they’re everywhere. The first couple times I spot them, I pretend they’re not there. Somehow, they’re more of a killjoy than Christmas décor showing up in early October. I don’t want to give up on summer yet! That said, now that we’re solidly into the month of September, my icy stare is melting.
Speaking of icy, I stopped at Cheshire Floral Farm in Marlborough and visited with owner Bob Powers last week and he told me about a variety new to him that’s supposed to be even more cold tolerant than traditional “hardy” mums. According to my brief research online, the Igloo mum series has actually been around for several years. Bob was showing me one with the lightest pink blooms I’d seen on a mum. We talked a bit about the actual hardiness of mums and this particular series is supposed to be hardy to zone 4 whereas most hardy garden mums are zone 5-9. I gave up trying to hold over mums here in the Monadnock region, but I do know some local gardeners do it. If you want to give it a whirl, you should plant your mums directly in the ground… carefully loosening the roots a bit to encourage growth before the big freeze.
Bob told me he has over 1,000 potted mums this year and we took a walk around the property. A lot had changed in a year. A huge new greenhouse and the introduction of an automatic watering system is helping he and his son, Andy, stay on top of things despite being short handed staff-wise. Up on an incline there was probably a half acre covered in gorgeous mounds of chrysanthemums. My reluctance had fully fallen away by then when I spotted a deep maroon with a yellow eye. Year after year I always moan and groan about the lack of varieties of mums available to us when a quick online search shows there are dozens and dozens of different colors and flower shapes. Like most goods widely available to a mass market, the safest tried and true 6 or 8 varieties is all we are usually offered. I’m guessing that’s because growers in New England think there’s more appeal to the “hardy” varieties for us which limits our choices. Years ago, I was introduced to “football” mums at a flower shop. Also called corsage mums, their gorgeous big ball-shaped blooms are stunning. I looked them up at Bluestone Perennials (bluestoneperennials.com) and they offered 3 real stunners: “Cheerleader,” “Coral Cavalier” and “Ticonderoga.” With a growing range down to zone 5, they’re ostensibly as hardy as any other garden mum. I might order some for spring delivery to put in my cutting garden. Who knows? Maybe I’ll be a convert to thinking they’re true perennials for us. Spring planting might give them a better chance of survival rather than fall with its limited time left for roots to establish.
Growing mums is pretty easy. They like well drained fertile soil. They dislike overly wet soil that repeatedly freezes and thaws. To promote more bushiness and the highest volume of flowers, it’s important to pinch new growth back by a third up until the 4th of July. This also will let you sculpt the plant into that round mound we’re accustomed to.
After we left the field, Bob and I wandered a bit through the main sales area of the farm and he’s still got a huge variety of perennials available as well as other fall favorites like kale, cabbage, millet, asters and other grasses. I grabbed three pots of tall garden phlox, “David” a white blooming variety that is supposed to be more mildew resistant than other varieties and, you know, you can never have enough white blooms in the garden. Along with those I’d already snagged a couple of those yellow-eyed burgundy mums and headed on my way, promising to be back for their regionally favorite holiday greens if not before then.