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Are mums perennials or annuals? It depends. Find out which mums keep coming back year after year and how to ensure your mums come back.
Are Mums Perennials or Annuals?
There are two different types of mums: 1) “Garden” mums (found at garden nurseries) are hardy perennial plants. 2) “Florist” mums (often found at grocery stores and flower shops) are treated as decorative annuals and not grown to survive the winter.
These mum varieties are hardy in zones 4 to 9, and will grow stolons underground as they get established, returning year after year.
With perennial mums, both the flowers and lovely green foliage will be visible; with florist mums, foliage is largely sacrificed for flowers. Perennial mums have many flowers, but the blooms are usually smaller.
Mums are “photoperiodic,” which means they will set buds when the days get shorter in late summer! Then, they will bloom from late summer to fall for about eight weeks.
Note that both “early season” and “late season” mum varieties are bred in case you wish to time your flowering or have a mix of both types for a more extended season!
You may keep your hardy perennial garden mum in the pot, but they’re genuinely happiest and grow better in the ground (which is where you should plant them if you want them to survive winter). In the ground, mums can grow up to 1 to 3 feet tall and 1 to 2 feet wide in one season.
2) Annual “Florist” Mums
The annual mums in the florist pots are only hard to USDA zones 7 to 9. You usually find them at grocery stores, home improvement stores, and florists. Think of them as disposable holiday decor, along with the pumpkins you buy for Halloween or otherwise.
Annual mums like huge Football chrysanthemums, delicate Spiders, and Spoons are generally not good choices for landscapes. They have shallow roots, so they are not well-equipped to survive winter. They are not bred to be hardy; their form, color, and size are prized.
Most florist mums are already in full bloom with beautiful autumn jewel-hued colors. Also, they’re usually ALL blooms with very little foliage as it’s secondary. (Once the flower is in full bloom, it’s past its peak and already declining, so pick plants with smaller buds if you want them to last longer.)
Do Garden Mums Come Back Year After Year?
Only garden mums are perennials. However, you also need to plant these mums in the ground at the right time.
Ideally, the best time to plant perennial garden mums is in the spring. It gives the plants plenty of time to put down roots. You’ll probably need to order online because most local nurseries don’t carry mums in the spring.
If you plant them in the fall, it can be too late because they’re not building roots; they’re putting energy into blooming. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible to plant them in autumn and have them return next year. It just takes a little extra work.
Planting Mums in the Ground
Get those garden mums in the ground no later than mid-October. (If it’s too late, try it, and you may have a mild winter!)
Besides planting your perennial mums in the soil, you can change the odds in your favor by leaving the dead foliage on mums (and asters) instead of shearing them down for neatness.
An Iowa State University study found that unpruned plants survive much lower temperatures than pruned plants; the foliage acted as extra insulation.
Plant mums in an area with full sun (6 hours or more) so their roots can survive.
Choose a location with good drainage and no standing water.
If possible, plant in an area more sheltered from wind, such as the south-facing side of your home or near a wall.
Dig a hole slightly larger than the pot and just as deep as the root ball. Don’t put them in too deep, which is a common mistake. Water well.
Add 4 to 6 inches of mulch after the ground has frozen for even more protection. (Yes, at least 4 inches!)
When the plants appear next spring, feed them with a granular slow-release fertilizer and pinch off the tips of each branch (just an inch or so) a few times before July to encourage bushiness.
After that, stop pinching, or you’ll remove flower buds. If you don’t feel like pinching, you don’t have to; they’ll still bloom but with a more carefree, floppy sort of appearance.
Pinching off spent blooms (deadheading) will encourage new flowers.