How to Care for Mums

Chrysanthemums

Usually planted as annuals, chrysanthemums can live for years with proper care. Mums need lots of sunlight, water, and well-draining soil. We’ll teach you how to care for mums so they bloom every year.

The basics of taking care of mums

Taking care of mums is relatively easy. These fall staples only need the following things to grow properly:

  • Full sun
  • Lots of water
  • Well-draining soil
  • Space to grow

Additionally, they’ll benefit from pinching. You quite literally pinch off new growth in the spring and early summer to make the stem grow horizontally rather than vertically. We’ll get to that later in the spring section of the chrysanthemum care calendar.

What about fertilizer? Feed your perennial mums with a high-phosphorus fertilizer in the fall for strong roots, and a balanced fertilizer outside of fall.

Now, let’s go over the specifics of caring for mums.

Full sun

JC7001 | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Your chrysanthemums also love the sun. They need at least 4 to 6 hours of full sun every day

Make sure you put your potted mums in a sunny, south-facing window (which receives the most sunlight per day). If your mums are out in the garden, stick them in a sunny area away from shade.

What happens if your mums don’t get enough sun? Chrysanthemums can become leggy when they don’t receive enough sun. They stretch out vertically, developing thin and tall stems. They also won’t grow as many flowers.

Lots of water

Mums are very thirsty plants and need at least 1 inch of water per week, similar to a lawn. You never want the soil around your mums to dry out as it can make the blooms less vibrant, cause them to flower less, and encourage woody stems. This can be a challenge because of the abundant sunlight mums love.

Water the soil directly at the base of the chrysanthemum plant, and avoid letting water stay on leaves, stems, and flowers. If you do, you’ll be dealing with rot and fungal diseases like powdery mildew and leaf rust.

You don’t want to overwater your mums or else you’ll be dealing with root rot. It can also cause yellowing leaves.

In a pinch, you can use your index finger to test if your mums need watering. Stick your index finger into the soil around your mums; if the top inch feels dry, it’s time to water. You might want to water more often if you notice the bottom leaves wilt and turn brown.

Pro tip: Use a soil moisture meter for the most accurate readings, so you’ll know exactly when you need to water your mums.

Applying a 2 to 3-inch layer of mulch can help with water retention and keep your mums hydrated for a little longer.

What type of mulch works best for mums? Light and airy mulches such as shredded hardwood, pine needles, and weed-free straw suit mums the best.

Well-draining soil

Although mums love water, they don’t want the water to stick around for too long. As we said, excessive moisture causes root rot and other issues. So, you need to plant your mums in well-draining soil.

Don’t plant your mums in clay soils, as they hold onto water very well.

Space to grow

Lastly, mums need space to grow. Chrysanthemum roots are shallow but sprawl outwards. If planting mums in the garden, plant them 18 inches away from other plants (even other mums).

Planting mums too close to other plants also causes issues above ground. Crowding mums together makes them more prone to pests and diseases as they won’t have room for air and sun to get through. Water will also have a more difficult time evaporating if the mums are crowded.

Now that we’ve covered the basic care requirements of mums, we can move on to how to care for indoor and outdoor mums:

  • How to care for potted mums
  • How to care for 

How to care for potted mums

Jay Bohnsack | Flickr | CC BY-SA 2.0

Caring for potted mums depends on the type of mum you have — either florist (annual) or hardy (perennial). Check the plant tag before bringing home your potted chrysanthemum from the garden center or nursery; the plant tag will tell you more about what type of mum you’ve bought.

Pro tip: Buy mums that aren’t blooming. Look for chrysanthemums with tight buds and as little open flowers as possible for longer blooms and a better chance at survival.

Know what mum you have? Let’s move on to how to take care of potted mums.

  1. Repot your mum into a larger pot.

Most potted mums are root-bound when you bring them home. Root-bound plants have root systems that are tightly clustered together due to lack of space. The roots have no space to expand and grow.

So, repot your mums into a larger pot as soon as you can. You may also plant them with other fall plants in a planter box. Here are some tips for repotting your mums successfully:

Tip 1: Gently spread out the root ball before placing your mum in a larger pot. This helps the roots to spread out in the new container.

Tip 2: Don’t repot your mums deeper than how they were originally planted. Add well-draining soil and compost to the bottom of the pot to fill in the space before putting the mum in the pot. Chrysanthemum roots are rather shallow.

Tip 3: Pick a pot with ample drainage. Use pots with a lot of drainage holes so excess water can pass through. Remember, you don’t want to keep your mums too wet.

