It’s mum season! Sort of. Plant nurseries, farms and supermarkets across New Jersey have officially marked the start of autumn with their annual displays of bushy, brightly colored chrysanthemums for sale. But despite the plants reaching their annual popularity during the fall, any time of year is actually fine for mums, says Steve Avallone of the New Jersey State Chrysanthemum Society. The reason? It’s easy to force a mum into bloom.

“The reason it became very popular is because it held up better than roses. It’ll last a lot longer in water … and you can get it to bloom any time of the year,” he said.

According to the National Chrysanthemum Society, the long-lasting, attractive flowers make mums a go-to for floral arrangements and corsages; in fact, mums are the most popular commercially-produced flowers in the U.S.

If you’re planning on keeping your new mum in its pot as a seasonal decoration, all is well. But if you’re thinking of planting that mum in the ground, think again. Mums planted in the spring will often return the next year, especially if they are mulched well over the winter. However, mums planted in the fall don’t have the time to grow a good root system before the ground freezes, says the National Chrysanthemum Society.

MumPinkAvallone, who is also a past president of the New Jersey society, suggests you keep your plant in a pot in the ground, then move it to the garage over the winter. Give it a little water and a little light, and it should go dormant till spring. “But you know, the things are so cheap, you could just forget about it and buy a new one every year,” he admits.

You need 12 hours of daylight for a blooming mum, because that amount sparks the bud formation. The New Jersey society forces their plants to bloom in time for their annual show, which takes place at the Frelinghuysen Arboretum located at 353 East Hanover Avenue in Morristown. Admission is typically free. Members’ entries are judged at the show, and there will be plants for sale as well.

Mums were first cultivated centuries ago in China before finding fans in Japan — a country which celebrates National Chrysanthemum Day on September 9 — and around the world. They prefer slightly acidic soil, full sun and, during fall, watering up to three times a week. Consistent pruning helps the plants stay full and round; when the plant grows to six inches, prune an inch off the top. Each new stem that develops should be pruned the same way.

The center of the plant will start to die off after a few years, says Avallone, so an experienced grower will take cuttings from the new growth at the edges and replant those elsewhere.

You can also cook with mums as long as they haven’t been treated with pesticides. You can buy the dried version at health food stores or Asian markets. The dried flowers can be used for tea, while the petals, leaves and stalks can be used in salads or other recipes.

What is it about chrysanthemums? “I enjoy working with them, to see them grow, the challenge of getting them to bloom on time. People like roses, I like chrysanthemums,” said Avallone, who says he grows about 150 different varieties on his property. “I like roses too, I like everything, but this is a flower that gives me great pleasure.”

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