Chrysanthemums (also known as “mums”) are one of the most recognized flowers in the world. Chrysanthemums can be grown in the garden, used in pots for seasonal décor, and cut stems can usually be found year-round at florists for use in flower arrangements. In many growing regions chrysanthemums announce that “fall has arrived” as they bring a burst of color to the autumn landscape.
Chrysanthemums are available in a fascinating array of colors and flower forms with new hybrids being introduced all the time. Mums are native to East Asia and Northeastern Europe but over time have gained global popularity. They’re easy to care for and the wide range of colors offers something for everyone.
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What Does a Chrysanthemum Look Like?
Here we’ll explore the fabulous world of chrysanthemums – the different mum varieties and colors, proper care, and what growth cycles to expect in your region.
What Does a Chrysanthemum Look Like?
Most chrysanthemum varieties grow to between one and three feet (30-91 cm) in height, but there are significant size differences among varieties. Chrysanthemum varieties that produce very large blooms, typically are supported by taller plants.
In general, chrysanthemums are dense and bushy from the base of the stalk up to the colorful flower heads. Numerous stems lead to an abundance of flowers, sometimes the flowers are so thick you can’t even see through to the plant.
Like daisies and sunflowers, mums are composite flowers. In composite flowers, the rays that extend out from the center are actually individual flowers, rather than the petals of a flower. Likewise, each little bump in the button center is also considered its own flower.
Although a mum’s rays look like the flower parts that are typically called petals, they’re more accurately referred to as florets.
Chrysanthemums are the flowers of the Chrysanthemum genus. There are currently 38 accepted species of Chrysanthemum.
In a dynamic and expansive genus, the number of species is just the beginning. There are thousands of varieties and cultivars (varieties cultivated by humans) of chrysanthemum. To make sense of it all, mums are grouped into these 13 classifications:
1. Anemone Mums
Anemone chrysanthemums are described as daisy-like because of their broad, flat florets. However, compared to daisies, the central buttons are often much larger and you’re more likely to encounter a varied color scheme.
2. Thistle Mums
Also known as brush mums or bush mums, thistle mums are long, thin, and wispy. The florets might stick up, stick out, or twist around with a touch of chaos. The tips are sometimes curved in such a way that they resemble fern fiddleheads.
3. Decorative Mums
Decorative chrysanthemums have short, dense petals. The upper floret layers curve in, while the lower layers curve outward. This classification is highly varied and often used for professional floral arrangements.
4. Regular Incurve Mums
Incurve refers to the direction in which a chrysanthemum’s florets point. On regular incurve mums, florets point upward in a gentle, consistent pattern. The resulting shape is dense and spherical, or globe-like.
5. Intermediate Incurve Mums
Like regular incurve varieties, intermediate incurve mums have florets that curve inward. However, the florets are shorter, more loosely arranged, and don’t fully cover the flower’s center.
6. Irregular Incurve
This group has the largest blooms, between six and eight inches. Florets curve inward loosely around the outer layers but form a tight, incredibly dense, fully-covered center.
6. Pompon Mums
Pompon chrysanthemums are similar to regular incurve varieties, but smaller. The blooms are tight, tidy, and spherical, making Pompon varieties a popular choice for floral displays.
7. Quill Mums
Quill florets are long, straight, thin, and tubular. Blooms look like starbursts. Mums in this group lack an exposed center, but some varieties feature a cluster of short, incurved florets that offer a clear distinction between inner and outer floret layers.
8. Reflex Mums
The reflex classification is diverse. Some varieties are roughly spherical, like regular incurve mums that were pressed flat. Others are wavy, resembling aquatic plants swaying in the water. The florets overlap in tight patterns that are often compared to bird feathers.
9. Single and Semi-Double Flowered Mums
Single and semi-double mums look like daisies, with medium-thick florets extending from a center button in an organized, aesthetically pleasing pattern. The name refers to the arrangement of florets in either a single set or multiple sets.
10. Spider Mums
Spider mums exhibit florets that are long, thin, and tubular. Florets extend in different directions, resembling spider legs. Some varieties feature multi-colored florets, often in striking complementary shades of red, orange, and yellow.
11. Spoon Mums
Spoon-shaped floret tips give this classification its name. The well-defined central disc, the florets, and the spoons often display three distinctly different colors. These color schemes create some of the chrysanthemum genus’s most complicated and artistic displays.
12. Unclassified Mums
The unclassified category contains all of the mum varieties that exhibit defining traits of more than one classification. This group also captures unique, exotic mums that don’t fit into any other classification.
Chrysanthemum Flower Colors
The chrysanthemum genus is filled with an enormous variety of colors. Solid colors are common in hues of white, yellow, pink, purple, red, and orange. Many hybrid mums are multi-colored, with distinctly two-toned flowers or petal colors that blend from one shade to another.
It’s often said that mum varieties include every color except for black and “true blue,” i.e., a shade of blue between powder blue and royal blue. However, in 2017, a team of scientists in Japan presented the world’s first variety of a genetically engineered, true blue mum.
Be aware that there is a colorful mum marketed on the internet and in some catalogs as a “rainbow mum”. This is a case of “buyer beware”, if you’re contemplating buying a rainbow chrysanthemum plant. The image being used in the advertising has most likely been manipulated. That’s because there is no such thing as a chrysanthemum plant that produces individual flowers with rainbow-colored petals.
