Caring for Fall Favorites

Fall is here, and mums and pumpkins are popping up on porches all around us. They are readily available at local garden centers, farmers markets and the big box stores. But, there are a few tricks to keep these treats lasting through the season.

For the longest bloom show, purchase mums that are at 50 percent bloom. They will just get better looking as the weeks pass. There is nothing wrong with a mum in full bloom; the flowers will fade before the fall season ends so you may need to freshen that porch display at some point.

Mums in bloom require a lot of water, so keeping them hydrated is important. The flowers are the first to wilt, then the foliage. Wilted flowers and foliage will come back, but those flowers will never be the same and will not last as long as we want. Part of the challenge is display placement. If the mums are in direct sunlight, more attention is required. Even if watered well, the sunlight will begin to fade those older blooms.

If you are going to plant the mums in the yard, then those in full bloom now make more sense. Enjoy the bloom early, when they have finished, cut all the bloom off and plant them. The longer the growing season for them, the better they will establish this fall.

For pumpkins and decorative gourds, having a stem on is important. The stem acts like a cork in the bottle, keeping everything inside. Pumpkins and gourds without the stem tend to shrink and shrivel at the stem end and later begin to rot. Pumpkins should not be handled by the stem, as it can break off.

There will be many pumpkins and gourds to pick from, so do not be in a hurry to load them up without looking at them. Avoid bruises, damaged rind, obvious sunken spots and watery looking lesions. Consider how you will be using them, is a flat bottom important or can they lay on their side. Carving them usually means you want a flat bottom. Once home, a light cleaning may be in order. If caked with dirt, a rough rag may be all that is necessary to clean the dirt off and put a bit of shine on the rind. One trick for keeping carved pumpkins looking good for several days (and nights) is coating the exposed cut surfaces with a petroleum jelly to retain moisture.

Thinking ahead, those winter squashes and some of those edible gourds later can be moved indoors for decorations or even later stored for eating in January through March if they have not already been served on Thanksgiving. As for the rest of the decorations – Indian corn, corn stalks and straw bales – they can last how they look at purchase longer and are lower maintenance.

About the author: Richard Hentschel’s expertise extends across several subject areas with specialties in lawn care, fruit tree production, woody ornamentals, and home and community gardening. During his 45-year career in horticulture and agriculture, Hentschel became a well-known and respected expert for commercial and homeowner audiences, industry organizations, and media. He retired from University of Illinois Extension in April 2022 with nearly 30 years of service as a Horticulture Specialist and Educator in northern Illinois.