As the autumn leaves begin to show their colors, mums and pumpkins make their appearance at local garden centers and farmers markets. The beautiful, flowering chrysanthemums (“mums” for short) come in a wide range of colors from rustic earth tones to bright pastels.

To make an instant impact, many people choose fall mums in full flower. But I prefer to select plants with tight buds that are just starting to show color. As the buds begin to open, this extends the time you will have a showy display.

For best flowering, always place your mums in a sunny location. Mums are greenhouse grown in a very light potting mix, so they will need to be watered often. If you forget to water and let your fall mums wilt, this is the quickest way to end the flowering show.

After the blooms fade, fall mums can be transplanted into the garden to fill in any gaps. Many gardeners regard them as annual plants, but most varieties will overwinter in the ground and come back next year. You will just need to keep mums trimmed back next summer, otherwise they will never again look like that perfectly neat cushion.

For an excellent fact sheet on Chrysanthemums, go to Clemson Extension’s Home and Garden Information Center’s website https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/chrysanthemum/

Pumpkins and gourds make great fall decorations to go along with the mums. Here are some tips on picking the best pumpkins:

  • Avoid any pumpkins that have cracks or splits, soft spots or sunken areas.
  • A mature pumpkin will resist scratching. If the surface is easily penetrated by gently pressing your fingernail into the rind, the pumpkin was picked too early and will end up rotting.
  • Check for firm, bright green stems, which indicate freshness. A dry, shriveled stem means the pumpkin has been picked and stored for a long time and will not remain fresh throughout the entire fall decorating season.
  • Carry your pumpkin in your arms, not by the stem. Once the stem breaks off, pumpkin decay is not far behind.
  • Match the pumpkin to its purpose. For a carved a jack-o-lantern, select a large, uniform shaped pumpkin. For pumpkin pie or other recipes, choose small, heavy fruits (a.k.a. pie pumpkins or winter squash which contain more pulp than the larger varieties).
  • Pumpkins store best under cooler conditions. You can also wipe them off with a solution of bleach water to reduce rot and decay.

After fall decorations are taken down, you might like to try your hand at preserving your pumpkins (if you have selected the “pie” varieties for display). These delicious pumpkins can be cooked and frozen or pressure canned for later use. For safety and best quality, store the pumpkins indoors and keep them in perfect condition. For details on preserving pumpkins go to https://hgic.clemson.edu/factsheet/preserving-pumpkin-winter-squash/

Fall decorations, pumpkins, mums and other plants are already on display for next weekend’s Pee Dee Plant and Flower Festival. During the entire weekend, Clemson Extension Master Gardeners will be on hand the to answer your gardening, lawn care and plant selection questions. The event runs October 4-6, 2019 at the Pee Dee State Farmers Market, 2513 W. Lucas St., on U.S. 52, just off Interstate 95. Hours are Friday and Saturday, 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. and Sunday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m.

Trish DeHond is the home horticulture agent and Master Gardener coordinator for Clemson Extension in Darlington and Florence counties. She can be reached by email at pdehond@clemson.edu.

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