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Great garden mums for fall

Nancy Brachey
Nancy Brachey writes about gardening for The Charlotte Observer's weekly Home & Garden section.

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  • Ask Nancy

    Q. I saw a pretty white daisy in a garden center last week. It looked like summer, but this is fall. I was told it is called Nippon daisy.

    A. This is one of those surprising perennials. Though it is not blooming out of season, it looks like it is doing so. It is not a Shasta daisy, even though the flowers are almost twins, with yellow centers and narrow white petals. It requires sun.

    The Nippon daisy originated in coastal Japan. The dark green leaves are thicker than you would expect in a garden flower. The stems rise 1 to 3 feet, bearing the white flowers.

    This is a good addition to your daisy collection and offers a blast of white just when everything else seems to be turning red, orange, bronze and purple.

Chrysanthemums signal autumn, and what a joy they are to see in garden centers. Pots of mums filled with foliage, buds and blossoms await us in many colors such as sunny orange, deep bronze and dark purple.

Purchased and brought home, these plants offer many weeks of color in the cool autumn air. On porch steps, decks and patios, they offer beauty rivaled only by the changing foliage in the trees above them.

Together, the mums and the fall foliage work together to enhance fall as the colorful season it is meant to be.

I almost hate to say that something is foolproof, but mums are close. You just have to water them and keep them out of hot spots where the bloom life would be shortened by heat. Even on a chilly day, direct sun beaming on concrete produces serious heat around potted plants sitting there.

Watering is a bit of a trick and is best done quite slowly, with a trickle from the hose or watering can. This ensures the water seeps into the root zone instead of cascading over the side of the pot. The pots are likely to be well-packed with roots because growers push to maximize growth that is full and dense to make a very attractive plant.

Fertilizer is not necessary, as they likely had quite enough in their youth, before you bought them.

The ease of care and weeks of bloom can get you quite attached to your potted mums, even as the last of the buds open, then fade. You could, of course, say farewell and pitch them. But that is too radical a step for some gardeners.

Setting them out in your flower beds can be rewarding in future years. Once the flowers are gone, cut off the spent stems, not minding if you take off some foliage in the meantime.

Look over the root ball, which will likely have masses of roots wound tightly around it. With the tip of your trowel or garden shears, cut into this tangled web a tiny bit to loosen the roots at various places on the sides and the bottom. This will allow the roots to move into the soil in the bed and become established.

Set out like this, the plant should settle down through the winter and begin to show fresh growth surprisingly early – in February or March. This will become the basis of next year’s plant. Because chrysanthemums grow steadily, cutting back by one-third to one-half a couple of times during the spring and early summer will keep the plant at the right size and produce a denser plant with more buds.

Fertilize in spring with a product made for flowering plants at the schedule and rate directed on the package.

You won’t get a repeat of the perfectly grown mum you bought in the garden center, but you should have some nice flowers next fall in your flower bed.

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