Pretend it is late fall and you are driving around on a lazy Indian summer afternoon. Out of the clear blue, you see a yard ablaze with color. Chances are, it's a patch of blooming chrysanthemums. Do you know that, with a little planning and planting, you can have that show of mums in your yard?
Now is the time to purchase those glowing mums to add to your landscape, said Barbara Roe of the Las Vegas Chrysanthemum Society. The group's annual mum sale will be from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday at Plant World Nursery, 5301 W. Charleston Blvd.
The society will have many of its champion blooms from the November flower show available.
"So you will know what you are getting, the society will have pictures of them," Roe said. "If you were at the November show and jotted down those you desired, bring your list and we'll help you find them. Members will provide you with instructions to grow your champions."
Some mums, especially cushion mums, will be limited because a major supplier sold out. The society plans to have many of its mums available. But remember, early shoppers get the best selection.
A mum means many things to society members. It can be a tiny 1/2-inch button or a jumbo spider as much as 14 inches in diameter; a 2-inch daisy shape or a huge football, 30 inches in circumference; a small compact bush with hundreds of little blooms, or a single mighty stem with a single bloom sitting on top of it; a knee-high garden hardy or a cascade; a tree, topiary or bonsai. It may be white, yellow, gold, bronze, orange, pink, purple, red or all colors in between -- but you will never find a blue mum.
If you have been growing mums for a few years, it's time to dig them up to divide. Cut clumps into several small clumps. Retain the newer starts found around the edges and discard the old centers.
Amend your soil before replanting all new starts. Mix a tablespoon of super phosphate, a teaspoon of soil sulfur and a slow-release fertilizer (follow package directions) into the soil for each plant before planting. Follow planting by adding a root stimulant to initiate quicker root growth. Follow all feedings with a good watering to move nutrients to roots.
Provide some protection from the sun and wind until the new starts settle in. Last summer was very hard for mums, said Roe. The hot winds in July sucked the life out of many mums. Large-leafed varieties fared better than small-leafed ones, so be attentive to their watering needs. If possible, construct a barrier to deter wind. Hot winds do more damage to mums than direct sun during those days hotter than 100 degrees.
Now here is the real secret to why Roe always comes up with her champions each year. Many mums grow tall, and if not checked, they become ugly with dead leaves at the bottom. Then you end up with smaller blooms and plants sprawling all over the place. It is not a pretty sight to behold.
Pinching or breaking off the top inch of the lead bud early gets you more lush and compact stems that will have far more flowers. Do pinching when mums get about 8 inches high. Shortly thereafter, you'll see new growth coming from the leaf axis. If you find plants producing spindly stems, thin them out and feed the plants more often. Continue pinching monthly until mid-July. Later pinching will delay blooming.
Here is a mistake many gardeners make when growing mums: They need so many hours of darkness to initiate the blooming process. If streetlights and/or porch lights are strong enough to cast your shadow, it's too much light and your mums will not bloom. Roe suggests going out at night to observe the situation.
In the early fall, give your plants a boost by scratching a tablespoon of potassium (potash) around each plant. Potassium strengthens stems to hold up those heavy blooms and improves their flowering quality.
Native plants brighten up your landscape beyond expectations and use water economically. Join Springs Preserve experts to see exquisite plants available for home landscapes. The program is at 8:30 a.m. Saturday at the Springs Preserve, 333 S. Valley View Blvd. Call 822-7786 to reserve your seat.
Linn Mills writes a garden column each Sunday. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or call him at 822-7754.