Hardy Mums


In the UK, hardy mums are mothers with great resiliency, but here in Michigan, they’re colorful fall flowers. Mums can be planted as perennials, which will come up year after year, but require a lot of summer maintenance to keep them looking full and bushy. That’s why many people here use them as fall annuals. We plant them in September and October, when summer annuals and perennials have begun to fade and look scraggly. This year I bought a flat of small mums for about $15 that had tightly closed flower buds, and planted them in my window boxes and flower pots. It took awhile for the plants to fill out and grow, but now I have a beautiful riot of colorful mums that look fresh from the greenhouse.  Local greenhouses here usually stock mums  into late October and early November, in all stages of bloom, so I’ll often buy a couple late in the season and use them indoors for a cheery burst of fall color, or for Thanksgiving decorations, if I can still find good ones that late in the season. 

The other hardy mum.

Hardy mums prefer cool temperatures, which is why they thrive long after summer flowers are gone. They will remain alive until there is  a hard frost. If planted in the ground, they can be cut back and will come up the next year, but usually never look as good and full as the first year they were planted. Container mums can be thrown in with yard waste compost once done blooming.

Many people pair hardy mums with pansies, another cool weather plant. The  squirrels in my yard religiously dig up any fall pansies I’ve ever tried plant, so I’ve given up on them, but  the mums also look great alone or can be paired with late ferns, perennial sedum, or pumpkins and gourds. Hardy mums come in brilliant colors of yellow, orange, rusty red, maroon red, purple, light yellow and white. I like the yellow, reds and purples best, which make a nice compliment to the fall landscape.

Brilliant! (© Huffygirl 2011)

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 © Huffygirl 2011

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The grateful deadheader


The Deadhead Basket (© Huffygirl)

I’m going around the  garden with my deadhead basket in hand, gently snipping or pulling off spent blooms. This is my most soothing time of day. I AM the grateful deadheader – the one who pulls and snips off dead flowers, so the plant can bloom anew. I wish I had coined this phrase, grateful deadheader, but I can’t take credit. Years ago I read an article in a gardening magazine about a couple with extensive gardens, and how they divided up the work to maintain such a huge landscape. The wife pointed out that she did the deadheading and was thus the grateful deadheader. The term struck a chord – I’d never thought of deadheading as something to be grateful for. It seemed like thankless, constant work. In fact for years I purposely avoided planting anything that needed deadheading to thrive, thinking my time was much too important to spend it bringing out the dead. But, if you don’t want to deadhead, you’re severely limited in what you might plant in your garden. Begonias, Impatiens, any lazy plant where the dead blooms just fall off – these I  find too uninspired and prosaic for my garden.

Petunia transformed into a dramatic spiller. (© Huffygirl)

So, I decided to try it. I pulled out an old basket and an inexpensive pair of scissors, and left them  by the back door where I could grab them easily. And I started deadheading. Whenever I had a few minutes, I’d creep around the garden, clipping, pulling, filling my basket with dead blooms. Eventually, two things happened. My gardens really, well, blossomed. And I relished in the quiet moments I would snatch here and there to perform a task so mundane, yet so important, Why this is soothing, I still don’t know. When I’m going from plant to plant, tenderly checking for dead blooms, I get the same feeling I used to have when sneaking in to peek at my sleeping children. That sense of quiet nurturing. Plants produce flowers as their seeds; once the seeds are produced, the plant feels its work is done. Seeds ready to go, no need to put out any more energy. But clip off the seeds, the plant says “Oh, my seeds are gone, I need to produce more” and voila’ – the plant thrives, blooming like crazy, filling out, adding branches. Do not our children do the same with quiet daily nurturing? So deadhead I will. And gratefully.

Deadheaded zinnias grow from a spindly stem to a multi-branched bush. (© Huffygirl)

© Huffygirl 2011

(Disclaimer: In no way does Huffygirl mean to offend persons who plant begonias, impatiens and other self-deadheading flowers.)