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'Mums the word' for butterflies, bees and colorful fall gardens

By Lou Boulmetis, hippodromehatter@aol.com

November 8, 2012

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Mums are bee and butterfly magnets Just when I thought the bees and butterflies had disappeared from our garden until spring, I found more visiting our "chrysanthemums" (mums) than I could count. And, during one Indian-summer afternoon, I saw more bees and butterflies on our mums than I'd seen in our garden all summer.

Guaranteed to enliven a fall landscape, mums are as popular with people as they are with bees and butterflies. Yet mums were popular with people more than 3,000 years ago, too, when they were first cultivated by the ancient Chinese. Mums were so cherished by the ancient Chinese, in fact, they felt compelled to explain the origins of mums in their mythology.

For instance, and according to one Chinese story, an emperor once searched throughout his kingdom to locate magic herbs that supposedly restored youth. Legend has it that his search lead him to a far-off island, which was perhaps Japan. In any case, instead of finding magic herbs, he discovered the most beautiful flowers he'd ever seen — mums.

Fuzzy leaves

Members of the daisy family, mums are native to Africa, Asia and Europe. But since they've been crossbred for thousands of years, today's types look much different than their daisy-like, wild-type counterparts. The flowers of today's mums come in a broad assortment of colors, shapes and sizes. Even so, all mums share one trait in common. Their thick, gray-green and fuzzy leaves have a distinctive, minty aroma. Many types are also frost-hardy perennials that grow between 18 and 36 inches tall.

Which reminds me, I prefer to purchase locally grown mums, because locally-grown mums are more likely to survive our winters.

Potted mums can be transplanted to a garden whenever the soil is workable — that is, whenever the soil isn't soggy or frozen. But to grow and flower well, mums should be planted where soil drains freely and where they'll get full sun. Shearing their tops in July, and pruning them to the ground in the early spring before new growth starts, keeps them looking bushier.

In the meantime, since our mums are one of just a few plants still blooming in our landscape, they have the bees and butterflies all to themselves

This week in the garden

I prune storm-damaged tree limbs as soon as possible, because ragged wounds heal more slowly and are more prone to insect and disease damage than smoothly-sawed surfaces.