Q: I am so confused about replanting container fall mums. Can you leave the mums in a container for the winter or should you replant them in the ground? I have done both, and not had the best of luck. I know that mums roots can freeze in the containers. But I have transferred container mums in the ground before the first frost, with no luck. I live in zone 7.
Thanks. Michele Quarton
A: Dear Michele,
Don't feel depressed. Many people have the same questions and problems with potted mums. The main reason is that these plants are primarily developed and sold as potted plants to be used in displays and then chucked. They're grown very dense and short and treated with growth regulators to ensure that they greet you with a hundred buds ready to pop when you walk into the garden center, so you'll eagerly spend $10 for just one. While they will survive being transplanted into the garden after they finish blooming, many don't survive more than a few years. Also, once they're no longer affected by the growth regulators, they lose their compact shape.
If you want to plant out your potted mums, do so this fall. Don't leave them in pots for the winter. Pick out a sunny spot with fertile, well-drained soil that contains a lot of organic matter. Mums steadily spread, but tend to die out in the centers. So every couple of years, lift the clump in spring, discard the old, woody center, divide the remainder into 3-4 plants, and replant.
Now, if you'd like really good mums that look great in the garden for generations, you need to plant old-fashioned mums. As I said in my September 15 post, "Flowers for Fall," "...consider mums like 'Country Girl,' 'Venus,' and 'Single Apricot Korean.' These are looser and more graceful in form than potted modern mums. A good mail-order source for all of these is Niche Gardens (www.nichegardens.com)." Other old favorites available from my good buddy, Jason Powell, at Petals from the Past (www.petalsfromthepast.com) are 'Cathy's Rust,' 'Ryan's Pink,' 'Clara Curtis,' and 'Hillside Sheffield,' ('Sheffield Pink').