How To Deadhead Mums For Beautiful Blooms Year After Year

Chrysanthemums are a sure sign that autumn has arrived! With their cheery blooms that last for weeks and bright colors in every shade imaginable, mums are the royalty of the autumn garden. They’re the perfect backdrop to fall displays of pumpkins, gourds and corn stalks.

Technically, mums are perennials. But if you’ve ever wondered why your mums don’t come back every year, we may be able to help. The key is getting your mums to establish a strong root system so that they can survive winter.

One way to improve the odds that your mums will return is to deadhead mums, or remove spent blooms. “A plant’s goal is to reproduce. As the blooms fade, mums are setting seed for reproduction,” says Gene Stickley, chrysanthemum manager for Ball Seed Company. “If you remove these flowers, the plant now sends energy into producing roots, instead of seeds.” Strong roots mean a better chance of surviving winter.

A full frame photograph of a variety of different colored chrysanthemum flowers.
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Another way to encourage mums to become well-established before winter is to rough up the root ball with your gloved hand or trowel before planting. This pushes new root growth. Ideally, it’s also best to plant your mums before the flower buds form—although many plants already have buds on them when purchased, so just get them in the ground ASAP. Stickley advises planting no later than September if you’re hoping they’ll return next year.

Finally, don’t forget to water mums after planting and regularly during the hot, dry periods in late summer and early fall. They’re thirsty plants and proper watering also is important to get roots established.

  • Gene Stickley is the chrysanthemum manager for Ball Seed Company.

Ahead, here’s how to deadhead your mums to encourage root growth so they will return next year:

Benefits Of Deadheading Mums

Unlike plants such as marigolds that you deadhead to keep the blooms coming, deadheading mums will not cause the plant to produce more flowers this season. The main purpose of deadheading mums is to encourage the plant to send energy to its roots. It’s not foolproof because nature does what it wants, but it will improve your chances that the mum will return, says Stickley.

Tips And Tricks For Deadheading Mums

Use your fingernails or garden snips to cut about two inches below the flower head so that the cut portion of the stem is hidden in the canopy of the plant. “Don’t just top the head off,” says Stickley. “Cut further down the stem for the health and appearance of the plant.”

Mum Plants in front of pumpkin
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Best Time To Deadhead Mums

Timing is everything!  Don’t wait until the flowers have turned brown and crispy because, by then, they’re already setting seeds. “Deadhead as the color is fading from the flower, not when flowers are getting ready to drop off on their own,” says Stickley.

How To Pinch Back Mums

If you’ve lucked out and your mums made it through the winter, keep them trimmed back to maintain a neat form. This is especially helpful in warm climates because, otherwise, they tend to grow too tall and flop over or break off in wind and rain, says Stickley.

Simply pinch off any offset or irregular branches with your fingers or garden snips so that the plant has a more rounded appearance. You can do this several times during the growing season, but stop in mid-July to allow the plant to set buds.

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