I always enjoy the shift from summer to fall, but determining when the seasons actually change can be a bit confusing.
In astronomical terms, by charting the position of Earth in relation to the Sun, fall began on Sept. 21/22 with the Autumnal Equinox. On the other hand, the weather folks use the meteorological calendar and say fall started on Sept. 1.
Mother Nature also gives us signals, just not with all the fanfare of the Weather Channel. Many plants start to show fall colors in response to the environment around them. We’ll also start to see the Surprise or Resurrection lilies — sometimes called the naughty name of Nekkid Ladies — popping up in seemingly random places in the landscape.
Another sure sign that we’re in autumn is the arrival of bountiful mums to our garden centers and nurseries. Now is the time to start planning how and where to effectively use these plants around your home and landscape.
I consider fall mums a useful bridge crop between summer and fall. After another hot summer like we had this year, some of our summer annuals are looking pretty rough these days, and the fall annuals aren’t available yet. But fall mums are arriving, and they can be treated as seasonal annuals to provide an easy and reliable display of color for our current in-between period.
Choose fall mums in full flower to have an instant impact for any autumn event. While beautiful, in my opinion, a mum in full bloom is like a shooting star: bright and glorious but only for the briefest time.
For a longer, more prolonged landscape show, I like to select plants that still have tight buds and are just starting to show color. This choice increases the period of showy display as the buds begin to open in the garden.
In my experience, buying mums with tight buds means every once in a while you get a surprise. Plants can get mixed up during production at the greenhouse, and those mums that you thought were going to have yellow flowers suddenly open up red or white.
Incorporating fall garden mums into the landscape is easy. One of the most popular ways to display these beautiful plants is to simply place them on the front porch. Their many warm colors can complement almost any home color scheme. It seems the plants have literally hundreds of flowers, so their impact is immediate.
For the best color, plant or place fall-flowering mums in locations that get the fullest sun and then be sure to consistently water the plants. The need for moisture is especially great for mums in containers; never let them dry out. As soon as the plants begin to be water stressed, the showy colors diminish as the plants slowly recover.
Whatever method you use to garden by the season, now is the time to put some beautiful and colorful mums into your garden and landscape.
Gary Bachman is a professor of horticulture at the Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi.