Mum Madness invites plant disaster

September 3, 2011

Mums are everywhere this time of year, and the urge to plant is great. Don't!

Credit: Courtesy of Yoder Brothers
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Every year at this time, I suffer a bout of mum madness when garden centers and big boxes brim with chrysanthemums and asters.

They’re everywhere, from six-inch pots to bushel baskets of orange, yellow and copper mounded behemoths. I want to buy everything and plant!

Then I slap myself on the forehead, take a deep breath and cry “You should have planted these in May!”

People start pointing at me and make avoid-the-crazy-woman sounds to their children and spouses. I slink off to the refuge of my car or the plumbing department to avoid further embarrassment.

pink mums exotic yoder

Mums come in such tantalizing colors and shapes that it's difficult to ignore them in stores. All photos courtesty of Yoder Brothers.

All mum plants at garden centers are hardy, meaning that they are perennials in most climates. However, if these plants are put in the ground from August on, most won’t make it through the winter in areas where temperatures dip into the single digits. The reason is that mums planted late in the season are near or at the flowering stage, and they don’t grow roots to sustain plants through the winter. All the energy is put into blooming. That is why mums should be planted in the spring. 

landscape mums chrysanthemums

Chrysanthemums make an autumn landscape, but they must be planted in the spring to survive the winter. 

Gardeners in northern states where temperatures regularly dip below zero can lose even spring-planted hardy mums to winter. You can changes the odds in your favor by leaving the dead foliage on mums and asters instead of shearing for neatness. An Iowa State University study found that unpruned plants survive at much lower temperatures than those that were pruned. Be sure to add 4 to 6 inches of mulch after the ground has frozen for more protection.

Potted mums from the florist or grocery store and exotics like huge football chrysanthemums, delicate spiders and spoons don’t survive cold winters either and are not good choices for landscapes. They are not bred to be hardy; it’s their form, color and size that are prized. Think of them as disposable decorations, along with the gourds and blue pumpkins you buy.

yellow spoon mums

Think of exotic mums like these spoons as disposable decorations, unless you can over-winter them indoors successfully.

Saving a Mum

If winters are too cold for a favorite or you didn’t plant them early enough, over-winter chrysanthemums in the basement or a dark, cold closet. Pot up plants after the first frost if they are in the ground; include as much root system as possible. Water well and place in an area where it is totally dark and 32ºF to 50ºF. The plants will hibernate for the winter if you keep their roots damp. Check pots weekly. In the spring, acclimate plants to light gradually and set them out in the garden after the last killing frost.

Doreen Howard has written for The Old Farmer's Almanac All-Seasons Garden Guide for 15 years and is the former garden editor at Woman’s Day as well as a photographer. She has grown more than 300 varieties of heirloom edibles and flowers in the last two decades.

In stores now!

Look for Doreen's newest book, Heirloom Flavor: Yesterday's Best-Tasting Vegetables, Fruits and Herbs for Today's Cook. Find in stores everywhere including Walmart and on the Web including

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I have around 25 mums in the

By Vivian Williams on August 5

I have around 25 mums in the ground, lots of blooms. Please tell me I dont have to dig them up and put in pots for the winter. I live in the deep south
east Georgia. First time with mums.

No, you don't have to dig

By Doreen G. Howard on August 6

No, you don't have to dig them up.  But, when the blooms brown, heap lots of mulch around plants.  Don't cut back growth.  It acts as  insulation.  Cut it in the spring when you see new growth.

I live in Piedmont NC. I

By Cait on July 31

I live in Piedmont NC. I planted 6 mums last fall per instructions on the container (just getting into gardening and not realizing they should he planted in spring). We had a very cold winter for this area (most days out of school anyone ever seems to remember) somehow 2 of these boogers survived and are now about triple the size they were last year. However, also being unaware of where they should be planted, they don't have enough room now where they are. They were perfect for the space last year but have outgrown the space this year. I know this should have been done in spring, but since they have no room anyway, will it hurt to move them over 20 feet to a more open area this time of year? I won't split them until next year but just don't want to kill them by moving them.

If you dig up the mums and

By Doreen G. Howard on August 1

If you dig up the mums and replant in the next month, you are OK.


Awesome. Thank you so much! I

By Cait on August 6

Awesome. Thank you so much! I will do that.

Hi, I live in Hawaii where

By Sheryl Bermundo

Hi, I live in Hawaii where the temperatures range in the 70's and 80's. I bought some mums about a week ago. I have them outside in their original plastic pots. The mums get the afternoon sun which is very hot. They were beautiful until my Maroon Mums started to fade. Could the sun have anything to do with the fading?
Also, should I re-pot them in bigger pots?

Thank you

Larger containers and

By Doreen G. Howard

Larger containers and afternoon shade will solve your problem.

I replanted a mum from a pot

By Sharkeisha

I replanted a mum from a pot into the ground in December. I live in South Carolina. Do you have any recommendations of how I can care for it, or is it beyond help?

Mulch the plants thickly with

By Doreen G. Howard

Mulch the plants thickly with shredded leaves or straw.  It may make it.

I was told my mums would

By Wendy S. Dunkelberger

I was told my mums would bloom again if I planted them in my yard late in October. I put the 9 very large mums where I was going to plant them but never got around to doing it. Therefore, these plants sat out in the weather, uncovered, not planted all winter thus far! Should I just throw them away or is there a chance I could still plant them in the Spring?
Thank You!

It depends on where you live

By Doreen G. Howard

It depends on where you live and how cold it has been so far this winter?

hi doreen & almanac staff-

By pann1221

hi doreen & almanac staff- this info is great! however, i was planning to overwinter my 4 mums my mom gave me this fall in our garage (zone 5 - joliet il)- can i keep them in the cheap-o thin plastic pots they were bought in or do they need a formal clay or other pot? can i just insulate with the newspapers and that will be good do you think? thanks so much in advance!!! ps: i was determined not to lose these this year after losing the 3 gorgeous ones i planted last fall - now i know why they didn't make it - agree with the other posters re:seeing them in spring but they're so pretty i am going to look for them in the six packs this coming spring to get a jump on next fall's crop! thanks again sorry for the ramble :)

The mums will be fine in the

By Doreen G. Howard

The mums will be fine in the garage and in their orginial pots.  Be sure to water them about one a month to keep roots hydrated.


Hi again Doreen, I followed

By pann1221

Hi again Doreen,

I followed your instructions and now that it's spring - I am wondering when the green will start to come back? I am in zone 5 - joliet, IL - I have brought the pots out for some of the milder days and bring them back into the garage at night - I must be an impatient gardener - but i am just too excited to see if they survived or not :) the stumps look really dry and brown - so just wondering should I plant them in the ground after frost risk is over in this brown dry state - or should there be some green by then? we typically have frost sometimes into may - so i still have some weeks to go. I know these plants bloom in fall - but when should I start seeing signs of life in the plant if it survived?

Wait a bit.  I live about 120

By Doreen G. Howard

Wait a bit.  I live about 120 miles north of you, and I have not seen any green growth on my mums, which are planted outdoors.  This was and is tough winter and plants are slow to break their dormancy.  We even had snow yesterday into this morning.  Just be patient and water the pots every two weeks to keep the roots hydrated.

I live in sw Florida. When

By Laurie Mullay

I live in sw Florida. When should I plant my bloomed mums? Winter is fairly warm here... but dry. Thanks

You can plant them after they

By Doreen G. Howard

You can plant them after they finish blooming.  Remove the dead flowers and keep plants well-watered.  Fertilize monthly.  Don't be surprised if the mum plants bloom again in Spring.  It takes even days and nights to trigger flower bud formation, and in southern latitudes such as yours, plants will do so.  Remove the dead flowers again and wait for a second flower show in autumn!

Can you winter over other

By Julibob

Can you winter over other perennials in store bought pots? I didn't get around to preparing soil in new landscape area. Illinois Zone 5
Thank you

What about other perennial

By Julibob

What about other perennial plants in pots, like if you my from the garden center, and they never got planted BUT still alive. How or can I winter those over?? In Illinois Zone 5, supposed to be a harsh winter. Thank you!

