Margaret Lauterbach

Like chrysanthemums? There’s no shortage of varieties

Anemone chrysanthemums have semi-double petals with a pronounced central cushion.
Anemone chrysanthemums have semi-double petals with a pronounced central cushion. The Washington Post

I love chrysanthemums, but unfortunately they’re primarily an autumn glory. I want them in spring, when some are not at their best. There are early, midseason and late-blooming varieties on the market, though not as early as I’d like. Many are quite hardy, so if you have a lovely bunch in bloom now (or recently), keep their soil moist as long as possible until winter arrives.

Cutting them back is not required, but after the ground freezes, most growers mulch the plants with something like shredded leaves. Then just leave them alone. In spring, once new growth has started, remove old stems and gradually remove mulch. As soon as new growth reaches 4 inches tall, pinch the tops of every shoot with thumb and index finger, removing about the top half-inch of growth. Some choose instead to cut 4-inch shoots and insert them into soil in a pot or another location, starting a new mound, and after they’ve set roots, they pinch off the top half-inch as many times as necessary until July 4.

This pinching encourages bushiness, and the bushier, the more blossom stems the plant will have. Repeat pinching whenever new growth can take it, until July 4. Then stop, and let the plant go ahead and develop blossoms.

If your chrysanthemum is in a pot now, put it in a place that’s warmer than outdoors, in garage or crawl space, preferably where it’s dark but reachable for occasional watering. Don’t water much at each time, though, lest you encourage mold or root decay. Outdoor plants in the ground have roots more tender to freezing than the upper parts of the plants, but roots there are protected by the general land mass. Containers have a limited “land mass,” so plants in them experience significantly more cold than those in ground.

There are at least six bloom forms: spider, pompon, spoon, anemone, decorative, and single or daisy. Shasta daisy is one chrysanthemum variety, although taxonomists (plant namers) have tried to introduce different names for different varieties. The new names for most haven’t “stuck” or have been accepted by nurseries, but Shasta daisy is known too as a Leucanthemum, others term it a chrysanthemum.

Some chrysanthemums are allelopathic (toxic) to some extent, so some folks divide and move their mounds of these flowers each year. Others take stem cuttings and start new mounds by thrusting 4-inch stem cuttings taken in spring into soil in a pot or another location and misting until they root.

New or transplanted chrysanthemums need adequate water for a time until they get established, then they only require full sun, good drainage, and at least five hours of sunlight per day.

People today are not the only people who love chrysanthemums. They’ve been grown for about 3,000 years, for beauty, food and medicinal purposes. Asian seed sources sell seeds for edible chrysanthemums, sometimes called chop suey greens in the U.S. or shungiku in Japan. They are used in Japan in sukiyaki, yosenabe, and soup.

Medicinal herbs vary in strength, depending on soil and how they’ve been cultured (watered and fertilized, at least), so please don’t self medicate based on the following information. These herbs may also intensify or reduce effects of your prescription drugs.

Chrysanthemums in China are herbs called Ju Hua. Herbalists there favor the white-blooming mums to benefit the liver and eyes, the yellow ones to deal with headaches associated with colds and flu.

Send garden questions to melauter@earthlink.net or Gardening, The Statesman, P.O. Box 40, Boise, ID 83707.

Take advantage of free mulch

Please don’t send your fallen leaves to the landfill. Use them in your own yard to mulch your flower bed or vegetable garden. Power mowers exert a vacuum effect and will pick up dry leaves and shred them before they land in the mower bag. Shredded leaves disintegrate over months of winter, supplying your soil with organic matter and the major nutrients.

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