From tiny pompoms to huge balls in shades of bronze, purple, orange, red and yellow, the ubiquitous chrysanthemum is an autumn garden's saving grace. A member of the Asteraceae family, the chrysanthemum is native to China and was introduced to Europe in 1688. Today, there are about 160 species native to Japan, China and Europe divided into more than 10 classes of blooms, ranging in form from anemone to spider types.
The two most common ones sold are florist (or pot) mums and garden mums. The latter produce underground shoots, or stolons, that enable them to survive from year to year. Florist mums have larger blooms and leaves but produce few or no stolons and usually die in winter.
Both are photoperiodic, meaning they naturally flower in response to short days and long nights—in other words, in the fall. They start to bloom five to seven weeks after short days begin.
A medley of mums
Here are some favourites currently offered (although zone information is given, hardiness may be uncertain depending upon snow cover and winter temperatures).
This early-blooming, dwarf mum has lavender flowers and grows to 35 centimetres high. ‘Grenadine' is another popular, compact, early-blooming cultivar. The flower's coral colour fades under warm conditions. Both are hardy to Zone 4.
C. ‘Morden Canary', ‘Morden delight', ‘Morden fiesta' and ‘Morden garnet'
Many early-flowering varieties have been developed by plant breeders in Western Canada at the Brandon and Morden research stations (government agricultural research facilities committed to developing plants that can withstand Canadian winters in the West). All grow 30 to 40 centimetres tall, with profusions of bright-coloured flowers. All are hardy to Zone 4.
C. ‘Orange Atlantico'
One of the many varieties of Belgian mums, which produce an abundance of flower buds—as many as several hundred on a single plant. Belgian mums are shorter than garden mums and require no pinching to keep them compact. Hardy to Zone 7.
Shungiku chrysanthemum (C. coronarium)
The edible leaves of this cultivar have a unique, zesty flavour. Its two- to seven-centimetre white flowers may be added to salads or used as a garnish. Treat as an annual.
C. ‘Clara Curtis' (Rubellum Group)
A very full mum with a long blooming period, it matures quickly and can be easily divided every three years or so. About 60 centimetres tall, its pink flowers have yellow centres. Hardy to Zone 6.