I live in Zone 5-IL, too, and

By Doreen G. Howard

I live in Zone 5-IL, too, and I overwinter many perennials in the garage, against a house wall, where it's warmer.  Again, I water plants monthly to keep roots healthy.

I bought an awesome mum in

By CHaas

I bought an awesome mum in late September that I want to plant and I see that you suggest to put it in a basement or cool closet until spring. I do not have either of those but was wondering if my garage is an ok place, or is it too cold.

Garage will work.  Keep it in

By Doreen G. Howard

Garage will work.  Keep it in the darkest spot and water pot every month to keep roots alive.

I planted my little mum given

By Weebea

I planted my little mum given to me on Mother's day. It was tiny but now in early October, it is gigantic and has hundred of tiny buds on it. Some are now opening. It will be a madness of yellow if they all bloom before the frost. My question is this - Do Mum plants grow like a bush and very large and if so, how do I transplant some of it?

Yes, mum plants do grow

By Doreen G. Howard

Yes, mum plants do grow huge!  Spring is when to divide plants.  Use a shovel to cut plant in half.  Dig up one part and replant it.  Replace lost soil around remaining plant and water both well.  Mums keep on giving!

Doreen- I live in zone 6 at a

By Lesley Kordella

Doreen- I live in zone 6 at a 750 elevation in the Blue Ridge Mts of VA. If I take care of my recently purchased potted mums in the basement as you suggest, and plant them in the spring, when will they bloom? I like having all these reds, oranges, and yellows in the fall, which is why I also get sucked into buying them. Thanks!

Mums are even-light bloomers,

By Doreen G. Howard

Mums are even-light bloomers, meaning they bloom when the days and nights are even in length.  Usually, mums bloom in fall.  They start budding around Labor Day and bloom soon after.  If your spring is mild, and you plant the mums in early March, you may get a spring bloom.  If so, deadhead all flowers after they brown so that plants will bloom again in autumn.

I bought a beautiful Mum

By Rukshila

I bought a beautiful Mum about two weeks back & yes I went mad when I saw the beautiful fuller looking plants. I bought a pot and left it the same way. I've been watering them everyday. recently some flowers started dying and I'm scared I'll lose it. I live in Memphis. winter is not that Cold here. Could you pls help me to Save this plant. Love your blog. It's great

You may be watering too

By Doreen G. Howard

You may be watering too much.  Wait until the soil in the pot is dry 1/2 inch under the surface.  Or, it may be that the flowers have matured, are browning and falling off.  That's a natural cycle.  But, I'm betting it's too much water.  Glad you like the blog.

I bought 2 huge mums because

By Gerri Johnston

I bought 2 huge mums because I too go nuts in the fall when I see them. I want to keep these though. I live in South Dakota and the Black Hills and of course we have cold winters. I think it is too late to plant right? Should I try and do what you suggest about keeping them in a dark closet and keep the roots damp till spring?

Don't try to plant the mums! 

By Doreen G. Howard

Don't try to plant the mums!  They'll die, even with a mountain of mulch.  Store them in a cold basement or cool dark closet.  Be sure to water plants well before storage and then water every month to keep roots alive.  Good luck!

They are still blooming. Do

By Gerri Johnston

They are still blooming. Do I need to cut anything back before I put them away in the basement?

You can cut off the dead and

By Doreen G. Howard

You can cut off the dead and dying flowers, but leave the foliage to insulation the roots.

When is a good time to

By Vicky Fountain

When is a good time to replant the pinched/pruned buds off mums if you want to grow new plants? Spring, summer?

Spring.  You can also divide

By Doreen G. Howard

Spring.  You can also divide plants in half to get more plants.  Keep them well watered after dividing.

I live in zone 8. If I plant

By L Spurgeon

I live in zone 8. If I plant mums now will they survive the winter? We never get extremely cold, but winters do vary.

