The Ultimate Guide to Fall Garden Mums

Updated: Apr 19, 2019

“If you would be happy for a lifetime, grow Chrysanthemums.” - Chinese Proverb


Garden mums (Chrysanthemum) are readily available in a wide range of colors for adding late season color to your garden or your front porch. With a little understanding and some simple tips, you can have a lush, beautiful garden mum display to help celebrate the changing of seasons.

The most common question we get asked about mums is if they are annuals or perennials. The answer is both. There are several species of chrysanthemums, with some being hardier than others. The mums we grow at our farm are perennial, garden-hardy mums selected for our growing zone here in Central Illinois. Because our mums are locally grown at our farm, they are healthy, strong, and acclimated to our climate when they leave our farm in the fall. There is no guarantee that the mums you purchase at our farm will come back the next year when they are planted in the fall. It all depends on how well they are cared for and when and where they are planted after they leave our farm. Whether you want to enjoy fall mums on your porch or plant in your garden, we've included everything you need to know in this guide for helping you with your green-thumb skills.

The Basics

In late summer when other plants call it quits, mums hit their stride. Like poinsettias, they're photoperiodic, meaning they rely on specific amounts of light to send the signal that it's time to start putting on a show. Garden mums are short-day plants and initiate flower buds in response to an interaction of day length, temperature and plant age. On average, garden mums will not start to set buds until the nights last about 10 hours long. Blooms follow in six to ten weeks.

Different mum varieties will come into flower at different times in fall, based primarily on their responses to day length. Early season varieties can be expected to come into flower in early to mid-September, mid-season varieties from middle to late September, late season varieties from late September to early October.

The best stage to purchase a garden mum is when the buds are just beginning to break open. Mums with fully open flowers are okay to buy, but be aware that they will not last as long in your garden or on your porch. Depending on weather conditions and mum varieties, you can expect to get a good display of color for four to six weeks once buds begin to break open. Extended periods of hot weather will age the flowers more quickly. If you plan to place mums in a shaded garden site, then it will be best to purchase mums with flowers that are more open, as mums that are in tight bud may not open properly when in the shade.

Most gardeners plant mums too late in the fall for the plants to survive over winter. Some of the mums may come back the next year if they are mulched for the winter. The shallow-rooted mums that are planted late in fall while in full bud or flower just do not have enough time to establish before winter sets in. We break down all the factors to consider when caring for and planting fall mums later in this guide.

Mum Facts

The Chrysanthemum is one of the most popular flowers in the world, next only to the rose. The name "chrysanthemum" is derived from the ancient Greek words chrysos, meaning gold with anthemon, meaning flower. Chrysanthemums were cultivated in China as early as 15th century BC. The plants were used as herbs and the roots and leaves were eaten. The Chrysanthemum was brought to Japan by Buddhist monks in 400 AD. Japanese emperors loved the Chrysanthemum flower that they sat upon Chrysanthemum thrones. Chrysanthemums - kikus in Japanese - were featured on the Imperial Crest of Japan. Mums were introduced into the United States in 1798 when Colonel John Stevens imported a cultivated variety known as 'Dark Purple' from England. Today, the plant is the quintessential autumn flower used for decorating, gardening, and as a gift plant.

Chrysanthemums are more than just a pretty face. The Chinese believe this flower represents ease and rest, and often use it as an object of meditation; and the Japanese consider it to be a symbol for life and happiness. Mum plants have also been shown to reduce indoor air pollution by the NASA Clean Air Study.

The chrysanthemum has its own traditional holiday, Chrysanthemum Day. This Japanese holiday is celebrated on September 9 - the 9th day of the 9th month - in locations throughout Japan, Korea, and Okinawa by viewing chrysanthemum displays, eating chrysanthemum cakes (a dumpling made from yellow petals mixed with rice flower) and drinking chrysanthemum wine.

Botanical Name: Chrysanthemum

Common Name: Garden mums, garden chrysanthemums, fall mums, hardy mums

Plant Type: Herbaceous perennial flower

Mature Size: 4 to 36 inches tall, 12 to 36 inches wide; size varies depending on variety.

Sun Exposure: Full sun

Soil Type: Humusy, fertile soil that is moist but well-drained

Soil pH: 6.5 to 6.7

Bloom Time: Late August to frost

Flower Color: Various shades of yellow, white, red, orange, purple, and bi-colors

Hardiness Zones: 3 to 9

Native Area: Native to Asia and northeast Europe; most species come from eastern Asia.

Types of Chrysanthemum

There are thousands of varieties of floral and garden mums. The varieties can differ in size, colors and number of flowers per stem. The National Chrysanthemum Society (U.S.A.) classifies mums into 13 groups based on the forms of their blooms and florets:

Class 1: Irregular incurve

Class 2: Reflex

Class 3: Regular incurve

Class 4: Decorative

Class 5: Intermediate incurve

Class 6: Pompom

Class 7: Single and semi-double

Class 8: Anemone

Class 9: Spoon

Class 10: Quill

Class 11: Spider

Class 12: Brush and thistle

Class 13: Unclassified types

For detailed descriptions of these National Chrysanthemum Society classifications, visit Chrysanthemum Classes.

Fun Facts

  • The November birth flower

  • The 13th wedding anniversary flower

  • National flower of Japan

  • The official flower of Chicago, IL and Salinas, CA

  • A popular Mother’s Day gift in Australia (May is in autumn)

  • The official flower of November in the U.S.

  • Used in teas to detox and treat the flu and headaches in some parts of Asia

  • Commonly used throughout the world in teas, salads</