The chrysanthemum was first cultivated in China as a flowering herb in the 15th century BC, and then in Japan around the 8th century AD. The Emperor of Japan became so enamored of the chrysanthemum that he adopted it as his official seal, and a "Festival of Happiness" continues to be held today to celebrate the plant.
Chrysanthemum flowers bloom in several forms; daisy-like, pompons or button-shaped, while the blooms encompass a wide range of colors, including white, purple, yellow, orange and red.
There are two basic groups of chrysanthemums: an exhibition type and garden hardy. Exhibition varieties are not as sturdy and often require staking and over-wintering in a dry cool environment. Garden hardy mums are perennials capable of being wintered over in the ground in most areas and are defined by their ability to produce an abundance of small blooms without staking and their capacity to withstand wind and rain.
Chrysanthemums are “photoperiodic,” which means they bloom in response to the shorter days and longer nights experienced in our area at this time of year. It is recommended that they not be planted near street lights or night landscape lighting as the artificial lighting can wreak havoc with their internal cycle mechanism.
Choose high-quality healthy plants with dark green foliage and signs of bud development. Select those that are smaller and more compact, as they will develop better root systems to sustain vigorous new growth.
Chrysanthemums are known as “cool season” plants and perform best in lower temperatures in well-drained areas that receive ample sun. More sun generally leads to more blooms, happier plants, and a happier you.
Plant chrysanthemums in full sun in well-draining soil, ideally enriched with compost but do not over-crowd; good air circulation reduces the chance of disease. The faded blooms should be removed regularly (called deadheading) to help prolong flowering.
If properly tended, chrysanthemums will enjoy a long life maintaining the lush dark green foliage for many months, even a year or more, blooming sporadically once again in the spring following their initial potting.
Instead of throwing away those inexpensive fall mums try overwintering them for next year. You can successfully overwinter chrysanthemums both in the ground and in pots. Here’s how.
OUTDOORS IN THE GROUND
The first step to successfully overwintering garden mums is to plant them in the ground early. Mums that are planted in late summer or early fall have a better chance of surviving harsh temperatures because their roots will have some time to establish in the ground. This prevents frost heave when the ground freezes.
Choose a sunny somewhat sheltered spot that drains well. Work about an inch of chopped leaves or other organic matter into about a foot of loosened soil. Also, work in a granular fertilizer that is formulated for mums. There are several liquid fertilizers made especially for mums that are good choices when planting them in the ground.
Water your transplants well and cover them with about two inches of mulch for protection. This will also protect the soil from freezing and thawing quickly during rapid temperature changes.
As fall progresses, the leaves of your mum will start to turn brown. As the foliage dies, cut it back. You can trim the stems to about three to four inches above the ground.
Provide more mulch, such as leaves or straw, after the first freeze.
If any additional foliage has been killed by the cold, do not trim it away until spring. It will help provide insulation to the plant throughout the winter. Many people like the neatness of a trimmed perennial bed, but those dead stems provide essential protection for the roots.
In the spring, remove some of the extra mulch as the mums begin to grow again. Carefully divide the plant when new shoots reach about four inches tall. Plant these new plants about 18 to 24 inches apart.
Bringing Mums Indoors
Another way to overwinter mums is to bring them indoors for the cold months. Choose a mostly dark cool area, such as an unheated garage or shed, hopefully where temperatures stay in between 32- and 55-degrees Fahrenheit. If temperatures could fall below freezing, wrap the pots with several layers of newspaper to protect the roots.
Water your mums so that the soil is slightly moist. Repeat throughout the winter once a week or so when the soil feels dry about two inches down. Don't keep the soil soggy, the roots will rot when it is cold and damp. Dormant plants need very little water to survive.
About a week or two before the last expected frost, take the pot outdoors to a sunny location for a few hours of afternoon sunshine each day. Then bring it back to its winter location for the night. After the threat of frost has passed, leave the pot in its outdoor spot.
Water thoroughly and apply a granular fertilizer. Within a few weeks, you should start to see some new growth.
Chrysanthemums bloom in response to the shorter days and longer nights of autumn. Individual flowers can last from three to six weeks depending on how much water the plant receives and the temperatures to which the plant is exposed.
The flowering period is shorter with high temperatures and little water so remember to give your containerized mums plenty of moisture to keep them at their best for the longest time.
With a little care, mums can add a great splash of color to your garden – both this fall and in coming years and a little care and planning will reward you with long lasting benefits.
Special thanks to Dave’s Garden and Tricia Drevets for details on overwintering.
Interesting facts about Chrysanthemums
• Chrysanthemums are one of the most popular flowers in the world, next only to the rose.
• Australians traditionally give their mothers chrysanthemums on Mother's Day.
• The chrysanthemum is the official flower of Chicago.
• The Supreme Order of the Chrysanthemum is a Japanese honor awarded by the Emperor.
• Chrysanthemum plants have been shown to reduce indoor air pollution by the NASA Clean Air Study.
• The flowers, when pulverized, are used as a natural source of the insecticide, pyrethrum.
In Chinese cuisine, the yellow or white chrysanthemum flowers are boiled to make tea, while the leaves are steamed or boiled and used as greens. Lightly steamed or boiled, chrysanthemum greens have a mildly grassy taste with stalks that are sweet and crunchy. The greens are popular and common additions to Asian recipes, such as sukiyaki and shabu-shabu as well as various soups and stews.
Chrysanthemum salad is a simple, refreshing, and herbaceous dish that makes a perfect complement to any Asian meal. To make the dish gluten-free, replace the chinkiang vinegar with rice vinegar and the soy sauce with tamari.
8oz chrysanthemum greens, washed and trimmed
1 tablespoon peanut oil
2 cloves garlic
1 inch ginger, shredded
6 dried chilies, chopped
1 tablespoon Chinkiang vinegar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 ½ teaspoons sugar
¼ teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon sesame oil
• Thoroughly wash the greens with running water and let air dry, or pat dry with paper towels.
• Chop into bite-sized pieces and add to a large heat proof bowl.
• Combine the sauce ingredients in a small bowl and set aside
• Heat the peanut oil in a small pan over low heat, add the garlic, ginger, and chilies.
Fry slowly until the garlic begins to brown lightly. Pour in sauce and turn off heat.
• Stir the sauce into the oil briefly, then pour over the chrysanthemum leaves. Toss mixture with tongs to evenly blend the fusion. Set aside to let the leaves wilt about two minutes.
• Serve immediately and enjoy!
Note: Use only greens that have been organically grown with no fertilizers or insecticides. Purchasing them from an Asian market would be advisable.
Recipe by Maggie Zhu