Saturday, August 4, 2012

How To Grow Garden Chrysanthemums In Your Yard

Think "fall color" and chrysanthemums come to mind. Their reds, oranges, yellows, pinks and whites are the shades we enjoy so in autumn. Not surprisingly, they are among the favorites in fall gardens.

Chrysanthemum (pronounced kris-AN-the-mum) comes from the Greek words chrysos and anthemon, meaning "gold flower." Chrysanthemums, often called "mums", were originally cultivated in China almost 4000 years ago as a medicinal herb thought to have the power of life. The leaves were eaten and boiled for tea. In China, the chrysanthemum is the flower of honor. So highly esteemed was it, that chrysanthemum even had a city named for it, Xiaolan Town, Zhongshan City is known as Chrysanthemum City. Chrysanthemums are celebrated in China during the Chongyang Festival or Double Ninth Festival known as Chrysanthemum Day.

Centuries later, chrysanthemums were imported to Japan, where they also became very popular. A chrysanthemum was incorporated into the official seal of the Emperor. The Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum is the highest honor of chivalry. Japan even has a National Chrysanthemum Day, known as the Festival of Happiness or Kiku Matsuri, which is celebrated in botanical gardens all over the world.

Though most often associated with Asia, some species are native to northeastern Europe. One, Chrysanthemum arcticum, is even native to North America, specifically to Alaska, Canada and some Great Lakes states.

The name, Chrysanthemum, was given by Carolus Linnaeus sometime in the 17th century. As with many plants, taxonomists seem always to be trying to sort out matters. So the genus has been split into two or more, and species have been added and shifted between genera. Some of those genera include Arctanthemum, Argyranthemum, Dendanthrema, Glebionis, Leucanthemopsis, Leucanthemum, Rhodanthemum, and Tanacetum.

There are hundreds of chrysanthemum flower types, sizes, colors and habits. Some, like the show quality types, can be tender and difficult to grow. Others are quite hardy and simple. Most gardeners stick to the hardy types. Hardy mums thrive in USDA climate zones 5 to 9.

Hardy chrysanthemums require at least 5 hours of full sun per day, particularly during the morning, because humidity and lingering moisture can encourage mildew. For the same reason, good air circulation and soil drainage are essential.

Choose a site with average, well-drained garden soil with pH ranging from 5.6 to 7.5. Take a soil sample to your nearest Cooperative Extension Office for analysis. You will be charged a nominal fee. Follow the recommendations you'll receive.

It's best to plant chrysanthemums in spring or fall about 6 weeks before hot or freezing weather commences. If soil is compacted, prepare the planting bed by cultivating at least 8 inches deep, removing all traces of weeds.  If the soil is high in organic matter and friable, it may not require cultivation.  Compost may be incorporated into the soil, if necessary.  Incorporate 10-10-10 fertilizer at a rate of no more 2 lbs. per 100 square feet into the top 4 inches to 6 inches of soil. Avoid synthetic fertilizers contacting any part of your plants.

Space the plants between 18 inches to 24 inches apart. Dig planting holes into the cultivated soil a little less deep than the depth of the growing container. Place the plants into the holes and back-fill, watering as you go. Press soil around the root balls. Do not cover entirely the root balls with soil. The tops should be slightly exposed. Add a top-dressing of mulch around the plants, not on top of them, about 1 inch deep.

Even though chrysanthemums are known for fall bloom, they may actually put on buds as early as May. To delay flowering, pinch off the buds as soon as they appear. Don't be surprised if they appear again in June or July. If they do, pinch 'em again. Pruning like this will also encourage bushiness. A much better bloom set will occur in a little over 90 days.

After a few years, chrysanthemums should be divided. In spring, when danger of frost is past, dig the clumps and cut or pull them apart. Older, worn out parts should be cut off and discarded. Incorporate organic matter into the soil. Plant the renovated clumps at the same level they grew before. Water them in, and add mulch. A little renovation every 3 to 5 years will reward you with many seasons of pleasure.

A Chinese philosopher is supposed to have said, "If you would be happy for a lifetime, grow chrysanthemums." I'm sure it's true.

Learn more about chrysanthemums from the National Chrysanthemum Society.

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