Fall's richest hues

Potted mums can brighten outdoor rooms in fall
Kathleen N. Brenzel

Orange, rust, ruby red, gold: These are the colors of autumn, forever associated with falling leaves, woodsmoke, and sweater weather. They're also the colors of mum flowers ― perfect for brightening patios or porches in fall.

Among the most widely sold perennials, chrysanthemums are easy to find at nurseries and florists, especially in fall. Some are sold as named varieties (Yoder, producer of some of the plants in the pots pictured here, names garden mums after women). Other mums are simply sold by color. Buy them in bloom, then pop a few plants from 6-inch nursery pots into a large (16- or 18-inch) container. For added interest, mix in a couple of low-growing shrubs, perennials, or grasses.

Give mums rich, well-drained soil (add a dose of controlled-release fertilizer at planting time) and protection from dry winter winds; water them often enough so that the soil never completely dries out 1/2 inch below the surface. Display the container in full sun (light afternoon shade in hot climates).

AFTER-BLOOM CARE FOR POTTED MUMS

For all-mum plantings: In late autumn, after bloom is through, cut back plants, leaving stems about 6 to 8 inches long. (In cold climates, wait until spring, after new growth appears at the base.) Move the pots to a sheltered area protected from frost, and make sure the soil doesn't dry out over winter. When new growth emerges in spring, apply a complete fertilizer, then feed plants weekly with liquid fertilizer through the growing season until buds show color. To keep plants bushy, pinch tips through the summer, nipping the top pair of leaves on every shoot that reaches 5 inches long.

For mixed plantings: If you want to keep the pot center stage, remove the mum and replace it with a spring bloomer such as Iceland poppy or primrose. You can cut back the mum as above, then plant it in another pot or in the garden.