Alabama Fall Gardeners: How Not to Kill Your Mothers – Alabama News Center

Chrysanthemums, also known as mums, are a major feature of the fall garden every year. Many Alabamians love to see the bright blooms of mums contrasted against the fall landscape.

Chilton County Extension Coordinator Lucy Edwards said mums are beautiful but can be difficult to care for.

“There are two main categories of moms: flower and garden,” Edwards said. “Mums of flowers are not typically grown outdoors and are sold by florists as arrangements. Garden mums are what people see in gardens in the fall.

Mothers are divided by flower type and shape. The two most common types are daisies mums and ornamental flowers. Colors range from white, bronze, yellow, red, coral and pink, to lavender and red.

Choosing the right mothers

For some chrysanthemum enthusiasts, choosing the best mum can be as important as choosing the right Christmas tree. Edwards says there are two qualities to look for when choosing the right mother:

Mums need water, well-drained soil and plenty of sun. (Mississippi State University Extension / Gary Bachman)

Mothers buy unopened flowers. When buying a mother, you can try to get the largest, fully blooming plant. Make sure you buy mums while their flowers are still open. This selection allows for a longer flowering period after entering the house.

Always check for insects and diseases. No one wants a sick plant. Watch out for powdery mildew in mothers. This disease can occur after hot and humid autumn seasons. To control downy mildew, remove all infected leaves and treat the mother with a properly labeled fungicide.

Caring for mothers

Once you’ve learned about mums and how to choose the right one at your local garden center, the next step is to keep them alive. Here are some guidelines for taking care of mothers

Check the soil and the sun. Mothers need moist, well-drained soil combined with more than six hours of daily sunlight to germinate. The same rules apply whether you choose a mum that is potted from its original pot or planted in the landscape.

Planting depth is important. “Plant your mums at the same depth as their original container,” says Edwards. “It’s better to plant shallow.”

Divide and conquer. Edwards garden mums bloom best if divided every two or three years. Otherwise, any new growth will be long and spindly and have small flowers.

Do a little spring pinching. Pinching new shoots in spring encourages side shoots, providing more flowers and a fuller plant. You should not pinch after July or the mother may not have time to develop flowers.

Potted or planted mums are a staple of the fall garden in the South. (Mississippi State University Extension / Gary Bachman)

Water, water and water again. Edwards says the most common mistake in caring for mothers is forgetting to water them every day. Rainfall may be less during the fall months, which means regular watering may be required, ensuring that more water is drained from the pot or naturally from the planting site. A good routine is to feel the soil moist to a depth of 1 inch each day. If you feel moist, wait a day and check again. If it feels dry in the top inch, make sure to water it that day.

If you tend to forget to water, replant the mum in a container with a reservoir or add a saucer to collect the water. These prolong the time between watering.

“It’s easy to assume the plant is healthy. Often times, cold temperatures can cause us to neglect watering,” Edwards said. Before we knew it, there was a dead plant on the front porch.

Share these “mommy musts” with others. Now that you know your mother’s needs, help a neighbor by sharing these tips. For more information about mums and other seasonal plants, visit the Alabama Extension website at

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