Chrysanthemums seem to be the most misunderstood and mislabeled plant at most garden centers. Millions are sold as annuals every year, the pots set on patios, the brilliant colors enjoyed until just after frost and then the plant is thrown away. Pity, because Mums offer so much more.
Chrysanthemums are not annuals, they are herbaceous perennials.
An herbaceous perennial has stems that die back at the end of the growing season. New growth emerges from the rootstock every spring, creating a larger plant every year until it reaches its maximum size. Some chrysanthemums will keep spreading for what seems like an eternity.
To enjoy your Chrysanthemums for many years, plant the crown just below ground level so that it stays insulated during the winter. When the Chrysanthemum has finished blooming for the season, after the first frost, cut it back to two inches above ground level and then put a few inches of mulch on top to insulate it and protect it from frost heave. Make sure it’s sighted in an area that is well drained and gets lots of sun – at least 6 hours a day.
Best success with mums will be in areas with mild to moderate winters. If you live in an area with severe winters, an extended deep freeze may damage the Chrysanthemum’s rootstock and destroy the plant, despite your best efforts at insulating it. If this is the case, try placing a cold frame on top of the mum to protect it. Mine have survived intact the last few winters in Pennsylvania, despite one of the coldest winters on record, and lots of frost heave.
The following spring, if the crown and roots were properly insulated, it will grow at least twice as large as the mum you planted. The fall display will be spectacular!
You can also buy chrysanthemums native to your area like the type pictured here, native to Pennsylvania. They bloom reliably in my garden year after year until the first hard frost and the only thing I have to do is thin them out on a regular basis. They add remarkable color to a fall garden and are an important source of nectar for pollinators when little else is available.
Tip: A tea made from chrysanthemum flowers is remarkably tasty and mild. It’s great on a winter night, and when mixed with chamomile or mint, makes for a very soothing, warm beverage.