How to Overwinter Perennial Mums

Fall, Autumn, pumpkins, gourds and colorful mums

Garden mums, or Chrysanthemums, are the quintessential flowering plant that helps folks to usher in fall. They add a spot of hopeful color to the fall garden and provide grateful seasonal cheer to our home décor. Along with this seasonal cheer, mums also provide us with joy and positivity, which we can all use right about now. 

Many people treat their seasonal mums as a temporary decorative plant, only to dispose of it when their flowers finally fade. But know this, with some fall preparation and winter care, your mums can come back blooming year after year in your garden.

Tips for Overwintering Garden Mums

beautiful orange Chrysanthemum flower as background

Overwintering garden mums that are planted in fall from plants purchased at the garden centers can be tricky. Some plants may not have time to completely establish themselves before the cold weather hits. 

Continue reading for some simple but important steps that will help increase the chances of your Chrysanthemums to survive through the impending tough winter.

Placement and Planting Your Mums

chrysanthemum flower in woman's palms with soil and stem.

Just like other perennials, mums will be happiest if you take care to provide them with these three important things when you are planting them out:

  • Full sun location – less than 6 hours of sun will yield a floppy plant.
  • Richly amended, organic soil – amend with peat, manure, or leaf compost.
  • Excellent drainage – mums do not like heavy clay soils.
  • Adequate spacing – do not over-crowd them. They need air circulation.

Pruning Your Mums

Senior Man's hand clipping dead flowers from a chrysanthemum (mum) plant. Gardener. Horticulturist. Close-up.

Before you prune your mums back for winter, it is important that they experience a good frost first. Frost on mums will help drive them into dormancy. After blooms get frosted, prune them all off the top of the plant. Some folks will prune their plant all the way back to 2 to 3 inches of stem showing, however, I recommend only deadheading the top blooms off the plant and leaving the scaffolding stems to aid in the next crucial step, mulching.

Winter Mulching for Mums

Light orange yellow Mum flowers in garden. Beautiful Mum flowers background. Mum flower for design or decoration. Cute Mum flowers

Most perennial mums are suggested to be hardy to USDA zones 4 to 9. As we know, in our colder zones, our winters can often receive colder than “normal” temperatures. Mulching for mums and other perennials is always recommended. 

With clean straw, shredded wood product, chopped leaves, or pine needles you will cover the entire plant with 4 to 6 inches, making sure you get good coverage over their root zone.  This is most important to help prevent the ground from freezing and thawing. If done around early November, the mulch will keep the soil from freezing for a short period of time which will give your mums a longer time for their roots to establish before the extreme cold weather arrives.

Spring-Planted Mums

Beautiful chrysanthemums growing in the garden

Of course, if you can plan ahead, the best way to overwinter mums is to plant them in the spring! This way they have the entire summer growing season to become established. With a few carefully timed pinchings, your mums will bloom in the fall right on schedule, but unlike fall-planted mums, these spring-planted mums will have the whole growing season to become established in the soil and will have a greater chance of making it through the winter.  When fall comes, you will still follow the same season’s end mulching technique as described above. 

Despite all precautions and the best intentions of the gardener, for no accountable reason, there are times when plants simply disappear or die over the winter. In those instances, you must take the losses philosophically. 

Picture of beautiful arrangement of typical for Autumn and Thanksgiving pumpkins, mini pumpkins and red, yellow and pink fall mums in front of country old wooden home used as background

If your mums have given you their abundance, joy, and cheerfulness for many weeks, be thankful for that joy and abundance. You can feel secure and comforted in the fact that at the end of next summer, your local garden center will again have a wide selection of beautiful Chrysanthemums to ogle over and choose from to try it again. After all, isn’t this what gardening is all about?

About the Author: Dan Goodspeed is an Accomplished, knowledgeable, and valued horticulturalist with years of educational and practical, hands-on experience from many locations in the U.S. He works as a horticultural consultant for J.W. Jung Seed Company and its affiliates.