Chrysanthemums, commonly known as "mums," have become synonymous with fall. Throw in some pumpkins, cornstalks and a scarecrow, and you’ve got yourself the quintessential quartet of the autumn decorating palette.

Chrysanthemum means “gold blossom” in Greek, and they are native to Asia, with their origins thought to be China. Today, there are over 20,000 cultivars.

In Japan, a sacred festival is held annually honoring the flower, and the country's monarchy is called the Chrysanthemum Throne with the imperial seal displaying the flower.

Col. John Stevens imported mums to America from England in the late 1700s.

Nov. 1 is celebrated as All Saints’ Day, followed on Nov. 2 by All Souls' Day, where Christians typically pay respect to their deceased relatives, gathering at cemeteries to clean and decorate tombs. Often, fresh flowers, especially mums, are placed on the graves of departed loved ones.

Mums are perennial flowering plants that can be for the garden or are exhibition types.

The garden-hardy type are used in landscape settings and are profuse bloomers. They come in several forms such as pom poms, buttons and daisy-like.

There are many hybrids and cultivars available in an array of colors, including yellow, orange, white, purple, burgundy and unique shades of peach to pink. The U.S. National Chrysanthemum Society divides the bloom types into 13 categories.

With all the wonderful choices, it’s hard to know where to start. Go for what you like. Consider the amount of bloom time you want. For an extended flowering time, choose a plant that is full of not-yet-open buds. If you want instant color, go for plants in full bloom.

When purchasing garden mums, be sure to consider varieties that will bloom in the early, middle and later parts of the season.

In the landscape, plant mums in a well-drained sunny spot, spacing them about 2 feet apart to keep plants compact and dense. Apply a 1- to 2-inch layer of mulch.

Fall is typically dry in Louisiana, and drought can delay flowering and slow and even stop growth. But avoid overhead irrigation, watering around the outer root area of the plant (the dripline). Also, don't water right at the base of the plant, which could result in stem rot problems (there’s a fungus among us).

Mums, like poinsettias, Christmas cactus, Easter lilies and other seasonal plants, are often tossed out when the season is over. 

However, you can keep mums going in the garden as perennial plants if you keep them evenly watered, but not waterlogged, through the winter, prune them lightly between late winter and midspring the following year, and fertilize them lightly in the spring with a slow-release fertilizer.

Come fall, the shorter days will cause them to begin flowering again, and the cycle starts all over.

Email questions to gardennews@agcenter.lsu.edu.