The lone voice of horticultural reason

Over-Wintering Mums

Last summer I heard that new research from Iowa State University indicated garden mums wintered better if left alone in the fall, i.e. not cut down prior to covering with protective winter mulch.

I grow a lot of mums, and can’t imagine a northern garden in the fall without them. I’ve always had pretty good luck over-wintering them, mainly because I buy good, quality mums from Dooley’s Mum Gardens in Hutchinson.

But in the odd springs when I have finally had to face the fact that I’ve lost a perennial or two over the winter, it’s usually this mum or that mum that gave up the ghost. So late last fall, while cutting my perennial beds down, I left all my mums up, tucking marsh hay around them instead of on top.

Two weeks ago, wow! The first mum I cleared hay from revealed a lush green patch of fresh new mum tips nearly a foot across! It was so impressive, I had to take a picture. My mums have never come back so strong in the spring.

So now we know. Full credit to I.S.U. — go Hawks (or is it Cyclones?). Funny thing was, I interviewed Vince Dooley (one of Minnesota’s supreme mum experts) last week for an article I’m writing on mums for Northern Gardener, and when I asked Vince if he knew about this trick, he said of course, he’s been growing mums in fields for forty years and never, ever cuts them down in the fall. When I asked him why he never told anyone, he said because no one ever asked him. You gotta love Vince.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener