What is a Chrysanthemum?
The chrysanthemum is a popular gardening flower all over the world, commonly referred to as chrysanths or mums. It is an herbaceous perennial with alternate leaves divided into leaflets. These leaflets are typically toothed; occasionally, however, some cultivars sport smooth leaflets. Many species of chrysanthemum are native to Asia and northeastern Europe, but that hasn’t stopped this friendly little flower from making its way into the homes and hearts of many gardeners and horticulturalists.
The unassuming chrysanthemum is part of the Asteraceae family, also known as the daisy or sunflower family. This family houses a wide array of flowering plants, such as chamomile, dandelions, goldenrod, and marigolds.
While wild chrysanthemums are typically yellow, horticulturalists have bred them into many different colors and new shapes. In fact, over 140 cultivars of chrysanthemums had officially gained the Royal Horticultural Society’s Award of Garden Merit in 2017, formally welcoming the cultivars into recognition.
Typical cultivars of chrysanthemums are hardy, which makes them perfect for the beginner horticulturist, or those who want a little brightness added to their everyday.
The Symbolism of the Chrysanthemum
The name Chrysanthemum is derived from ancient Greek. Chrysos, meaning gold, and anthemon, meaning flower. The etymology is consistent with both Japanese and Chinese cultures, as their word for the flower is also Gold Flower.
Interesting enough, the symbolism of the chrysanthemum isn’t so consistent. From across cultures and time periods, the chrysanthemum has come to mean a variety of things. For many, it is simply known as the November birth flower. For others, it means life, rebirth, or death.
In China, chrysanthemums bear the weight of the seasons. They are considered one of the “Four Gentlemen” of China, a group of plants which commonly signify the changing of seasons.
In Europe, the story is a little different. Chrysanthemums have become prevalent gravesite flowers, becoming associated with death, or the loss of loved ones.
In America, the chrysanthemum is a popular gardening flower commonly used for decoration purposes. It is sometimes referred to as the “Queen of Fall Flowers” and often represents cheer and brightness.
Australia has a hint of humor in their symbolism. Chrysanthemums are typically gifted to “mums” on Mother’s Day so that they can gift their mums some ‘mums.
Chrysanthemums were brought to Japan by Buddhist monks in AD 400. The Japanese emperors fell in love with the bright blooms and sat on thrones made of chrysanthemum buds. The chrysanthemum eventually rose to become featured on the Imperial Crest of Japan, symbolizing not just the season, but the country itself.
Environmental Effects of Chrysanthemums
There is good news for the home gardener. Chrysanthemum morifolium has been shown to reduce harmful air pollutants through a clean air study by NASA. Chrysanthemums reduce the total amount of benzene, formaldehyde, trichloroethylene, xylene, ammonia, and toluene present in the air. NASA’s study focus was on how to reduce the effects of sick building syndrome, which is caused mainly by air pollutants in office spaces and homes. NASA’s study does note that chrysanthemums are harmful to cats and dogs when ingested, however.
Chrysanthemums can also be used as an insecticide, and they are considered an economically important plant for this reason. This insecticide is created with Chrysanthemum cinerariaefolium, where the flowers are pulverized to release the active components: pyrethrins. The pyrethrins are then extracted and sold in the form of oleoresins, a semi-solid extract composed of resin and essential or fatty oil.
This extract is a potent insecticide that attacks the nervous systems of all insects. It is harmful to fish, unfortunately, but it is far less toxic to mammals and birds than many other synthetic insecticides. It is biodegradable and decomposes quickly in sunlight.
As one of the easiest perennial plants to grow, chrysanthemums can be an enriching experience, and they add brightness to any room or garden. These vibrant flowers are excellent for any beginner gardener or expert horticulturalist. They are short-day bloomers, which means they typically bloom once the day shortens around September, November, and October.
Below are the typical requirements of many chrysanthemums in ideal climate. Keep in mind, if you have exhibition blooms, then the care requirements may differ. In this case, contact your seed seller or local horticulturalist. If you live in northern climates, then you may want to consider purchasing early bloomers.
If chrysanthemums are planted in the right soil climate and establish a good root system before hot weather, then you will be able to enjoy beautiful blooms year after year.
Chrysanthemums should be planted almost any time of year after frost so long as they have time to establish their root system before the hot season. Ideally, this should be in early spring after any danger of frost has passed, around late March to mid-May.
Chrysanthemums can be started from seed, via cutting and dividing, or purchased already growing from a nursery.
Your soil depth should be 1-2 inches deep for seeds. How deep to plant chrysanthemum flowers that have been pre-grown depends on how deep the soil container is; only plant to the depth that it is currently at.
The planting hole should be dug extra deep to encourage drainage and prevent the root ball or tendrils from sitting in any leftover water.
Chrysanthemums require well-draining, well-prepared, fertile and sandy or loamy soil. You can prepare the soil by adding compost, peat, or other organic matter a few weeks before planting, and a small covering when planting. The pH of your soil should be around 6.5 to help your flowers grow.
