Hail the anti-mums


lobuActually, I do have two gigantic pots of mums that were purchased from a work colleague’s kid (to fund a soccer team or something). At only $8 each, they are way huge for their tiny pots—indeed scarily so. (I have to think they’re overfertilized.) Nonetheless, I brought them home and stuck them in a couple patio pots I had previously emptied. But then my husband begged me to get rid of them, saying they looked like they were left over from a funeral. So we tossed.

For that matter, I'd much rather look at this than mums.
For that matter, I’d much rather look at this than mums.

The fact is,  mums are never necessary here, because we find that most potted annuals last well into October. Some of them survive until a real hard freeze, which is something we don’t see until Halloween, most years. In the meantime, we’ve been enjoying honey-scented lobularia (shown here), mistflower, eupatorium, annual ageratum, and other annuals/autumn perennials—all of them much cooler looking than mums. I also really like grasses in fall, which color and occasionally flower as the season wends to a close. And ornamental kale are magnificent.

Yet, I still see all these yellow, red, and orange mounds of mums in front of corporate sites and in other public plantings, most of them browning up within a week of placement.  I wish people could get off the mum pipe. There are so many wonderful alternatives.

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Elizabeth Licata

Elizabeth Licata has been a regular writer for  Garden Rant since 2007, after contributing a guest rant about the overuse of American flags in front gardens. She lives and gardens in Buffalo, N.Y., which, far from the frozen wasteland many assume it to be, is a lush paradise of gardens, historic architecture, galleries, museums, theaters, and fun. As editor of Buffalo Spree magazine,  Licata helps keep Western New Yorkers apprised about what is happening in their region. She is also a freelance writer and art curator, who’s been published in Fine Gardening, Horticulture, ArtNews, Art in America, the Village Voice, and many other publications. She does regular radio segments for the local NPR affiliate, WBFO.

Licata is involved with Garden Walk Buffalo, the largest free garden tour in the US and possibly the world, and has written the text for a book about Garden Walk. She has also written and edited several art-related books. Contact Elizabeth: ealicata at yahoo.com


  1. I’m not anti-mum or against people planting them (at least they are planting *something*), but I gave up on them. Despite the label calling them “hardy”, they always crap out after a year or two, occasionally three. If I am going to invest in a perennial, then I expect it to last longer than that. And like you said, there are many, many alternatives.

  2. I always succumb to a few mums. But this year I’ve decided to go with marigolds for the fall orange and yellows. I throw some seeds around in the fall or sow in spring. They don’t bloom till August and last thru October. And I like the smell.

    Mums never make me think of funerals. Glads do.

  3. I’m on an aster kick myself! And the pots of pansies that I usually see in spring are starting to crop up here and there this fall, and they are awfully nice.

    But what is up with all the ornamental cabbage and now decorative tiny peppers? I feel like people should just throw a carrot and a potato or two in there to complete the look.

    • I’ve seen all-veggie pots that were stunners. What’s not to like about Rainbow chard or Red Bore kale or bronze fennel or Cardinal basil or any number of sweet potato vines? Over the past twenty years I’ve been seeking and trialling all sorts of food grains for use as ornamental cuts. Some of the colors and textures are wonderful as well as a total revelation to consumers familiar with the grain but not the plant. Quinoa has been one of the best in that category and grain Amaranthus has a long history as an ornamental. They’re all plants, some of which the flower is showier, some the fruit, some the foliage. And I, for one, think every plant is amazing when looked at with fresh eyes, yes even something as menacing as dodder. Imagine if you understood its cultivation well enough to have it at it’s peak at your doorway on Halloween. Nature’s own silly string.

  4. I thought the title was ‘Helianthemums’. Rock roses. They’re nice. Related, ‘mum bowls’, as they get called int the trade, sound like ‘mumbles’.

  5. Hear! Hear! I am so with you on this one! In fact, I’m a wee bit anti-pansy as well. I would much rather see the beautiful skeletal shapes of the plants and stunning seed heads of the grasses and hydrangeas than those silly mums and pansies! The funniest (actually pathetic) pot of mums I’ve seen so far were at the big orange box…a tiny purple fountain grass completely swallowed by the extra large mum. ~Julie

  6. I like mums, pansies, peppers, pumpkins, ornamental kale and cabbages, and peppers. For me, their arrival hales the start of the harvest. By this time they arrive in stores, I’m tired of maintaining and watering annuals and tropical and I’m ready for a change and something that indicates the end of summer. I loved my summer arrangements. Seasons change, leaves turn colors, fall and crunch under feet, snow flakes melt on my nose, and evergreen shrubs stand against frigid temperatures. To me, flowers reflect change, with a multitude of varieties so each person can choose what pleases them.

  7. I had never thought of mums as perennials until I learned about the U of Minnesota’s hardy mum breeding program. They have developed some amazing varieties, hardy to at least zone 4.
    I have also been told that newly-purchased mums shouldn’t be planted in the fall as they are unlikely to harden up quickly enough.

    • Yes…mums should be sought out and planted in the spring/early summer so that they can develop roots that will help them survive the winter. Rarely will they survive if planted in the fall.

  8. I agree that potted mums, particularly in the growth-regulated, severely mounded form most often available are, at best, colorful but boring. Worse yet has been the tendency to market them full blown and well past their prime. There was a time one actually had to look at the tag to find out what the color would be, a time when one could look forward to many weeks of enjoyment from one’s purchase. The practice of marketing over-the-hill plants of all kinds seems to be driven by a number of influences, including cut-throat contracts imposed by big box stores, lack of knowledgeable care at those stores, and an uneducated customer base. This fall, however, I’ve started seeing more mums being sold at a much more appropriate bloom stage, so on that score, at least, there’s still hope. I must say also that, used tastefully, they can contribute to very dramatic (and instant) fall displays.

  9. Like the other reader, mums signal Fall for me. I always look forward to the 2 months of glorious color they add to my home.

  10. I wonder how many people who hate mums would seek them out at an independent garden center if they weten’t such an over-sold cliche at the large corporate big box stores and groceries? To me, they are the cold-hardy Fall equivalent of the primroses that show up in the Spring. When I look closely at them, they are beautiful, but seeing them en masse in front of every big store makes me want to run the other way.

  11. The big roundy moundy mums look unnatural to me. On the other hand, a mum like ‘Miss Gloria’s Thanksgiving’, named after Jenks Farmer’s mother, is an outstanding plant this time of year in my garden. It rambles here and there and will be covered with pink flowers for many weeks.

  12. The older, very late blooming chrysanthemums (“mums” are as offensive as “glads” or — gag me — “hems”) are a great addition, carrying color well past frost. Mei-kyo, Emperor of China, Sheffield Pink, and Will’s Wonderful all get space in my garden, and let me cut surviving buds as late as November.

    • i love those mums, too.
      Most people don’t realize that you have to ask for them in the spring/early summer and plant them then to have them be perennial.

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