Published on 10/27/16

Nothing says fall like mari-mums

By Norman Winter

I love this time of the year. Everyone decorates with pumpkins, old flowers get ripped out and mums go in. As much as I treasure Belgian mums, I must admit that there is something special about mari-mums. I would be quick to tell you that there is no such thing as a mari-mum but, in actuality, they were named a Texas Superstar twice, in 1989 and 2013.

The mari-mum is really a concept, and a doggone good one. Mari-mums are large-flower marigolds, known botanically as Tagetes erecta, that are reminiscent of chrysanthemums. Many of them really look like the old-fashioned homecoming mums of the ‘50s and ‘60s, only smaller.

These marigolds are often called “African marigolds,” although they are really from Mexico. The Spaniards took these treasured flowers of the Aztecs and planted them in southern Europe and northern Africa, where they absolutely flourished. They flourish for us, too, in the spring, but they totally dazzle when planted in late summer as a small bedding plant or larger transplants like you find at the garden center now.

If you live in an area that is already flirting with frost, then you should wait to plant mari-mums until next year. Here in Savannah, Georgia, and the South Carolina low country, mari-mums can perk up a home quicker than just about any other plant.

Mari-mums or the marigolds, if you will, typically produce flowers before chrysanthemums and are still blooming when frost actually takes them out. If you associate spider mites with marigolds, know that this is a summer plague. Blooming mari-mums are hardly a target as the cooler temperatures of fall diminish the spider mites’ reproductive rate.

Here at the University of Georgia Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens (CGBG) at the Historic Bamboo Farm, we plant ‘Taishan yellow.’ The Taishan series made its debut with the Beijing Olympics in 2008. This extraordinary marigold is named after the sacred Mount Tai in China, and “shan” refers to “mountain.”

Over the years, I have come to realize that I am a sucker for all of the Tagetes erecta marigolds, and several of their hybrids, when it comes to fall planting. Moonstruck is one such variety that produces huge, pompom-like flower balls. It’s funny, I can spot this variety from a great distance. There are two series that are absolutely stunning in their design, looking just like mums with their unique outer petals. They are 'Lunacy' and 'Mumsy' marigolds.

There’s a fickle market for marigolds as local growers can only produce so many varieties to sell at garden centers. On the other hand, if you are a marigold nut like me, you can find the flowers of your dreams via catalogs. As you probably remember from your childhood days, marigolds are about the easiest flowers to grow from seeds.

If you are looking for that fall festival-like flower for your landscape, then, by all means, consider the large-flowered marigold. Surprise your garden center and tell them the new name is mari-mum. Combine them with the fall-blooming salvia, asters, ornamental peppers and a pumpkin or two, and you’ll have cornered that October look.

Follow me on Twitter @CGBGgardenguru. Learn more about the CGBG at

Norman Winter is the director of the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens at the Historic Bamboo Farm in Savannah, Georgia.

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