Alabama fall gardeners: How to NOT kill your mums

Chrysanthemums, also known as chrysanthemums, are iconic horticultural features of fall each year. Many Alabamaans love to see the bright mum blossoms contrasting with the fall landscape.

As beautiful as moms can be, they can be difficult to care for, said Lucy Edwards, Chilton County child care coordinator.

“There are two main categories of moms: flower moms and garden moms,” Edwards said. “Flower moms are those not typically grown outdoors and are sold by florists for arrangements. Garden moms are the ones people see at garden centers in the fall.”

Moms are categorized by flower type and shape. The two most common types are daisy mums and ornamental flower mums. Colors range from white, bronze, yellow, red, coral and pink to lavender and red.

Choosing the right mothers

For some chrysanthemum lovers, choosing the best mum may be just as important as choosing the perfect Christmas tree. Edwards said there are a few traits to look for when choosing the right mother:

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Mums need water, well-drained soil, and plenty of sun. (Mississippi State University Extension / Gary Bachman)

Buy mums with unopened flowers. When purchasing a mother, it can be tempting to go for the largest, fully blooming plant. Be sure to buy the mums with buds not fully open. This choice allows for a longer flowering period once you have her indoors.

Always check for insects and diseases. Nobody wants a sick plant. Watch out for powdery mildew on mums. This disease can appear after hot and humid fall seasons. To combat powdery mildew, remove any infected leaves and treat the nut with an appropriately labeled fungicide.

caring for mothers

Once you’ve learned about mums at your local garden center and know how to choose the right one, the next step is to keep them alive. Here are some maternal nursing guidelines:

Check the soil and the sun. To cook it down, moms need moist, well-drained soil combined with more than six hours of sunlight daily. Whether you prefer a mum transplanted from its original pot or planted in a landscape, the same rules apply.

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Planting depth is important. “Plant your mothers at the same depth as the size of their original containers,” Edwards said. “Better to plant too shallow than too deep.”

Divide and conquer. Edwards said garden mums bloom best when divided every two to three years. Otherwise, any new growth will be long and scrawny with fewer buds.

Do a little feather pinching. Pinching new shoots in spring will stimulate side shoots, resulting in more buds and a fuller plant. Do not pinch after July, otherwise the mother may not have time to develop flowers.

Potted or planted mums are a staple of southern fall gardens. (Mississippi State University Extension / Gary Bachman)

Water, water and more water. Edwards said the most common mistake made when caring for moms is forgetting to water them daily. Rainfall can be scarce in the autumn months, meaning regular watering may be needed to ensure excess water drains from a pot or naturally drains from the planting site. A good routine is to feel the moisture in the soil to a depth of 1 inch each day. If it feels damp, wait a day and check again. If it feels dry in the top inches, make sure to water that day.

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If you tend to forget to water, plant the nut in a container with a reservoir or add a saucer to catch the water. These extend the time between waterings.

“It’s easy to assume that the plant is fine. Too often, cooler temperatures lead us to neglect the task of casting,” Edwards said. “Before we know it, there’s a dead plant on the porch.”

Share these “Mama Musts” with others. Now that you know what your mom needs to do, help a neighbor by sharing these tips. For more information on mums and other seasonal plants, visit the Alabama Extension website at

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