Ah, autumn! The time of year when the leaves change color, the pumpkins grace our porches, and mums, gigantic and colorful mums, are bought and sold by the - thousands.
Purchasing a mum at this time of year is as much a part of the autumnal ritual as enjoying apple cider and cheering your favorite football team
But are mums the best choice for our pollinators? My personal feeling is "no". Mum is not the word for our gardens. As with many popular garden plants, the garden mum, "hardy mum", is not native to this hemisphere. This member of the Aster family, Chrysanthemum morifolium is native to Asia and Europe. Fortunately, unlike many non-native plants, these mums do not seem to become invasive. One reason is they tend to be difficult to grow and require a fair amount of fertilizer and special care in order to succeed. They are also subject to various pests and diseases, including aster yellows and powdery mildew.
But what about our pollinators? If you observe a garden mum for any length of time you will notice that while the blooms are beautiful, very few pollinators visit the plants. I can only speculate, but I believe the blooms offer little in the way of pollen or nutrition and do not attract pollinators to them. Like many flowering plants, mums have been hybridized and cultivared solely for their looks and not for their ecological benefits.
Rather than making the annual pilgrimmage to the mum store, native plant alternatives abound, and several are blooming or about to bloom at this time of year, offering a multitude of choices!
Right now the Goldenrods are ablaze in brilliant yellows. The New England Asters offer purples and on occasion pink. Black Eyed Susans continue their blossoming. These plants offer excellent nutrition for our migrating Monarchs and other insects, and bloom at the perfect time - when they are most needed. They require little care, and once established these perinnials will bring gorgeous color for years to come.
In addition, by leaving the stems standing through the winter you will provide shelter for various bees and insects that rely on the stems for overwintering purposes. The dead plants will also provide cover for native wildlife, creating a great habitat in your yard.
For more information on alternatives to the garden mum, visit the Grow Native website, www.grownative.org - and enjoy your autumn blossoms!