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Chrysanthemums, Daisies & Dubious Information

What to do with Chrysanthemums and Montauk Daisies and when to do it; and more dubious information!
by Art Drysdale
by Art Drysdale


Art Drysdale, a life-long resident of Toronto and a horticulturist well known all across Canada, is now a resident of Parksville, British Columbia on Vancouver Island, just north of Nanaimo. He has reno-vated an old home and has a new garden there. His radio gardening vignettes are heard in south-western Ontario over radio station Easy 101 FM out of Tillsonburg at 2 PM weekdays.

Art also has his own website at

November 23, 2008

Back to a question this week. Noreen, writing from an unknown location says: “Hi Art.....I'm new here and want to ask a question regarding Mums.....Do you cut them down to the ground for the winter...? I can find nothing on the Internet to tell me what's what....Also, Montauk daisy's.....How far down to you cut them for the winter...? There is plenty of news about what to do to them in the early summer, but nothing (that I can find) for the winter....Please help.”

This is another example of not knowing the writer’s location causing a problem, because I am unsure of the hardiness of Chrysanthemums in the writer’s area. Let’s suppose most Chrysanthemums are hardy where she lives.

My first point would be whether or not she cuts any or all of her perennials down to the ground (or almost) in the fall, or whether she leaves them to be cut in the spring. My advice is always to leave virtually all of the cutting down until the spring. This way, if you do get some snow (whether large amounts or just dustings) the garden is much more attractive in winter with “mountains and valleys of snow” when the perennials are not cut down, vs. when the plants are all cut you have just a level non-undulating vista. The only exceptions to this, I think, are perennials such as Goldenrod (Solidago) which tend to scatter a way too many seeds which just infest the rest of the garden. Even then, only the seed pods need be removed before they mature. And, many herbaceous perennials produce nice seedpods that are not particularly going to cause over--production, yet provide the birds with good natural winter fodder.

Then there are a couple of other factors she should take into regard. One is that if the Chrysanthemums were newly planted this spring or summer, while they may live over the winter, they will likely grow much taller next year because the commercial grower likely treated them with a hormone which causes them to grow in a compact form. That treatment will not extend into the growth produced next year.

The second point is that in many climates, Chrysanthemums are easily able to live over the winter, possibly due to good snow cover; but they die in the early spring due to water-logged soil. This often happens when the plants grow in a heavy clay soil, or any soil that tends to be quite moist in the early spring. The ‘answer’ to this problem is to dig up a large clump of soil containing the roots of each plant--in late fall just before freeze-up. Then set all of these large clumps on top of the garden soil, possibly (but not necessarily) covering the soil clumps with a heavy layer of leaves. This alleviates the rotting problem and many gardeners have good success with this method.

As to your Montauk daisies (Nipponanthemum nipponicum, formerly known as Chrysanthemum nipponicum), many people in Canada are not all that familiar with them as they are not hardy in many areas. They originate from Long Island New York, and the flowers closely resemble those of the common Shasta daisies. The differences: foliage and stems are much thicker and succulent-like and left un-pruned, they often produce a large shrub-like plant. I think it is best to cut them down to within 20 cm (8 in.) of the ground in the early spring. That should cause the plants to put out new growth from the lower parts of the old stems you’ve left.

* * *

As some of you know, in addition to these weekly articles on, I also am available for a Chat session on this site on Sundays between 1 and 2:30 PM (approximately) which means all you need do is become a member (no cost and no extra e-mails!) and then sign into the Chat page around that time. Now, as you may have noted we have also added a new Voice Blog to the Home Page of this site, and I try to put about five new gardening vignettes onto that blog each week. At present we already have a small following of folks who listen into the blog, but no one yet has left a question there. I think once the idea has been going a little longer and folks become acquainted with it we’ll have even larger numbers ‘tuning in’ almost every day.

* * *

A few weeks back while on our Chat on a Sunday, I had to go to the Web to search for something fast, and happened across a site called Vitality Gardening, a part of Vitality Television, wherein the ‘expert’ appears to be Caroline Chartrand. On that Sunday, I made a note of one item that caught my eye: she was recommending planting a marigold plant in between each tomato plant so the marigolds would attract the insects to pollinate the tomato plants. Wow!

Now I have heard so-called organic gardeners recommending the planting of marigolds amongst vegetables before, but solely to prevent attacks by certain insects. Of course, when they make such recommendations, they absolutely never cite the evidence published by such as scientists and professors at the University of Guelph who long ago proved that the marigolds had absolutely no effect on whether or not the vegetables were attacked by insects. Now, there is some evidence that soil-borne insects such as deleterious nematodes (as opposed to positive nematodes sold to help eliminate insects such as black vine root weevil from rhododendrons or Japanese yews) can be controlled by the excessive planting of such plants as marigolds in the infected soil. But it certainly doesn’t happen overnight, or even over a season.

But to say to use marigolds to attract pollinating bees, that is a real stretch! First and foremost, I have never had it really demonstrated that tomato plants need anything to attract bees (or other insects) for pollination. In fact, they are often wind-pollinated. A quick check with some of those ardent balcony gardeners who grow tomato plants up as high as 20 or 30 stories in the air in Toronto will demonstrate that.

If one goes to the site mentioned, one finds a number of shaky and questionable recommendations and suggestions, particularly having to do with hardiness--far too many to mention here.

So, as with everything we see, read and hear now, especially on the Web, one must be careful to follow CNN’s news policy: all stories have to be verified by two reputable sources!

Caption: This shot of Montauk daisies is courtesy Robert F. Walter Jr. and Flickr.

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