Alabama Fall Gardeners: How NOT to Kill Your Mothers

Chrysanthemums, also known as Chrysanthemums, are iconic horticultural features of fall each year. Many Alabamians enjoy seeing the bright blooms of mums contrasting with the fall landscape.

As beautiful as mums can be, they can be difficult to care for, said Chilton County Extension Coordinator Lucy Edwards.

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

Mums are classified by flower type and shape. The two most common types are daisies and decorative daisies. Colors range from white, bronze, yellow, red, coral and pink to lavender and red.

Choose the right moms

For some chrysanthemum enthusiasts, choosing the best mum might also be as important as choosing the perfect Christmas tree. Edwards said there are a few characteristics to look for when choosing the right mother:

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

Buy mums with unopened flowers. When buying a mum, it can be tempting to grab the tallest plant in full bloom. Be sure to purchase mums with their blooms not quite open. This choice will allow for a longer flowering time once you bring it home.

Always check for insects and disease. Nobody wants a sick plant. Be on the lookout for powdery mildew in mums. This disease can occur after warm and humid fall seasons. To control late blight, remove all infected leaves and treat the mother with an appropriately labeled fungicide.

Caring for moms

Once you’ve learned about mums and how to choose the right one at your local garden center, the next step is to keep them alive. Here are some tips for caring for moms:

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

Planting depth matters. “Plant your mums the same depth as their original container sizes,” Edwards says. “It is better to plant too shallow than too deep.”

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

Make a small spring pinch. Pinching out new growth in the spring will encourage side shoots, providing more flowers and a fuller plant. Do not pinch after July or the mum may not have time to develop the flowers.

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

Water, water and more water. Edwards said the most common mistake in caring for mums is forgetting to water them daily. During the autumn months rainfall can be sparse which means regular watering may be required, ensuring that any excess water drains from a pot or naturally drains from the site of planting. A good routine is to feel the soil moisture daily to a depth of 1 inch. If it looks wet, wait a day and check again. If it seems dry in the top inch, be sure to water that day.

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

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

Share these “mom must-haves” 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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