You may have a chance of

By Doreen G. Howard

You may have a chance of saving your mums.  Don't cut the foliage or even the dead flowers.  After the first hard freeze--a night in the high 20's, heap 4-6 inches of loose mulch such as shredded fall leaves or straw over the plants.  They probably will make it.

Hi, I just bought some

By Peggy Ruble

Hi, I just bought some beautiful mums yesterday and planted them today. now I am afraid they will die planting them this late after reading all the info on mums. Is their anything I can do to try to protect them so they won't die. I live in Va and it can get pretty cold here in the winter months.

Peggy, you can try to save

By Doreen G. Howard

Peggy, you can try to save the mums by leaving all the foliage and flowers on plants after they die.  This helps to insulate roots. Then, heap six inches of shredded fall leaves or straw on top of plants.  Good luck!

I too agree about this "FALL

By Maureen Tegmeier

I too agree about this "FALL MUM" thing....Why don't we see more mums in the spring???????? Why do they sell them in the fall??? I just learned a lot from reading this info!!! THANKS!!!

Will mum like to be in a deep

By Reen52

Will mum like to be in a deep pot on the porch with the morning sun?

I planted my Mum plant on

By Betty Easson

I planted my Mum plant on mother's day and now it is late August and it has tripled in size. No flowers but lost of green. Do I cut it down for winter and cover it? Thanks for the help.

If you live in a cold

By Almanac Staff

If you live in a cold climate, it is best to leave the foliage on the plant, even after it has browned and died, to increase the plant's chance of surviving the winter. (If you do decide to cut off the foliage, wait until it turns brown. If the leaves are still green, it means that they are making food for the plant, which helps the plant to survive the winter.) In either case, place a thick layer of mulch, such as straw, over the plants in late fall; remove in spring when growth starts. In spring, you can prune out the dead leaves before the new ones start to develop.

Thank you. Now all I need to

By Betty Easson

Thank you. Now all I need to find is straw in Toronto, Ontario. However, I will. Thanks a bunch.

Hi Betty, I bought some straw

By Clara IT

Hi Betty, I bought some straw stacks at Lowe's at Major MacKenzie and Dufferin in Sept.

Thanks for the tip. I will

By Weebea

Thanks for the tip. I will drive up there and have a look.

If I bought the mums now but

By Kathy Frankford

If I bought the mums now but do not plant them, can they be left in the pot until next spring, then plant them?

You can try it. After the

By Almanac Staff

You can try it. After the mums start to turn brown, cut them back to within 1 inch of the soil. Water and put the pot in a protected area (example: garage, cold frame). Surround the plant with newspapers and place newspapers below the pot. Check your mums once a month or so to see if it's getting dried out and water if so. In the early spring, you can plant the mums in the ground.


By Pam Coley

I have bought those $1.98 mums at Walmart, the grocery, etc. and planted them when they are just budding and even after they are spent, but not dead, in Aug., Sept. and Oct. Every single one of them has returned each spring and they are healthy and HUGE. I've divided them each spring for the past two years. I live in zone 5 (Morris, IL). I figured that if they didn't come back, I wasn't out that much money and it took very little time to plant them...well worth the try. Happy growing!

Thanks for info. I will too

By L Malkemus

Thanks for info. I will too bought some "cheap" mums and planted...hope they return next year. If not, not a big loss. By the way, my sister lives in Morris/Coal City.!


By Judy77

I agree. I love mums and have consistently lost them when planting in the fall. Thank you for this article. Why are they not available to be planted in the spring? I have planted asters instead but do not find the same color choices available.

Re: mums

By Doreen G. Howard

Spring sources for mum plants include mail order catalogs, online mum specialty nurseries and large garden centers that cater to landscapers.  They often sell mum transplants in six-paks in May and early June.

planting mums

By HOT lady

I have read that planting mums in the fall is not a wise thing to do. If this is the case, why are there very few mum plants available in the spring?

planting mums

By Sherree Austin

this is new information to me and may explain why I have lost mums in the past. I plant them in August which now I know I should plant them in May. Maybe they should be named spring mums instead of fall mums--the name is deceiving! thank you for the valuable information.

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