Updated: Oct 5, 2019
“Then summer fades and passes, and October comes. Will smell smoke then, and feel an unsuspected sharpness, a thrill of nervous, swift elation, a sense of sadness and departure.“ ~Thomas Wolfe (1900–1938), You Can't Go Home Again
Autumn has finally arrived in our little corner of the world. At a chilly 52 degrees with an overcast sky and 40% chance of rain, the weather forces most of us to don our warm-but-not-too-warm raincoats, long sleeves, pants, warm socks, hats, gloves, overcoats, thermals, and ear-warmers. Perhaps we've gone a bit too far, but what else shall a heat-loving gardener do except bundle? Our vegetable gardens totter and wane, while our bright summer flowers shudder fearfully at the cool nighttime temps.
Although autumn certainly holds 'a sense of sadness and departure' as Thomas Wolfe eloquently describes, autumn also arouses a sense of excitement and revitalization. Brightly colored pumpkins adorn the stoops of many homes around the neighborhood, accompanied by their ever-faithful companions: Chrysanthemums, pansies, bundles of corn, piles of hay, and wafting scents of pumpkin, spice, and most things nice. We all love these beautiful autumnal offerings, and we rarely appreciate seeing them depart. Did you know that Chrysanthemums and pansies are wonderfully cold hardy and can restore themselves in the spring to visit you once more?
Let us begin with a quick introduction of the graceful but resilient Pansy (and their cousin, violas). These flowers grow into a small, bush-like habit, only reaching up to 8" tall and 12" wide. Although we love to plant pansies in the spring, we believe autumn allows for the most bloom-time and joy. Though covered in frost and ice, pansy blooms survive when the winter snows arrive. The tough plants carry on through the brutal months of winter and restore themselves in early spring. A good gardener will apply a proper rate of Blood Meal to these wonderful stalwart plants to provide a much-needed boost of Nitrogen in the earliest days of spring. The plant will then explode into a brilliant show of green foliage and brightly colored blooms. Some brave plants could have succumbed to the winter chill; replace these with pansies fresh from the nursery in early spring. Unless they are grown in a cool, shady area, pansies will succumb to intense summer heat.
Here's a great article on pansies if you'd like to learn more: https://www.thespruce.com/pansies-growing-a-cool-weather-favorite-1402913
Now let us discuss the fall flower we all cherish and adore: the Chrysanthemum. Most of us buy chrysanthemums, enjoy them while they bloom, and then toss them into the trash with a sad glance goodbye. While this should be done with most chrysanthemums purchased at big box stores, at Helms Garden Shop we offer cold-hardy chrysanthemums that return year and after year with the proper care. These perennial flowers can be cold hardy to zone 3 (that's an average low temperature of -40 degrees!). Shall we put that into perspective? Our average low temperature is only -10 degrees. With such a range of hardiness, a gardener has two options: plant the mum into the landscape, or leave it in the plastic pot with some protection through the winter months. Protect the plastic pot from the cold north wind by moving the mum to the warm side of the house (the south), creating a barrier of hay around the plant, or by slipping the plastic pot into a beautiful, frost-resistant piece of pottery. A good gardener will make sure to water the chrysanthemum during the winter months (every 2-4 weeks), especially during a period of little to no snow. After the first few winters in a plastic pot, the mum will grow larger and longer if planted in the ground or transplanted into a larger pot. A plastic pot can become restrictive to the roots, hindering the plant's growth and beauty.
A Chrysanthemum grown year-round does require some special (but not difficult) care. To enjoy a beautiful flush of flowers in the fall, the most important aspect to remember is to shear back the buds that begin emerging late in the spring. Continue an even shearing schedule until mid-July, then allow the plant to re-flush. Don't be afraid to experiment; try leaving one plant unsheared to observe the difference. The sheared plants will be stockier, bushier, and covered with buds by late summer, while the unsheared plants will be leggy and lacking in a beautiful flush of flowers. These plants are heavy feeders, so a good gardener will fertilize regularly during the growing season with a balanced fertilizer. Our all-time favorite is Jack's Classic 20-20-20. A regular feeding schedule will prevent the plant from yellowing (a common problem with chrysanthemums).
Here's a great link with even more information on growing hardy chrysanthemums: https://www.thespruce.com/growing-hardy-mums-1402850
We hope you enjoyed our October blog. Leave us a comment with tips, ideas, or suggestions.
As always, Happy Gardening!