Korean chrysanthemums hardy, tough

Korean chrysanthemums hardy, tough

Posted: Tuesday, December 13, 2011 8:02 pm
By: By Jimmy Williams

Before it slips what is left of my mind (a distinct possibility) I want to bring your attention to chrysanthemums. With the full realization that we’re fully 10 months away from another mum season, I must get you this info while I am thinking about it.
The cushion mums that have been sold by the multi-millions in September, October and even into November are largely treated as annuals, though the label invariably says “hardy” chrysanthemum. Everything is hardy somewhere, and many of them, particularly when planted in autumn, won’t return the following year in our climate zone.
There is another whole class of mums that is, indeed, fully winter hardy and deserves a place in your garden. They are long-lived and carefree, needing only timely pinching until about the end of July every year and a modicum of fertilizer.
These are commonly referred to as “Korean” mums. Some, but not all, come from Korea. Others are natives of Siberia, and that should tell you something about their winter hardiness.
For the most part they grow in a looser fashion than the cushions, and stand the toughest winters here. They fit a flower bed or border better than as specimen pot plants like the cushions. Their bloom time will be some weeks later than the cushions, i.e. from October until well into November.
A new one for me (two years) is Ryan’s Yellow, named for the famed (and eccentric) Georgia garden designer Ryan Gainey. It is a daisy type (most Koreans are) with pale yellow (cream colored) three-inch daisies in October and November. It is a valuable perennial because there are few really pale yellow ones. We still had a few of Ryan’s Yellow flowering week before last.
An older variety, also named for Gainey, is Ryan’s Pink, with similar daisies in a pale pink. Venus is a still paler pink, fading to white near the center of the daisy. Then there is an old truly white one that goes under several names, none of which may be really authentic.
Another new one in our garden is Cambodian Queen, with drop-dead gorgeous violet daisies that bloom in front of a pennisetum grass that, by the time the mum blooms, has faded to a parchment color.
Just a couple of months ago, I spied what appeared to be a Korean type in a discount store with their other perennials and not displayed with the myriad cushion mums there. Matchsticks is a descriptive name, for the quilled yellow petals taper to fire red tips in the early bloom stages, then fade to a rust color later.
I bided my time until, sure enough, toward the end of the mum season they were marked down and I bought one. It served us well in its pot on the deck until Thanksgiving week when I set it into the ground. New basal foliage was already well under way and I feel confident it will return next spring.
An exception to the daisy types is Mei-Kyo, a shorter Korean needing no pinching and with one-inch buttons in a pale purple. Tough as nails, Mei-Kyo has been with us going on 20 years in the same location. It is among the latest and was still showing color Thursday.
I have for years pined for a red Korean. The Internet lists some, but there are no sources given. A red one would be a great addition to our red border, since there are few red perennials.
The Korean mums are generally not offered in garden centers as fall features. Perennial specialists will display them in spring and summer, well before bloom time, and those who are not aware of their value ignore them. That is a mistake.
Any of the Korean chrysanthemums will prove to be dependable perennials, blooming at a late date after other features have gone down for the season.
Editor’s note: Jimmy Williams is production superintendent at The Paris Post-Intelligencer, where he also writes this column.

Published in The Messenger 12.13.11

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