Mums: where’s the love?


Guest rant by James Roush, who hates mums as much or maybe even more than I do. James’s blog is Garden Musings.

My muse for today’s blog is a coworker and friend who’s also a new homeowner. She’s faced with the dilemma of all non-gardeners who suddenly find themselves with a town lot whose previous owner seemed to have neither the talent nor the interest for gardening. A forsythia seems to be the only salvageable landscape-worthy plant in her yard at present. As a result, she has been slyly and periodically pestering me with questions about plants and landscaping, seeking out knowledge from her captive manic Extension Master Gardener, and probably secretly hoping that I’ll show up with a bulldozer and a truckload of plants and a sixteen-color, meticulously thought-out plan for the landscape.  Alas for her, like most poorly-trained men of my generation, I’m oblivious to feminine hints.

Her latest gardening question though, struck a nerve, as did her suggestion later that I should write about it and call it “Mums The Word” (she loves really bad puns).  She had just asked via email if I thought that mums would do well under a large shade tree that borders her property.  I calmly replied that mums wouldn’t do well in the constant dry shade that I knew her spot had, and that she needed to plant them where they’d get six hours of sun or more.

That’s not what I wanted to say, though.  She doesn’t know that I hate mums—or more properly Chrysanthemum sp.—with a passion second only to my distaste for spireas.  Spireas are a special case with me as readers of Garden Musings know, but mums are about as worthless in the garden in my estimation. Yes, they provide us some nice fall color, if you just want flowers, but they provide nothing interesting in the way of decent foliage contrast or shape variation, and the rest of the year they’re either just a slowly-growing blob that sits there like a green turd in your landscape, or they’re dead stems that break with the first snowfall.  To add insult to injury, although mums are perennials elsewhere, they’re really annuals in Kansas, weakening in—at most—a year or two thanks to the dry hot Kansas summers and drier cold Flint Hills winters.  I’d sooner have my friend plant ragweed in her yard than a border of mums.

Look, for instance, at the picture above of the current landscaping (taken this morning) around some KSU apartments that stand opposite the exit I use every night from work.  Let me repeat that I’m forced to look at this landscaping debacle every night.  What insanity overtook the K-State groundsmen that they thought these alternating yellow and orange mums would make a wise display?  (K-State colors, guys and gals, are purple and white.) Now it’s true that the most common colors of mums put up for sale seem to be yellows and oranges and russets, probably because the plants sell best in what people think of as fall colors, but mums do actually exist in purple and white.  I’ve seen them.  If we must have round balls of color alternating in our college landscape, perhaps purple and white might have been a better choice here—a stone’s throw from the KSU football stadium.  Luckily these were just planted; I’m betting (hoping) they don’t survive till next year.

I have no chrysanthemums at all in my garden, just as I have no spireas.  The closest thing I’ll allow is the wonderful Shasta Daisy, which blooms during the height of summer and used to be classified as a chrysanthemum, but today has been wisely moved to the Leucanthemum x superbum taxonomic group.  Please, everyone, let’s not whisper the word “mum” around me again; it plays havoc with my blood pressure, as you can now attest to.


  1. Mums are perfection for commercial sites, seemingly.

    Disgusting in residential landscapes.

    Alas, their GREEN footprint is not Earth friendly. You know, greenhouses, chemicals, trucks & etc….

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  2. I wonder if you would like the mums of yesterday? I have read about them in old gardening books. They do not sound at all like the ones we have today and were truely perennial. Not particularly interested in mums myself (though I do confess I bought three this year to plop in my big terra cotta pot because the summer had totalle decimated what I had planted in the spring) so I don’t remember any details.

