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Skaggs: Color your fall garden with mum varieties
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As the garden begins to fade into fall, you can bring out a rainbow of color with garden mums. Colors include many shades of yellow, orange, red, purple, bronze, pink and white.

The flowers themselves come in many different forms, from spider types with long, narrow petals to cushion types that have wider, more compact flowers.

Not all mums are hardy in the garden - many florists' mums can be planted in the garden to be enjoyed for that growing season, but do not expect a comeback in subsequent years. When buying for the garden, get plants from a garden center or nursery that carries plants grown for the outdoors.

Mums can be planted in spring or fall. In fall, one needs to pay a little extra attention to watering and winter protection. Choose a sunny, well-drained location with good air circulation for optimum growth and disease resistance.

Mum plants flower in response to both day length and temperature.

Most cultivars begin to develop flower buds when days are less than 12 hours long, then generally continue to flower for a period of six to eight weeks. Some cultivars are not as responsive to day length and may begin flower development early in the summer in response to heat. Catalogs usually list cultivars as early, midseason or late types.

Plant your mums in a sunny location in fertile, well-drained soil. Soil can be improved by adding compost or well-rotted manure. Space garden mums in flower in the fall based on plant size. Young garden mums planted in the spring should be spaced 18 to 24 inches apart.

Be sure to cut and loosen the outer root system of the plant to ensure root growth. This is especially important for mums planted in the fall.

Rainfall in many areas is sufficient to keep your garden mums growing well. During dry spells, water twice weekly to keep plants from wilting. Always thoroughly water-in any freshly planted garden mums. Mums planted outdoors in the fall do not need any fertilizer until they begin to grow the following spring.

Garden mums are generally hardy throughout North Georgia.

Applying winter protection in the form of mulch can be helpful, especially for newly planted mums. The purpose of the mulch is to insulate the roots to prevent alternating extremes in soil temperature.

Winter injury is most common in poorly drained soils, so if needed plant on raised beds.

To encourage branching and development of compact bushy plants, it is very important to pinch back your garden mums in the spring as soon as the new growth is 4 to 6 inches tall.

Use your thumb nail and index finger to pinch about half of the new growth at the top of each and every shoot. Repeat this procedure through the summer whenever new shoots are 3 to 5 inches long.

Noteworthy dwarf or cushion varieties that grow to 15 inches tall include: debonair (dark lavender), gypsy wine (wine red), sunny morning (clear yellow) and target (two-tone yellow).

A few tall, upright varieties that grow to 30 inches include: Sarah (golden butterscotch), carousel (silver amethyst), Clara Curtis (light pink), grandchild (lavender with red-violet center), maroon pride (dark red) and single apricot (apricot pink).

Billy Skaggs is an agricultural agent and Hall County extension coordinator. Phone: 770-531-6988. Fax: 770-531-3994.