How to grow chrysanthemums
Through late summer and autumn, chrysanthemums bring fresh vibrancy to borders and containers, just when many summer displays are fading. They make colourful, long-lasting cut flowers too.
- Grow in borders and containers
- In flower from September to November
- Plant outside from late spring
- Like sun and fertile, well-drained soil
- May need winter protection
- Make new plants by taking cuttings
All you need to know
What are chrysanthemums?
Chrysanthemums are probably most familiar as cut flowers, but they are also eye-catching and versatile garden plants. They add colour to borders and containers in late summer and autumn, when many other plants are past their best.
There are many types of chrysanthemums, but here we focus on 'early' or 'hardy' garden chrysanthemums. These are widely available, straightforward to grow, and flower abundantly outdoors in late summer and autumn. Although they are generally classified as hardy, it is still best to protect them from frost. Chrysanthemums are perennials, going dormant in winter, then re-sprouting in spring.
The flowers come in various shapes, sizes and colours. Usually single or double daisies, they range from rich fiery hues to bright or pastel shades. 'Spray' chrysanthemums produce lots of flowers in large clusters, or sprays, for maximum impact.
For more on all the different types of chrysanthemums, go to the National Chrysanthemum Society.
How and what to buy
Newly rooted cuttings or young plants are available in spring. These small plants must be looked after indoors until large enough to plant outside, after the last frost. So you need space on a cool, bright windowsill or in a frost-free greenhouse (see Planting below).
Established young plants can be bought in early to mid-summer, for planting straight into borders or containers, where they will flower after just a few months.
Mature plants in full bloom are available in late summer and early autumn. These create an instant display in borders and containers.
To explore the range of chrysanthemums, go to RHS Find a Plant. Search for ‘chrysanthemums’ to browse the photographs and plant descriptions, and find out where to buy them. You can refine your search by hardiness, to suit your local climate.
The single, daisy-style flowers provide valuable nectar for late-flying bees and butterflies.
Where to plant
In a warm, sheltered, sunny location
In borders, in most soil types
In containers, especially dwarf cultivars
In a dedicated cut-flower border, so you can pick lots of blooms without spoiling the display in the garden
Chrysanthemums suit many garden styles, formal or informal, traditional or contemporary. Those with vibrant flowers work particularly well in exotic plantings, the pastel shades mingle sociably in cottage-garden borders, while the warm, burnished hues complement ornamental grasses.
When to plant
Plants that have been stored in a light frost-free place over winter can be planted outside in late spring, after the last frost (typically from mid May to early June).
Young plants raised from cuttings can be planted outside at the same time, once well rooted and growing strongly. Wait until after the last frost, having acclimatised them to outdoor conditions by hardening off few a few weeks beforehand.
Plants bought in summer can be put straight into borders and containers. If bought in late summer, they will be in full flower and provide instant colour.
How to plant
Chrysanthemums are easy to plant:
Space plants 30–45cm (12–18in) apart
Add a stake to support taller types
When planting in containers, use John Innes No 2 compost and a container with a diameter of at least 30cm (1ft)
Pinching out (stopping)
Once young plants reach about 20cm (8in) tall, in early summer, pinch out the main growing point to encourage branching. You can also pinch out the tips of sideshoots as they grow, until about mid-summer. This will help to create stockier plants that will carry more flowers.
How to pinch out
Simply nip out the tip of the shoot with your thumb and first finger, or snip it off using the tip of your secateurs, just above a pair of leaves.
Newly planted chrysanthemums, in borders or containers, need regular watering through the growing season. Never let the soil or compost dry out completely. But take care not to overwater too, as they dislike waterlogged conditions.
Tips on recycling and collecting water
How to water efficiently
To boost growth, apply a general fertiliser, such as Growmore or blood, fish and bone, towards the end of April.
You can also apply a nitrogen-rich feed in June, to further encourage lush growth. Use sulphate of ammonia or, for organic gardeners, dried poultry manure pellets, following the instructions on the pack.
During flowering, to maximise the display, you can give a weekly high-potassium feed, such as tomato fertiliser.
Apply a thick layer of mulch to the soil surface after planting. This will help to hold moisture in the soil and prevent weed germination. Use well-rotted manure or garden compost.
If leaving plants in the ground over winter, insulate the roots with a thick layer of mulch in late autumn.
