Mum 'Gretchen.' Photo:

OK, I'm sorry. I promised myself that if I ever did a post about garden mums, I would not insult you by using the most cliched title of all time. Then I remembered I promised myself that I would lose 10 pounds by giving up beer. I broke that promise. So a precedent has been set.

If August seems early to talk about fall mums, my wife reminds that Halloween displays are already up in Costco. Stop by garden centers and big box stores now and you'll see huge pots filled with the first waves of mums to arrive.

How do they grow them that big? Well, it involves a lot of resources you don't have, like greenhouses, growth regulators, timely pruning, and a ready supply of slave labor. (Just kidding there, garden centers! I know you formally renounced that practice in 1990.) These big plants, sometimes a couple of feet across, can be pricey, but you only need two of them flanking your front door to make a statement that will last for weeks. The most common statement is, "We care about how out house looks and our neighbors don't."

As long as you keep them watered, fall mums are an easy proposition. No real care needed, except watching out for aphids on the buds and stems (spraying with soapy water will take care of that). Unless you're decorating for a party tomorrow and need immediate color, delay gratification by buying plants loaded with buds that haven't opened. That way, you'll get the longest lasting show for your buck.

What do you do with your potted mums after they finish blooming? Most folks throw them away. (This is Amurica, after all. We defend our right to be wasteful.) If you opt for this, do Mama Earth a solid and compost them. The alternative is to exhume them from their pots and plant them in the garden. Leaving them in their pots in a lousy idea, because if they survive until next fall, you'll have spent about 10 months staring at green blobs.

In the garden, they need fertile, well-drained soil and a sunny spot. After a fall freeze browns the foliage, cut the plants to the ground and compost the old leaves and stems. As soon as the mums start growing in spring, sprinkle a couple of tablespoons of slow-release, organic fertilizer, such as Espoma Plant-tone, around each plant. Don't expect your mums to grow into the same compact shapes that they flaunted in the pots. That was a result of sorcery.

OK, this is the last story I'm ever going to write titled, "Mum's The Word." I promise. And you can take that to the bank.