It’s important to keep your chrysanthemums in a drier place as they are susceptible to mildew.
Chrysanthemums should be spaced about 18 inches apart.
Fertilizing and Watering
In the early season, chrysanthemums should be given one inch of water per week. Of course, as the weather gets hotter, you’ll want to water them more often. By the time you have blooms in September and October, giving your chrysanthemums one inch of water three or four times a week is recommended.
Be careful not to overwater during the early season; if your mums look a little drowned, chances are, they are. Give them a few days rest, and keep in mind that they will need some time to dry out from wet, rainy days, so don’t water them if they appear soaked and sopping.
Chrysanthemums are sun-loving and require full sunlight with a minimum of 5-6 hours daily.
The ideal temperature for mums is between 63 and 73° F. Once the day shortens and blooms begin to pop up, they can be delayed by temperatures above 85° F, however.
Chrysanthemums do need a bit of a pinch here or there to maintain a more compact form with more blooms. When your plants are 6” tall, pinch or prune away about 1” from the top of each stem. Repeat this once the plant reaches 12” tall.
Some people love looking at one large chrysanthemum bloom, compared to multiple smaller blooms. To achieve this effect, pinch off side stems so only the main stems produce buds.
If you’re looking for more blooms, pinch away the tip of the main stem and three or four side stems will shoot out from below the pinch point and continue growth, later turning into buds of their own.
In some parts of Asia, the yellow and white flowers of the Chrysanthemum morifolium species are brewed in water, making a chrysanthemum tea. This tea is called júhuā chá in Chinese.
In China, chrysanthemums are used in typical cuisine by steaming or boiling the leaves in salads or other greens. Additionally, the flowers may be added to mixian noodles or in broth.
In Japan, small chrysanthemums may be used to garnish sashimi.
Finally, in Korea, many enjoy a rice wine flavored with chrysanthemum flowers called gukhwaju.
Show Off Your MUMS!
So, it’s Autumn, and you have beautiful chrysanthemum blooms.
Many people love the idea of bringing that brightness and cheer indoors before their chrysanthemums hibernate for the Winter, but there’s a little more to it than simply snipping off the stems and sticking them in a vase.
If you want to preserve your tabletop blooms like a professional florist, then read up on the information below before going snip-happy.
Snip It at the Right Time
It’s important to snip your blooms at the right time. A bud that hasn’t opened when snipped may not open at all, and a bloom that is fully open won’t last as long. The ideal time to snip your chrysanthemum buds is when they are in the process of opening.
Warm Water Bath
As soon as your snip your buds, place them into a filtered or distilled warm water bath. This should be slightly warm water, not scalding or hot water. The sooner you get the stems into the warm water, the better.
Prepare the Vase
Begin preparing your vase before the flowers go in. You’ll want to make sure it is free of dust, so a quick rinse with filtered water is perfect. Be sure to avoid any chemicals or soaps.
Take some of your filtered warm water and pour a few inches into the vase. Add some flower preserve or a tsp of natural sugar to the water and swirl it around until it dissolves completely.
Cut the Stems
Be sure to use a very sharp pair of scissors or gardening shears when cutting your flower stems to avoid crushing and damaging the stem. It’s important to keep in mind that even though the bloom has been snipped, the stem is keeping it alive and fed by absorbing nutrients. Using a sharp tool will help promote this absorption while crushing it can permanently damage it and cause you to lose your blooms early.
Always cut your flower stems at an angle to promote absorption. If possible, cut the stems underwater to prevent air bubbles from forming inside the stem.
Now you are ready to place your beautiful mums in a vase to display, but the care doesn’t stop there.
Keep It Clean
Change your vase water daily and add new flower food or sugar to prevent bacteria from building up in the water. Be sure to remove any debris that might fall into the vase like leaves or underdeveloped buds.
While bacteria will always grow in the water no matter what you do, you can prevent buildup by using distilled or filtered water and changing the water daily.
When changing the water, always check the stems to see if they need to be re-cut. Bacteria can build up on the bottoms of the stems as well. If the bottoms appear slippery or as if they have a thin film, then it’s time to re-cut them and discard the bacteria-coated ends.
Lastly, always remove any dead or dying flower buds or leaves as soon as possible so the plant can concentrate on sending nutrients up to the healthy blooms.
The Display Matters
Avoid placing your chrysanthemums in an area with drafts. Keep the buds out of any direct contact with sunlight, heaters, fireplaces, and air conditioners. The more stagnant the air, the better, as it won’t place any stress on the blooms.
Show Off Your Mums
Have you grown chrysanthemums in the past?
Have any on display on your table right now?
Currently growing a little junior mum you are proud of?
HerbSpeak would love to see your seedlings, junior mums, buds, and blooms. Give your little ray of sunshine a chance in the spotlight and share a picture in the comments below!