As recently as the 1700s, most people thought of the year as having only two seasons – summer and winter. The transition periods weren’t as important. The season we know as fall referred to the time of year when the leaves fell from the trees. This season was also referred to as harvest, the time of year when farmers gathered the last of their crops. The sun is starting to rise a little bit later and setting a little bit sooner. Sept. 22 will mark the autumn equinox, when day and night are equal in length. This only happens twice each year. The length of day acts as a trigger to many plants and animals. Soon, the hummingbirds will be gone from our gardens, leaving mostly sparrows and finches. Don’t be too quick to put away the humming bird feeders. Although many birds have already left, Rachel and I have seen hummingbirds well into October. The length of daylight determines when they head south for winter, not the availability of food. They won’t be stranded here because your feeders tricked them into staying too long. They’ll need to pack on the calories before they make their way back to Mexico or South America, so leave your feeders out until November.   

Chrysanthemums, or mums for short, bloom in response to the length of day. They don’t set buds until the night is at least 10 hours long. Cooler temperatures have the effect of intensifying their colors. Each year, Rachel replaces the spent petunias, begonias and marigolds in our front garden with fresh-blooming mums. Basically, there are two types – hardy mums and florist mums. Although mums are technically perennials, most of us grow them as annuals. If you want to grow mums year-round, you need to plant them in the spring. This will give their root systems a chance to become established enough to survive the winter. For spring planting, your best bet is to purchase chrysanthemums online or from a catalogue, that way you’ll know exactly what you’re getting. You’ll also have a wider range of colors and types of blooms to choose from.    

Mums sold in the fall are mainly for decoration. Most of the plants’ energy is being used to support the large, showy flowers and foliage. You can still plant them, but they probably won’t make it through the winter. The roots will be too shallow to support the plant.

Florist mums typically have large blooms – up to five or six inches. These are used for displays and special occasions like weddings. They’re usually grown indoors and aren’t suitable for planting in the garden.

When purchasing mums, choose ones that aren’t in bloom. Blooms last from four to six weeks. When you purchase ones that are already in bloom, you have no way of knowing how far along they are in their bloom cycle. You may only end up with a week or two of floral display. Mums are also top-heavy. You’ll need a sturdy container to keep them from falling over. Repot your mums as soon as you get them home. Their roots have probably taken up the entire container in which they were grown, so they’ll need more room to spread out. If a frost is expected, move the containers to a garage or protected porch. If that’s not practical, you can cover them with a sheet or towel.         

Refresh your garden each year with hardy mums. They provide colorful beauty well into the fall.

Rachel and Ivan Minnis are avid gardeners. They live in Leavenworth. For more information, visit The Minnis Rose Garden on Facebook. Contact them at rnlyes@hotmail.com