Are Chrysanthemums Annuals or Perennials?

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-and-petunias

Chrysanthemums and petunias in my fall flower garden. Click for full size image.

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!

Tip: A tea made from chrysanthemum flowers is remarkably tasty and mild. It’s great on a winter night, and when mixed with chamomille or mint, makes for a very soothing, warm beverage.

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About Todd Heft

Todd Heft is an organic gardener and freelance garden writer who lives in the Lehigh Valley, PA and has gardened for most of his life. When he isn't writing or reading about organic gardening, he's gardening. His first book, "Homegrown Tomatoes: The Step-By-Step Guide to Growing Delicious Organic Tomatoes In Your Garden" is available on Amazon now. Google
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4 Responses to Are Chrysanthemums Annuals or Perennials?

  1. Gordon says:

    Re: Saving potted mums

    Hi Todd,
    Thanks for the informative article about Chrysanthemums. I bought a few 4.5″ dia. potted Garden Hardy Mums to brighten up the office. After 2 months of flowering now all their leaves & flowers look dried and lifeless. I regularly water them so they can’t be lack of watering. I know mums like full sun and dark nights. May be the 24/7 fluorescent lighting in the office has killed them. Do you think they will come back next spring if I cut them back to couple inches of crown, place them near a bright window (cool but not cold) and keep the soil moist?
    Thanks for any suggestions.

    • Todd Heft says:

      Gordon:
      Potted mums will usually start to expire in November, depending on where you live and how early they were started at the nursery. Keeping them indoors in a pot will be hit or miss with re-blooming next spring, but it’s certainly worth a try. But be careful not to over water them, as they really don’t need that much. A better choice would be to transfer the mums to a larger pot kept out of doors but sheltered, like on a porch or balcony. If you live in a temperate area, they should overwinter in pots outdoors just fine.

  2. martha bellows says:

    RE:

    CHRYSANTHEMUMS

    We do not live in a house with a yard. I live in a condo. Can I cut the plant back, and store it in a closet over the winter?

    If so, should it be covered, in the dark???

    Thanks

    • Todd Heft says:

      Martha:
      No, that will kill the plant. I assume they’re in pots? If so, keep them in the pots, don’t cut them back and bring them indoors around the time of your first frost. Put them on a sunny windowsill until the worst of the winter weather has passed. Make sure you keep them well watered, but not saturated.