Tip 4: Water thoroughly after repotting. Your water-hungry mums will appreciate a good soak.

  1. Place the potted mums in a sunny area.

If you have indoor mums, place them in a south-facing window so they can get a lot of direct sunlight.

Outdoor mums in pots should be placed away from full shade. Partial shade can work if you have nowhere else to place your mums.

  1. Keep your mums watered but not soaking wet.

Make sure to water close to the base of the plant. The bigger pot you put your chrysanthemum in is easier to water properly. I’ve had to deal with rot with other plants that were in very small containers; I couldn’t get my watering can close enough to the soil and had to water over the plants. Boom, rot.

What can I do if my potted mums dry out? Put the potted chrysanthemum in a larger container filled with 2 to 3 inches of water for the soil to soak up.

We highly recommend putting a saucer under the pot to catch excess water that drains from your potted mums. This way, you won’t have to deal with water leaking to the floor. Just remember to throw away the excess water if you see it.

  1. Deadhead your mums.

Deadheading is the process of cutting spent flowers and foliage. Plants that lose their flowers through this produce more blooms because they think they need to. So, if you want more flowers, better deadhead your mums

  1. Place your mums indoors for the winter.

After the blooming season, your mums will start dying back. Cut the stems, leaving about 2 to 3 inches of stem in the soil. Don’t be alarmed; this is normal. If you have perennial mums, they will regrow in the spring.

Place your potted mums indoors or in a greenhouse. Your chrysanthemums may not survive freezing temperatures without ample preparation. It’s safer to just bring them inside your home where it’s warmer.

  1. Consider transplanting your perennial mums in the spring.

If you have hardy mums (also called garden mums), you can transplant them to a garden plot in the spring. It’s better for the plant too, as it will have more space to grow.

Transplant to a new flower bed after the ground has thawed. Choose a sunny spot to plant your mums in the spring and make sure the soil is well-draining.

How to care for mums in the garden

Bennilover | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Many of the tips for caring for potted mums are the same for mums planted in your garden. They need full sun, well-draining soil, and lots of water. These tips will help you whether you’re caring for a newly transplanted mum or a years-old veteran.

If you have outdoor mums, they’re likely garden chrysanthemums (perennial). If you have florist mums (annual), you only need to follow up to Tip 3.

  1. Keep your mums watered but not soaking wet.

When watering your garden mums, bring the hose or watering can near the soil. Try to water below the foliage as much as you can. Watering from above can wet the leaves, stems, and flowers, which can lead to fungal diseases.

  1. Leave plenty of space for your mums.

Make sure you’re keeping at least 18 inches of space in between your mums and other plants. This leaves them plenty of space to branch out laterally both above and below ground, leading to large swathes of color in the fall.

  1. Deadhead your mums.

Deadheading is the process of cutting wilted flowers and foliage, which encourages your mum plant to exert its energy into making more flowers. Your mums will think they need to make more flowers to ensure it reproduces through seed.

  1. Cut back dead foliage in the winter.

After winter, your mums will start dying back. Don’t fret, they’re not actually dead — only the foliage is. As long as the roots survive, they will grow back in the spring.

So, cut your mums back until there is only a 2- to 3-inch stump of stem poking out from the ground.

  1. Mulch your mums.

Mulch has many benefits for your mums. It can help keep water from evaporating from the soil around your mums too fast and keep weeds away.

Mulch also keeps your chrysanthemums insulated during the winter. Mums can’t handle freezing temperatures, so they need all the help they can get from mulch. In the winter, lay down a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch to protect them from the cold temperatures; lay it less thick (about 2 to 3 inches) during the other seasons.

  1. Stake taller mums when they bloom.

If you have a mum variety that is on the taller side, you may need to stake them when they start blooming. The flowers — especially large flowers — can weigh down the branches and make them bend.

You may also need to stake regular mums if you’re not growing them in rows that can support each other.

Chrysanthemum care calendar

Rohan Singh | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

While we’ve told you the basics of caring for your mums, these are for their day-to-day needs. There are some things you need to do throughout the year to ensure your mums look as best as they can. Here’s how to take care of mums throughout the seasons:

  • Fall
  • Winter
  • Spring
  • Summer

Caring for mums in the fall

Your mums will be flowering during the fall thanks to the longer nights. There’s not much to do in fall aside from the basics. Do remember to do these though:

  • Deadhead. If you want more blooms throughout the season, snip off dead flowers and foliage.
  • Feed your perennial mums with a high-phosphorus fertilizer. Phosphorus encourages strong root growth, which is crucial if you want your hardy mums to make it out of winter alive.

