Plan now to use fall mums in landscape

Published 2:36 pm Monday, August 23, 2021

By Gary R. Bachman
MSU Extension Service

As we’re marching through the gardening year, I just knew it was going to happen.

I’m not ready for it; it’s still too hot and humid, and I’m behind on the summer projects still on my to-do list. But when I visited a big box store garden center this weekend, I saw them out on full endcap display.

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Of course, I’m referring to fall mums.

Labor Day is the traditional end of summer and, fashion-wise, it’s considered a faux pas to wear white after Labor Day. Now, according to my gardening worldview, I think it’s a faux pas to have mums out before Labor Day. They’re called fall mums for a reason, for goodness sakes!

I’ve always considered fall mums to be a group of flowering plants that help bridge the divide between summer and fall, especially in the Southeast, where the two seasons frequently merge together for September and October.

To the chagrin of some gardeners, I think fall mums should be used exclusively as annual seasonal color to enjoy while planning for the longer term cool-season color of snapdragons, dianthuses, pansies and violas. Fall mums have a variety of great colors from which to choose. Over the last several years, growers have even started to combine different colors in the same container.

Once you’re ready to pick up a few fall mums — and I won’t hold it against you if this is before Labor Day — be sure to visit your local, independent garden center.

Mums will be available at your local garden center in a variety of container sizes. A 4-inch plant is great as a component for making a gorgeous autumnal combination container. I like to use the larger container sizes from 8-inch pots and bigger as standalone specimens.

One tip I emphasize every year is to select fall mums with their end use in mind. If you need instant impact, then choose a plant in full flower. For extending the display period, select plants that have tight flower buds with just a little bit of color showing.

Always keep your fall mums in full sun, as this promotes the very best flower opening and color development. Fall mums don’t have to be planted into landscape beds. I like to keep mine in the containers they came in.

But growing in containers has one big challenge: Never let the container dry out.

Once a flowering fall mum is water stressed, it turns off flowering. This doesn’t necessarily kill the plant, but the flowering will not recover. So, keep those fall mum containers consistently watered. Don’t water the foliage, but directly water the base of the plant and continue until water starts to flow from the bottom of the container.

Start planning on where you want to enjoy colorful fall mums in your garden and landscape this year. Just wait until after Labor Day (wink, wink).

EDITOR’S NOTE: Dr. Gary Bachman is an Extension and research professor of horticulture at the Mississippi State University Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi. He is also the host of the popular Southern Gardening television and radio programs. Contact him at Locate Southern Gardening products online at]