  3. Christopher, I have Clara Curtis chrysanthemum. It’s a thug, but real pretty when it finally blooms in October. It looks nice next to all sorts of grasses and fading perennials–I just can’t have its pinky pink near the blue asters. In a few weeks the foliage will turn pretty shades of gold and rust after the blooms die. All summer the plant is an agreeable shrub-sized green mound that makes a nice backdrop for the summer blooms–and it thrived even in this brutally hot and very dry summer. Not at all the same creature as those neurasthenic yellow and orange balls!
    Clara Curtis chyrsanthemums

  4. it seems like no sooner do I say that I hate Neil Diamond that people start lending me Neil Diamond CDs, saying he has a great live show, how I should give him another chance… let it go- the man hates mums, let him hate mums…

  5. Wow Sarah that is a mighty fine looking mum. I may need to find some. I wouldn’t even attempt to try and keep it away from the blue asters. They own the mountain here.

    Susan I would hate on those mums in James’s picture as much as he does.

  6. I used to hate mums, after working in a florist for a few years. But now that I have seen some of the amazing cultivars out there that are not the boring ones found in big box stores I really have changed my mind about this fall flowers. check out some pictures from our fall festival

    Some of my favorites include ‘Descanso’, ‘Gumdrop’ and ‘Kermit’
    A friend of mine creates amazing bonsai like sculptures by training mums on driftwood. They really are outstanding.

  7. I love my graceful pink perennial daisy mums in pink (first ones opened in the last day or two)that drape gracefully in part shade and also some tall hot-yellow semi-doubles that bloom reliably from Thanksgiving to New Year. I put short tomato hoops around the yellows to give them some support.

  8. What a pleasure to read this. Some feeble minded think, believe that every plant, tree, bush, palm is pretty anytime in any context.

    Excellent post…my list?
    Turf, Palms, Ixoras, Hedges, Chefferas and on…

  9. Mums are set out in front of grocery stores and hardware stores as an impulse buy. Schools also them around here. I am a victim of the yearly purchase. I put them on the porch like pumpkins and when they die, I throw them away. You have my permission to drive by my house and sniff in disdain.

    I can’t help it, I’m weak.

  10. I no longer plant mums. If they do survive, you have to spend the summer pinching them back. There are so many more interesting choices. (Although I, too, love shasta daisies.)

  11. I love saturated colors, so I was originally happy with my purchase of mums for a stone planter near my porch. Unfortunately I didn’t realize that they intense sun here (Florida) would bleach the colors so now they just look faded and sad. I had a previous batch of yellow mums and they actually did alright as long as I watered them in the dry months. I’m not a huge fan of flowers anyway though (give me herbs and vegetables) so I’m not spending too much time worrying about it.

  12. honestly, that photo does show the mums looking appealing, and autumnal, just like the planter intended, and the light falling on their round shapes provides a structural and classic note.
    if you didn’t know they were as common as dirt, just some of the most striking of the only flowers going for autumn, would you still hate them?

  13. It makes sense to dis-love plants that do not grow well in your climes, but i love the challenge of planting things that i find offensive in the hopes of making it work? My mum is the petunia. I keep buying and planting them, but i think they’re stupid – yet i’m determined to love them…some day.

    Mums for sale at the grocery store are agreeably disgusting. But I planted some from Bluestone two years ago and they are fantastic – just as floppy and showy as everything else was.

    I bet you could even make Spirea work for you…

    It’s like taking your least favorite color, and seeing if there’s a way to love it.

    Every dog has its day.

  14. As a new gardener with a late fall garden empty of blooms, I used to fall for the box store mums. Now my garden is still full of lowers in late October so I, too, drive by the gaudy display of mums full of disdain.
    However, some years ago I got a whole lot of mums from a trial at my local university. Many of them have disappeared over the years, but the ones that survived are well worth it as perennials: There is the tiny golden one that needs no pinching and blooms in July, then again in early October. Then the pure white one that goes so well with Colchicum ‘Waterlily’ next to it, and finally ‘Mei-Kio’ which is just now opening its tiny pink double blooms and will bloom until a hard frost does it in. It’s definitely a thug, but holds it’s own when used as a ground cover. It’s naturally short enough that it does not need pinching, has very small dark green foliage that all through the early fall is highlighted by the developing buds.
    To reduce “mum” to just those sold at the supermarket is to reduce a whole genus to just its most common representative and ignore the wealth of possibilities it contains.


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