Note: If your mums are annuals (or perennials you want to treat as annuals), don’t fertilize them. Your fertilizer will be wasted as the mums won’t last through the winter.

Winter mum care

After your mums have bloomed their last flowers, you’ll need to prepare them for the coming winter. Here’s how to winterize your mums:

  • Lay down a 3- to 4-inch layer of mulch to keep your mums insulated.
  • Place your potted mums inside before the temperatures get too cold. Ideally, you should find a south-facing window or area.
  • Keep the soil minimally moist. Only water your mums when the soil is in danger of drying out.
  • Cut back your mum plant until it is only 2 to 3 inches tall.

Note: If your area has very cold winters, postpone cutting back to spring. Ryan Pankau, a horticulture educator with the University of Illinois Extension, says researchers have found that mums are more likely to survive with their tops intact as long as you mulch.

If you need more information, give our article about winterizing garden beds a read.

Spring chrysanthemum care

bernardo128 | Flickr | CC BY-ND 2.0

Spring is perhaps the busiest season for taking care of mums. How you handle your mums after they regrow will have a large impact on their aesthetics. If you want big mum plants with lots of flowers, follow these tips:

Transplant your potted mums into garden soil after the ground has thawed.

Remove the old mulch from outdoor mums to check for new growth. No green shoots mean your mum may have died and will need to be disposed of.

Prune old, dead growth down to 2 to 3 inches if you haven’t done so in fall. Pruning your mums makes way for new growth, so steer clear of the new shoots.

Relocate potted mums to a sunny window or outside (if they were outdoor potted mums).

Fertilize your mums with compost or a balanced fertilizer. The Utah State University Extension recommends using a fertilizer ratio of 5-10-5, 7-6-5, or similar ratio, applying 1 to 1 ½ pounds per 100 square feet. Feed every week. If the leaves of your mums start yellowing, it might be underfertilized.

Control pests that you find. Common pests include aphids, spider mites, and leafhoppers. 

You should also start pinching your mums. Pinching is exactly what you think it is: using your fingers to pinch off new growth. Pinching encourages compact growth as each pinched-off stem forks off and makes two branching stems instead of growing one single tall stem. So, you’ll end up with a fuller chrysanthemum plant.

Note: You can also use pruning shears to pinch mums.

Here’s how to pinch a chrysanthemum:

  1. Wait until the new mums are 6 to 10 inches tall.
  2. Count 2 to 3 inches below the tip of one of the stems. Look for nodes on the side of the leaves; you want to save those. 
  3. Snip or pinch above the side nodes or buds.
  4. Repeat every 3 to 5 inches of growth until early July (some choose to stop around the 4th of July). 

Caring for mums during summer

Chrysanthemum summer care is similar to that of your spring routine but less intensive:

  • Continue fertilizing your mums with a complete fertilizer to encourage growth. Stop fertilizing in late August.
  • Mulch your mums to help them retain moisture during the hot summer months. This also helps keep weeds at bay.
  • Continue pinching your mums as needed until the 4th of July.

FAQ about how to care for mums

How do you propagate mums?

You can propagate mums through seeds, cuttings, and dividing. You need to already have a mum to do the last two methods.

Will mums survive winters in my area?

Generally, mums will survive winters in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 to 9. Some may be able to survive in colder areas.

If you don’t know your hardiness zone, you can check out the USDA’s official hardiness zone maps (last updated in 2024). Then, you can apply that knowledge with our article all about the hardiness zones.

Are mums toxic to animals?

Unfortunately, mums are toxic to dogs, cats, and horses when eaten. As the owner of five cats myself — two of which love munching plants — it’s difficult to look for pretty flowers that are safe for my furry friends. 

Luckily, there are quite a few you can use. Check out these articles to learn more:

You can also just keep your pets out of your garden or designate a special pet area. I personally keep my cats out of our yard as they’re too smart for their own good.

Get a pro to care for your mums and other ornamentals

Mums are really easy to take care of. Just be careful to keep them hydrated (but not overwatered) and make sure they get enough sun. If you follow our tips, you’re sure to be rewarded with beautiful fall blooms year after year.

If you can’t take care of your garden, you can hire a professional gardener through Lawn Love to keep your blooms in tip-top shape. Just sit back, relax, and enjoy the view.

Main Photo Credit: Pink Chrysanthemums. Mustang Joe | Flickr | Public Domain

Janine Caayao

Janine Caayao has always been fascinated with growing plants, from fruits and veggies to bonsai trees and orchids. Now, she’s interested in urban gardening with her family. She loves finding new tips and tricks to keep their plants thriving.