It’s a rainy and dark October afternoon and you need a light on inside to do just about everything except nap. This wasn’t my plan but then dark skies and October thunderstorms aren’t easy to plan for in general. Better to just get on the computer and look at a few photos from earlier in the month, and it seems like all the earlier photos center on those most under appreciated of autumn flowers, the chrysanthemums.
I happen to like chrysanthemums. More so now than in March but even if it’s a seasonal love I think they deserve more respect than that of a disposable pot of color which usually ends up in the trash on the weekend after Thanksgiving. They’ve earned it after all, 600+ years of cultivation in Eastern Asia with a reputation for happiness and royalty shouldn’t just fade away the minute Walmart offers them at 3 for $10. Take a look here at the National Chrysanthemum Society’s webpage for a brief overview of their history.
I would guess if there’s one single thing which defeats the Chrysanthemum’s reputation it’s the lack of hardiness of all those late season purchases. Gardening amateurs and experts alike often wonder why their attempts at overwintering these perennials routinely fail and why they’re left with a dead plant come springtime, and to keep my story short (and match my limited attention span), it’s because they just aren’t hardy. They were bred for color and shape and reliable bloom and overwintering ease just didn’t factor in.
I suppose this all brings me to the point of this post. I’ve been ‘dabbling’ in the hardier chrysanthemum sorts, the kinds which look great, grow without a care, and overwinter without a problem, and I’ve found it’s easier than you’d think. As an added bonus they seem to like my poor soils and frequent droughts, and the bare patches of my beds will usually sprout a few mystery seedlings each spring to keep me guessing as to what surprises are coming along each fall. A few online sources offer hardier types but I’ve been getting most of mine through Faribault Growers and their Mums of Minnesota offerings.
The mums I’ve been getting have had little trouble with winters here (z6a) but every now and then give up due to frost heaving or a late spring freeze (about half my plants unexpectedly died this year when an arctic front rolled through in late March after growth had started…). They’re still not as surefire hardy as the Korean mum types (developed using the hardily named Chrysanthemum sibiricum) but they’re shorter and bushier and have more of a variety of flower colors and forms and it’s just what I need to distract me from the changing leaf colors and dying annuals of autumn.
I believe one of the more popular Mums of Minnesota introductions have been the Mammoth mum series. They’re spreading, hardy perennials and just massive mounds of color when in bloom, but for as much as it pains me to say I have to classify them as a little boring. They do great next door in my MIL’s mulch beds (which honestly are even more boring without the mums), but for as far as a plant to get excited about…. they’re not. Luckily they know a little trick, and that’s their promiscuous selfsowing and all the little surprises they leave in the monotonous spread of shredded wood mulch.
Next year I may try and find a spot to plant out a bunch of the seedlings and see what greatness they amount to but I warn you not to hold your breath on that one. It’s hard to get excited about mum in April and even harder to find enough open spots to fill with something that doesn’t pay off until October.
The whole mum clan seems pretty easy from seed and it’s always fun to see what shows up. My last few photos are of a seedling which came from the HPS seed exchange and although they’re nothing like their ‘Innocence’ parent (a pale pink single which blushes pink with age) they’re indestructible through winter cold and summer drought. Their only flaw is either the need for staking, or a harsh chop back in early July to control floppiness.
If you noticed the previous picture has about half a dozen ailanthus webworm moths wandering the flowers. It’s an oddly colored little thing and I was hoping for something rarer and possibly native when I first spotted them… but as it is with most insects around here, if there are more than enough, chances are it’s not native.
I’ll leave you with another one of the large flowered mums which seems quite content in my less than ideal garden conditions. I had taken at least two or three pictures before I realized the flower was looking back at me.
Hope you had a great weekend, gloomy rain or not, and hopefully there’s a spell of nice planting weather coming up so I can finish up all the unfinished gardening work of 2016… or not. There will be plenty of time for gardening ambition in February 🙂