Thursday, October 18, 2007

Take care of your Mum's - Latest Column

Sacrificial Mums
By Tim King

Do me a favor - after you’ve returned home from your local garden center, take a minute and put your mums (chrysanthemums) in the ground. You’ll notice I did not say on the porch, on the steps or on the ground next to the driveway. In the ground. The mums you just spent $30 on are not one hit wonders meant to dazzle for a few short weeks and then be discarded. They have more life to give.

In a few weeks, thousands of spruce and pine trees will be harvested, packaged and delivered for Christmas celebrations across the country. That is their fate. It’s what they were born and raised to be. They have had their time in the wild, living under the stars and watching the seasons change from their northern fields.

But the colorful mums we buy are different. They are whole plants, not simply ornamental figureheads. They have roots, stems, leaves and flowers that will last many years - if treated right.

It amazes me year after year, the shear volume of colorful chrysanthemums that are on display at nurseries, supermarkets, superstores and even hardware stores. It seems to me that the number of mums for sale always far outnumber the amount of shoppers looking to add some color to their dying landscapes.

Mums come in a wide variety of colors, shapes and sizes to offer something for everyone. Bright reds, deep maroon, orange, yellow or white, purple, even shades of blue are available to complement any house palette. At this time of year, there are very few choices when it comes to flowering plants. This is the mum’s time to shine.

For this reason, each year thousands are displayed in yards across New England for a few weeks, only to be left for dead and tossed in the trash after Thanksgiving. I just can’t see the point in spending money, year after year, to replace something that is made to come back on its own.

Imagine deciding to replace your new car after it ran out of its first tank of gas, or never taking the goldfish out of the plastic bag when you brought it home from the pet store. A week later, you look at the bag on your counter with its “sleeping” resident and simply flush it away and go get another one. Doesn’t make sense, right?

To me, buying a mum without intending to take care of it is equally negligent. What these plants want more than anything is to be in the ground. Sure, some plants don’t mind the ground-like environments that we create for them in pots and containers indoors. But I’m talking about wild, hardy perennials here.

The mum is plant designed to put on a colorful show, then hunker down to patiently wait out the cold until the warmth of Spring returns. I wonder how many of you have secretly questioned the “hardiness” of the mums’ moniker after witnessing them wilted and dying after the first hard frost. Not so hardy you might think.

I’d like to see how hardy you would be without basic warmth and protection from the elements. Although the surface air may dip below freezing, the underground roots stay relatively warm and toasty into November.

So, if you’ve got some mums just chilling in a pot on your front steps, dig a hole three feet to the left or right…and plant them! Next year, buy some more, then plant those too. Pretty soon, you’ll have a fantastic fall garden that will return and expand on its own each year.

Tim King is a freelance writer who sees the forest and the trees from his home in Scarborough. He can be reached at -

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