Proper Care and Feeding of Mums

With fall having just begun- even if you haven’t felt it yet- the urge to decorate for all the holidays grows strong!

The most popular plant for fall decorating is the Mum.  With the happy little faces in an array of colors, its easy to see why. 

Mums are easy to get- but not easy to keep looking beautiful.

Here are four things you can do to keep your pretty plants looking their best.

  1. Consistent water.  This can be tricky because the plants dry out so fast.  One reason for this is because there may be as many as four plants in one pot.  The nurseries will pot up multiple plants to get the pots full and big fast.  So, one way to help with this is to put a tray under the plant and water every day.  Also, many times the posts are in full sun on concrete or a porch.  Heat is reflected from these surfaces so the plants will use the water faster.  Water in the morning to avoid fungus.
  2. Fungus- by using a fungicide on the plants you will keep them healthy.  Follow the directions on the bottle.  Most fungicides are a liquid and are sprayed on the plants. Choose an organic fungicide. A homemade fungicide is 1 tsp baking soda mixed in 1 gallon of water.
  3. Feed the plants.  As I mentioned, there are serval plants competing for moisture and nutrients in the pot.  By using a liquid fertilizer weekly, you will get more growth and more blooms. Organic fertilizer like compost tea is best.
  4. Dead head the plants.  Dead heading a plant is to remove the spent blossoms. Mums are no different than other blooming flowers.  They are working to make seeds.  To get more blooms, pinch or cut off the faded blooms.  This will encourage new growth and more blooms.
Pretty Yellow Mums

If you follow these tips, your mums can easily last October through November- maybe longer.  Once the season is over, you can plant the mums in the garden.  They are perennials.

There’s A Fungus Among Us

There’s a fungus among us and I don’t mean mushrooms.

If you have attempted to grow any sort of vegetation for any amount of time, you have probably dealt with an unfriendly fungus.  While a great many varieties of fungus are essential to plant life and a great many others are neither good or bad, there are a  few bad varieties and they really cause problems.

Before moving to the island, the only real battle I had with fungus was black-spot on the roses and powdery mildew on my veggies.  But, one summer in a tropical setting and I have had a crash course in fungus!

As I will chat about later, watering the soil is very important.  One day, only one day, I got lazy and got out the hose and sprayed everything down instead of using the watering can.  JUST ONE DAY! And, I even did it in the morning. BUT, in 72 hours, my Belinda’s dream roses were covered in black spot.  Lesson Learned- water the soil NOT the plant.

Fungi live in the soil, on our skin, in our house, basically any and everywhere.  The problems arise when conditions are just right, and the fungi populations begin to multiply at breakneck speeds.  When this happens, the host of the fungi population will be destroyed- this means your vinca will wilt and turn to goop, or your zucchini will disappear under gray fuzz or your rose bush will turn brown and yellow before becoming naked stems. Or, all of the above if its are really bad day.

In the garden, this hyper-growth of fungi will lead to plant death or really fabulous compost.  The problem is when the garden beds are turned to compost piles because the fungus took over where it did not belong.

So, instead of focusing on how to kill the fungus, we should focus on how to prevent the colonies from getting out of hand.  The environment is what determines if the fungus will thrive or simply exist and not cause problems.  As gardeners, there are several things we can do to set out gardens up for the best possible outcomes.

  • Soil Health
  • Plant Selection
  • Effective Watering

Soil Health

Soil heath is essential for any aspect of plant life.  A plant cannot thrive without healthy soil.  Soil health will also determine the health of a plant’s immune system.  Very few of us have perfect soil and even if you do,  if you constantly take from the soil and never put back, you won’t have healthy soil for long.  By amending the soil, you can put back into the soil.

Essential amendments are organic compost, green sand, lava sand, and rock phosphate.  For a deeper look at fixing you soil, click here!

Plant Selection

Choosing the right plant for an area is essential to success as a gardener.  A plant that loves  the sun will not survive a shady spot and a shade loving plant will die in the full sun.  This seems like it shouldn’t need to be said, but I deal with folks everyday who just can’t accept the fact that a rose bush won’t bloom in a backyard that gets only 3 hours of sun per day.  Plants have DNA and we can’t simply rewire them just because we want it that way.

Also, if there is a disease resistant variety- choose that variety.  There are a lot of hybrids out there and some are bred to be resistant to fungal diseases.  If those are available to you, then choose that plant.

If a plant is in a poor location or in poor soil it will be stressed.  If a plant is stressed it will be compromised.  A compromised plant will not have an immune system that can fight off disease.

Effective Watering

More damage is done by overwatering than by underwatering.  Fungus thrives in warm, wet conditions.

If you are keeping the soil soaked you are laying out a welcome mat for fungus.

If you water at night, you are laying out a welcome mat for fungus.

If you are spraying your foliage instead of watering the soil, you are laying out a welcome mat for fungus.

Do you see a pattern?

Fungi LOVE moisture.

So, water in the early morning so that what water does get on the leaves and foliage can dry.  One inch of water once a week is sufficient water, except in times of high heat and drought, then water twice per week.  If at all possible, water the soil, not the foliage.

One thing that a human cannot control is the weather.  If you live in an area that is high humidity and warm, fungus is something with which you will battle.  Galveston Island is my home and this year has been crazy with the fungal shenanigans.

Organic controls of fungus are fairly limited, but what is available is effective.  Sulfur and copper are excellent fungicides but they can only be applied with the temperature is below 85′.  Bicarbonates can be used at anytime.  In an effort to be proactive, I spray a bicarbonate weekly, before signs and symptoms appear.  For an indepth look at fungicides, read this article.

Don’t let challenges keep you from gardening- educate yourself and keep planting.

May the odds be ever in your favor!

pink zinnia
Zinnias are an excellent choice for disease resistant summer color