If the sun had fallen into my front yard and displayed its brilliance at the side of my doorstep, it would resemble the mound of yellow chrysanthemum that used to grow there. It is one of the plants I miss the most.
If I would forget to prune the growing green stems in June, I could still depend on a radiant show at the end of summer, even though the flowers were a bit sprawling and the center crown was clearly visible. But when I did remember to prune the plants to just under 6 inches tall, first at the end of May and again at the end of June, the display in late August was spectacular.
Unfortunately, perennials, even though they are presumed to live forever, get tired just like the rest of us. Some are longer lived while others have shorter life spans. My yellow, hardy chrysanthemum was about 8 years old when it decided to give up the ghost. I am determined to get a replacement.
I have found that many of my hardy chrysanthemums, all planted around the same time, give or take a year here and there, lasted about as long. I suppose I could have extended their lives had I divided their crowns at some point. Dividing would not only have refreshed the plant, but would have created even more yellow beauties to spread around my yard. (Give me a break. If I can't remember to prune, how can I be expected to divide?).
But the real reason I didn't divide was because I so enjoyed the huge ball of blossoms each fall that I was afraid it would ruin the integrity of the plant to chop it into several sections that might not grow as perfectly rounded as this one. I did, after all, have many other mums of different species and colors that, although they were lovely, didn't have the extreme mounding growth habit of that one yellow plant.
My neglect came back to bite me, however, because now I have no plant at all.
Hardy chrysanthemum, also called garden mums, but more simply just called ''mums,'' is a member of the daisy family of plants. Hardy mums should not be confused with ''florists' mums,'' which are not hardy to our northern midwestern gardens. Hardy mums spend their summers growing quite quickly and can get as tall as 2 to 3 feet if left unpruned. But pruning them in late spring and early summer, depending on the cultivar, can help keep the stems shorter and more compact, allowing them to stand up well after the flowers open up creating a top-heavy stem. Don't prune after the first week of July, or there won't be enough time for the plant to form buds for late summer's show.
You aren't limited to red or yellow mums either. New cultivars are being introduced all the time that include shades of lavender, pink, bronze and even copper. Some mum varieties will bloom in late summer, some bloom in early fall and still others into October when they won't even mind a few heavy frosts. If you know what you have, you can set your pruning schedule based on the cultivar. Earlier flowering plants shouldn't be pruned later than mid-June. Early fall bloomers shouldn't be pruned after late June, and don't prune past the first week in July for the latest bloomers. To be safe, I don't prune any of my mums after July 1.
Chrysanthemums bloom, not because they are finally tall enough, but because the shorter days and longer nights of summer's end encourages a response called ''photoperiodic.'' Planting mums near streetlights or other outdoor lighting can confuse their blooming habit. They should, however, be planted where they can enjoy full sun. Hardy mums are shallow rooted so watering should be done close to the roots and as deeply watered as possible to encourage sturdy root growth to help hold the plants up above the soil line.
Deadheading flowers will not produce bushier plants, but pinching off the tips of the growing plants will encourage the growth of side shoots. Deadheading does improve the look of the plant.
Most mums in our area are bought and planted in the fall, although it is perfectly fine to plant them in the spring. Plants that have been forced into bloom for spring retailers can be sheared for fall bloom that same season. It also might be disappointing to bring home a 10-inch pot of blooming mums, put them in the ground and stand back to see a puny bush of flowers that barely peek above the soil line. Don't dismay. Next season these puny plants will thrive and before you know it, you will have a huge brilliant mound of mums to enjoy.
It should be noted that patience is needed in the spring to see the first emergence of the green shoots that will be fall's display. Some novice gardeners may think their plants didn't make it through the winter and will reluctantly pull them out during the spring cleanup. Don't give up quite so easily. They take a bit longer to start spring growth, but when the tiny first leaves emerge from the surface crown, more will quickly follow.
Evanoff is a Master Gardener with The Ohio State University Extension of Trumbull County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.