gmtoday_small.gif

 


On Gardening: Belgian mums thrill with fall performance

October 31, 2016

After a long brutally hot summer, two tropical storms and a hurricane, one could use a little perk-up, and no plant brings cheer like the chrysanthemum. Cooler temperatures partnered with a few mum containers with flowers numbering in the thousands will boost your spirits like few other plants.

It was seven years ago that I last wrote about Belgian mums. To me, Belgian mums are so superior in bloom and rugged perseverance that they are the only choice. This last seven years, however, has taken me on a long journey of sorts where I kind of forgot this Old Friend.

In the grand scheme of flowers, the Belgian mum is really not that old. Today I was looking at a large garden center ó one that sells mostly generic, if you know what I mean. There they were huge selections, and though the tags didnít tell me what I really wanted to know, I recognized them.

I said to myself, "I know you and I gave the huge mum ball of flowers a big hug."

I am sure the cashier was having a coronary unless he knew too. One of the best things about Belgian mums is they are huggable. Itís not like being a tree hugger, mind you. Sure, you will fall in love with the incredible flower production numbering in the hundreds if not thousands, but you will also be thrilled in their durability.

Squeezing mums is a recipe for disaster on typical varieties, as the branches break like crumbling pretzels. But Belgian mums literally refuse to brake. While filming them for "Southern Gardening," I had a nice pot perched on a fence post to get a special angle. Before anyone could reach, a gust of wind blew them upside down. Despite falling over three feet, no branches had broken. You will be able to pack the SUV with Belgian mums for transporting home and they will all arrive intact.

Since that day, there have been dozens of new varieties and colors added to this group. Belgian mums come in early, mid and late season varieties as well, meaning with a little planning you can have mums blooming all fall.

I had the opportunity to grow hundreds of them in a university trial, and they thrilled 6,000 visitors who attended the field day. We planted in full sun on raised beds, with fertile soil that drained well. That is still the regimen today. But to be honest, three or four 11- to 15-inch containers with a rounded mass of your favorite color of Belgian mum on the porch or patio is a thrill you will want to experience every year.

In garden settings, wonderful combinations can be created with plants like Russian sage, Mystic Spires Blue salvia, fountain grass and ornamental peppers. But by all means, donít forget a pumpkin or two and a few bales of hay.

After the mums succumb to freezing weather, trim the foliage back to just above the ground and give them a good layer of mulch. It is not uncommon to have a good spring bloom of mums. After this bloom, cut them back again and fertilize to get them ready for fall.

Mums are at your garden center now. Buy some in tight bud to allow for maximum landscape impact and get some that are blooming to add instant color for this weekís game day party.

I could give you a big list of Belgian mum varieties like Pobo Red, Conoco Orange, or Atlantico Yellow, plus dozens more. Talk to your independent garden center and let them show you the Belgian varieties.

Now the mass marketer will likely have Belgian mums too, but generic tag. Look around and see if anyone is watching, when the coast is clear, so to speak, give them a big bear hug. If the branches move back in place, you have found a Belgian mum. If the branches break, just say "Oops!"

 

 


McClatchy-Tribune Information Services