There are, however, “rainbow flowers” that are found in the floral trade. These flowers actually are multi-colored and are produced by artificially coloring white blooms. The cut flower stems are dipped in, or injected with, colored dyes that get drawn up the stem’s vascular system with water, ultimately ending up in the petals. The result is a beautiful combination of vibrant colors in a single flower that are very useful for creating a special-occasion cut bouquet.
Mums Plant Care
For most gardeners in most places, chrysanthemums are best thought of as annuals. However, in some regions with mild winters, such as Southern California, many mum varieties function well as perennials.
Mums are relatively low-maintenance and provide spectacular returns on the time you invest. Here we review the key recommendations for planting and caring for chrysanthemums.
Although chrysanthemums are fall bloomers, it’s best to plan ahead if you want to grow plants in your garden. Plant chrysanthemum seeds and starters in spring to enjoy flowers in the fall.
Chrysanthemums sold in the fall are often considered short-term decoration and treated as annual flowering plants. If you live in a region with mild winters and want to try planting your fall mum in the garden, be sure to plant it at least six weeks before any chance of a killing frost.
How Much Light do Mums Need?
Chrysanthemums grow best in full sunshine so choose a location that receives six or more hours of sun each day. If you are growing a potted mum indoors, you’ll want to be sure to place it near a bright window.
Apply several inches of mulch around your newly-planted mums. Use straw, manure, or an organic mulch mix.
Chrysanthemums have a relatively high water demand. Watering should occur consistently through the spring, summer, and fall.
During hot, dry weather, watering may be needed daily, ideally performed in the morning. Less frequent watering is needed for indoor mums or mums in cooler climates. Water the base of the plant, not the leaves or flowers.
Water your chrysanthemum deeply, to reach a soil depth of six to eight inches (15-20 cm). Apply water to potted plants until the water runs out the base of the pot. Outdoor plants grown in pots are especially vulnerable to drying out during periods of heat or low rainfall, so you’ll want to check them daily.
When a chrysanthemum’s soil is too dry, the leaves and blooms quickly begin to wilt, indicating the need for watering.
Pruning and Pinching – When to Cut Back Mums
Chrysanthemums should be pruned periodically, using a process known as “pinching”.
Pruning typically refers to the removal of branches or leaves that are dead or overgrown. Pinching involves snipping off healthy branch tips in order to make a plant grow additional shoots. Pinching is the secret behind the dense, photogenic mums that have lots and lots of flower heads.
How to Pinch Mums
- To pinch mums, sever the end of each stem. Stems are soft and can be pinched off between your thumb and index finger, or you can use scissors.
- To raise taller mums, snip off only the very end of each stem. Or you can cut off a larger portion to grow shorter mums.
- After a mum stem is pinched, new, branched-out growth occurs. Each pinching doubles an individual stem’s flower potential. Pinch once in June and once in July to grow full, vibrant mums.
- As your mums grow denser, they may begin to sprawl. To keep them organized, tie the stems to stakes with string.
- After chrysanthemums start to bloom in the fall, you can inspire additional flowering by “deadheading”. Deadheading is the term used for removing wilted flower heads. This not only tidies up a plant’s appearance, it redirects your mum’s energy into new growth.
Are Chrysanthemums Annuals or Perennials?
If you live in a mild-winter climate, you may be able to keep mums as perennials. Mums can survive outdoor winters in plant hardiness zones 5-9.
When buying mums, read the product label and ask the vendor what to expect. Mums labeled “garden mums” can often be treated as perennials, but different varieties are more likely to survive the winter than others, depending on your region.
If you want your perennial mums to survive the winter, perform a major pruning at the end of the fall. Snip the stems down to just a few inches above ground level, then apply a heavy layer of mulch. These steps keep your mums protected during their offseason and improve their chances of coming back strong in the spring.
When does chrysanthemum bloom?
In the garden chrysanthemums typically begin flowering in late summer or early fall. The blooming season can vary by a couple of weeks depending on the chrysanthemum variety and your growing region.
How long do mums bloom?
Chrysanthemums bloom for a period of four to eight weeks. To extend the bloom season remove flowers as they fade. This will ensure that the plant’s energy is focused on growth and the development of new flower buds.
What do mums look like in the spring and summer?
Chrysanthemum plants form a dense, rounded mound of foliage. They’re an attractive addition to the garden even when not in flower because of their interesting, deeply cut leaves. Plant flowering annuals around your chrysanthemums to add color through the summer, until your mums come into bloom.
Ways to Use Chrysanthemums
Chrysanthemums are among the world’s most popular, diverse, and beautiful flowers. As late bloomers, mums are a great addition to any garden for extending a blooming season into the fall.
Pots of small chrysanthemums are perfect for replacing annuals in your planter boxes or pots that are looking tired by the end of summer. Blooming usually lasts right up to frost.
You can quickly refresh other areas of your home, or change your outdoor color scheme, by putting potted mums in a decorative cloche or basket. Place mums around your deck, patio, porch, stairs, or balcony. You can even tuck a potted mum among your garden plants to add an instant pop of color without ever digging a hole.
Harvest parties are a fun and popular way to celebrate the fall season. Potted chrysanthemums make great centerpieces or can be used on either side of a doorway to create a warm welcome. Invited to a party? A beautiful chrysanthemum would make a great gift plant for the host!
For more tips on caring for potted chrysanthemums see our article Get the Most Out of Potted Mums.