Mums are a favorite fall flower that can add weeks of seasonal color to containers, gardens and fall displays. They are also popular gift plants in garden centers and flower shops.

Choosing the right product for the purpose and providing proper care will help you achieve the desired results.

Start by choosing the best mum for your gardening goals. You’ll find mums categorized as garden mums, perennial mums or florist mums. All these names for similar-sounding plants can be confusing. The answer lies in their response to day length, hardness, and use.

Mums lay flowers based on the length of the day. Growers can force them to flower by covering them to create shorter days for flowering to begin. Those mums grown as a gift, often called florists’ mums, typically require longer periods of uninterrupted darkness or shorter days. When these mums are grown under natural daylight, they usually do not flower until late fall or early winter. These late bloomers are usually killed by cold temperatures before or after flowers appear in cool areas.

Nurseries that sell mums that are ready to flower in the fall often refer to garden mums. These may be perennial mums, or hard-flowering mums for display in the fall. This is intended to be used as an annual. Choose varieties with lots of buds and few, if any, open flowers to maximize bloom time and your enjoyment. Place one or two mums on the front steps, plant them in vacant spots in the garden or combine them with other fall favorites in containers.

These garden mums may be hardy and suitable for the region, but since all the energy is directed to the flowers, there is little left to create a strong, robust root system. If you successfully overwinter your mums in your garden, feel free to show off. If your plants don’t survive or you don’t try, don’t worry. You use it as a fall annual, the way it was intended. This also provides space for new plants in the spring and the opportunity to try different colored mums next fall.

Those mums sold as perennials are hardy enough to survive the winter and flower in late summer or early fall, providing weeks of color in the garden. They are often sold alongside other perennials and are labeled as such, or promoted as hardy for the area. Increase your success by planting them in the spring. This gives the plant time to develop a strong root system before it begins flowering in the fall, increasing its ability to survive cold winters.

Place the mums in an area with full sun, and water them well and frequently enough to keep the soil moist but not wet. Check the soil in the containers daily and water when the top few inches of soil begin to dry out. Always use a container with drainage holes or a self-watering pot.

Increase winter success by leaving plants intact in the garden during the colder months. Those who garden in cold areas may choose to cover plants with evergreen branches after the ground freezes to provide additional insulation. Remove the mulch when temperatures begin to rise above freezing. Whether covered or not, prune dead stems in the spring as new growth appears.

Whatever you call them, add some mums to your fall offerings. You are sure to enjoy the array of color it provides to your landscape before winter arrives.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including “The Midwest Gardeners’ Guide” and “Small Space Gardening.” She hosts the amazing How to Grow Anything DVD series. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Her website is

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