Removing some flower buds (disbudding)
Disbudding is a specialist technique used to produce very large blooms or well-balanced clusters to use as cut flowers or for exhibition:
On 'spray' chrysanthemums – these produce clusters (sprays) of flowers. If you remove the large central flower bud, you'll get a more uniform display of evenly sized blooms.
On single-flowered chrysanthemums – keep the main central flower bud and remove all the side buds and other shoots. The plant will then put all its energy into producing one spectacular flower.
Removing faded flowers regularly helps to keep the display looking its best. It also encourages new buds to form, extending the overall display.
See our guide to deadheading.
Most hardy chrysanthemums can survive temperatures down to at least -5˚C (23˚F). However, in much of the UK temperatures can fall below this, so it may be safer to lift and store plants over winter in light, frost-free conditions, such as a frost free greenhouse, a cool conservatory, porch or similar. Plants in exposed or poorly drained sites will particularly benefit.
Once flowering has finished, cut down the stems to about 20cm (8in) tall, to produce what is known as a stool
Lift the shortened plants and shake off the soil from the roots
Snip off any green shoots and leaves, so you have bare stems
Label each plant, if you have several different types
Stand the stools in a shallow tray, on a 5cm (2in) layer of slightly damp compost. Cover the roots lightly with loose compost.
Store in a cold but frost-free location, such as a cool greenhouse or conservatory, or a garage
Keep the compost just moist through the winter
Moving plants into a conservatory
Overwintering plants by lifting or mulching
In mild regions
Where temperatures are unlikely to fall below -5˚C (23˚F), especially in sheltered gardens with well-drained soil, you could risk leaving plants in the ground through winter.
Even so, it's best to give them some protection:
Cover the root zone with an insulating layer of mulch
Consider using a cloche to protect plants from winter rain
Plants in containers are particularly vulnerable to cold, so bring them indoors once flowering has finished. Keep them frost free, such as in a cool greenhouse or enclosed porch.
In very mild regions, you could risk leaving them outside, in which case:
Move them to a warm, sheltered spot, such as in the lee of a wall or under the eaves
Wrap containers in insulating layers of fleece, to protect the roots.
Make sure the compost doesn't get waterlogged – stand containers on bricks (or pot feet) to keep the drainage holes clear
The easiest way to make new plants is by taking cuttings in spring and to divide clumps. It's also possible to grow a few chysanthemum from seed.
In spring, use the vigorous new shoots as basal softwood cuttings. These root quickly and reliably to form plants that will flower in late summer:
Remove several shoots, 5–7.5cm (2–3in) long, from the outside of a clump. Cut with a sharp knife, right at the base, as close as possible to the crown
Remove the lower leaves and insert the cuttings into pots containing a mix of half peat-free multipurpose compost and half horticultural grit/perlite. Water in, then place in a propagator or cover with a clear plastic bag. Put in bright light (away from direct sunshine), at 10°C (50°F) or above
Ensure the compost is always moist, but not soggy, to encourage rooting
They should root in about three weeks. Move them into larger pots as they grow
Plants that are in winter storage can be started into growth earlier than normal, so they produce shoots ahead of outdoor plants. Cuttings taken from these can have a head-start of several months:
In early January, bring plants out of winter storage into a greenhouse at 7–10°C (45–50°F)
Water them so the compost is thoroughly damp, then keep it just moist
Within three or four weeks, from mid-February, you should have large enough shoots to use as cuttings. Follow the method outlined above
Older plants tend to lose vigour over time, so can be divided in spring, once growth has started. See our guide to dividing perennials.
A few cultivars are available as packeted seeds. Sow in spring at 15°C (59°F). They should germinate within two weeks, and the resulting plants should flower in the same year.
Chrysanthemums are susceptible to several pests, although most only do superficial damage. Check plants regularly and remove any pests as soon as they appear. Look out for:
Chrysanthemums can be affected by several diseases, especially when their growing conditions aren't ideal. These include:
Chrysanthemum white rust – can be very damaging and hard to control
Powdery mildew – prevalent in dry conditions
Grey mould and other fungal rots – thrive In wet weather
Viruses – cause stunted growth and leaf markings
How to control pests and diseases without chemicals
Guide to preventing pests and diseases
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