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How to Prune Mums for Beautiful Autumn Blooming Color

One of the benefits of having a mother who is a florist and does landscape design, is you get to learn all of the  gardening and flower secrets a lot of people don’t know about, like how to grow big Chrysanthemums.  I know it seems early to think about fall flowers, but if you want those big, beautiful plants, you actually have to start now, or even a few weeks ago, if you have a time machine. I wanted to share with you how to prune mums for beautiful Autumn blooming color.

Front walk with mums for fall. Pretty fall landscaping

Garden mums are actually a perennial and can be planted in the ground

Most people consider mums a “disposable” plant even thought garden mums are technically a perennial and will return year after year when planted in the ground. I live in Zone 5a hardiness area and 90% of mine come back year after year. I have to admit though, I love how they add amazing fall color to my front when everything else is done blooming, but I will add a personal disclaimer. I HATE how they smell. Blech!  Some people don’t mind it. Not me, but, I am willing to trade the color an texture for holding my nose every time I walk by them. I also mistakenly call them Geraniums from time to time and do not know why. I have to constantly correct myself, even though they look nothing a like. Maybe it’s because I hate the way those smell too.

Mums and pumpkins metal luminiary pumpkin

For years, I would buy fall mums in September,October for about $3.00 each, enjoy them for a month, let them die, and then throw them out. I didn’t even know that you could plant them here in Chicago and they probably would come back. Now I say probably, because sometimes they don’t, still not a bad investment for 3 bucks if they do. The trick to planting them is to planting them in the ground in September so they have time to form an adequate root system before the bitter cold. And, finding a spot they like in full sun and well-draining soil with a little wood mulch to keep the moisture in the ground at the base of the plant. Location is important. There are certain areas of my yard where they come back year after year, and there are certain places they die every.Single.Time. I save those “dead zones” for the urns and planters.

How to prune mums for beautiful Autumn blooming color

In the Spring, you will see teeny little bracts of leaves for out of the ground on old wood. These are going to be the focus of how to grown big Chrysanthemums.They are almost hard to see, and seem to grow slow, but once they get going they need a little attention, at about once a week. They spend most of early spring and summer in their foliage growing season.

Watch them carefully, once they start to form shoots, with what looks like little bids on the end, you are going to start using a. pinching process to pinch them back when they get between 3 and 6 inches tall. This will encourage the plant to create new stems and side shoots to create that nice, rounded compact shape. Without pinching, the plant will produce leggy stems and have fewer flower buds in the fall.

HOw to grown big Chrysanthemums
How to prune mums for beautiful Autumn blooming color

I’ve even marked for you on this picture where you should pinch the leave back at. About once a week, I do a yard tour around my plants and do my pinching with my fingernails. It’s really mini-pruning to stimulate growth if you prefer to think about it that way. If you don’t like the smell of mums on your hands, or have sensitive skin or an allergy, use gloves and sharp scissors to create the same effect. Garden snips also work well.

Chrysanthemum leaves

Then when those form new shoots, pinch those back again-but only until July 4th. After that, let them grow and stop pinching! By early fall you’ll see the flower buds forming and slowly open. Our fall bloom starts here about mid-September and will run through mid-October.

Plant mums early in the fall so they came back

Once the mum is blooming, you can remove spent flowers and extend the blook period by sometimes forcing new bud growth depending on certain varieties of garden mums.

Front walk with round, beautiful mums. How to grow bug Chrysanthemums

The result of all of the micro-pruning is going to be beautiful,round bushy, Chrysanthemums that give out mounds of beautiful flowers, that will last much longer than any you could buy at the store. I like to plant mine with Coleus. The annuals not only compliment each other, and Coleus can fill in the blank space until the mum gets big enough, but coleus is very transplant-able, that if your mum grows big and crowds it out, even in fall with a little water you can plop it in a new space. That another one that benefits greatly from a lot of pinching. If you see the bright, chartreuse plant behind my mum, that’s a Coleus that was pinched every time the new growth got about a few inches tall.

Grow big beautiful fall mums with a few tricks

Mums can generally make it though the cold weather until the first frost in October/November . You can mulch them with straw if you live in colder zones to help them make it through the winter cold. The following year in late winter, early spring, remove the brown, dead stems from the base before the greenery starts to emerge. Every year they should get a little bigger. In fact, you can actually divide mums and transplant them in the early spring! Give them lots of water, sunlight and pinching and they will reward you with beautiful, flowering Fall color!

Fall mums at the Arboretum
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How to grow big, beautiful chrysanthemums





  1. so, I bought a mum last fall, and sat it out by beside the garage, still in the plastic container it came in. About 2 months ago, it started blooming again, so I brought it back out, and began watering it, and now it has bloomed all over again, My question is: do I let it die out, and then plant this fall? Or go ahead and put it in the ground?

    1. I would put it in the ground now. Once the blooms dry, I would trim it back. It might re-bloom? Or at least it will be in with a good root system for next year.

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