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Gardening

It’s time for chrysanthemums to shine

  • Author: Jeff Lowenfels
  • Updated: October 28, 2017
  • Published October 26, 2017

This is the time of year to keep mum. (I had to do that, sorry.) Of course, I mean chrysanthemums. These plants are the poinsettias of the Thanksgiving season. You will find beautiful, potted mums in full bud or flower for sale all over Alaska.

Elsewhere in America, you could expect to see mums used as deck, porch and fall-planted flower bed displays, with varieties that can get to 3 feet tall. These may be garden mums and not the florist mums we get here, but the idea is the same: These flowering plants come into bloom when days become shorter and nights cooler. The plants we find at our local outlets have most likely been treated with some sort of hormone, or grown under special lighting conditions that delay their flowering even later so as to ensure a plentiful supply for the turkey holidays.

In almost all cases, Alaska mums are temporary houseplants. Again, in normal places you could keep them over outdoors after the bloom is gone. Here, that poses a real problem, as you can tell by the weather of late. You could baby them indoors until next spring and then put them outdoors to develop the roots they need to flower again in the fall, but why bother? Plus, they will take up too much space and time during the rest of the winter.

There are things you can do, however, to prolong the period of bloom.

First, chrysanthemums are heavy drinkers. They really take up a lot of water and so their soil can go from wet to dry in a day or so. You don't want mum soil to go dry at all, so you must check the soil every day, even though the plant may actually only need watering twice a week. You just never know. The rule is: When the soil's surface is dry, it is time to water.

These plants consume so much water because they transpire at a terrifically high rate. This is said to be the reason these plants do so well, reportedly removing ammonia, benzene and formaldehyde from the air in rooms where they are grown. The point is, however, they need to be watched for watering all the time.

Just because mums don't like dry soil doesn't mean the plant should sit in water. The soil should drain excessive water. The proper way to water is to soak the pot in a sink for five minutes or so and then let it drain. This is not always possible. Just make sure your plants get watered thoroughly and their pots drain thoroughly. If you must keep the foil wrapping they come with (their "decorative pot covers"), empty it when it fills with drainage water or poke a hole in it so it will drain.

Your plant is already in bloom, but you should still give it as much indirect sunlight as you can. New blooms may even appear, but don't count on that.

Mums are fall plants that are not only genetically designed to flower in the fall, but to keep their flowers longer if the temperatures are seasonal as well. So keep things between 50 and 65 degrees, with the cooler end of that range at night.

Since the plant is already in bloom, it does not need to be fed. And, since you will not be keeping the plant, you don't have to worry about repotting it. Hey, this sounds like the ideal kind of houseplant to own. Trust me. It is. Get a few.

Jeff's Alaska garden calendar for this week: 

Composting with worms: Saturday, 12-1:30 p.m., Alaska Botanical Garden. It's $70 for members and $75 for non-members if there is still room in the class. Go to alaskabg.org/composting-with-worms to check.

Outdoor faucets: If you haven't removed hose gadgets, you have not winterized your faucet. Don't leave things attached to outdoor faucets in the winter.

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