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Sheffield daisies bring a different color to the fall garden

Really a variety of mum, their soft pink flowers last through October

A clump of Sheffield daisies in mid-October. Photo by Ellen Barcel

November 01, 2011 | 01:21 PM
Autumn is a time of year when we think of bright colors — intense yellows and oranges and reds. Pumpkins are everywhere, leaves are becoming a blaze of color and mums, the flowers most closely associated with fall, come in the same color palate. Even the Chicken of the Woods fungus is a bright orange this time of year. The growing season is going out in a blaze of glory.

But then, there's the Sheffield daisy's delicate pink with yellow centers. I had some a number of years ago, given to me by a gardener friend of mine, but, expanding shade and encroaching evergreens made the area inhospitable. Soon my little mound got smaller and smaller, finally disappearing altogether. Recently, while driving to work, I saw a large patch of them in all their autumn beauty.

If you have room and are looking for a more delicate autumn color, they're ideal for fall color. Sheffield daisies aren't really daisies at all, but a variety of chrysanthemum. Chrysanthemum koreanum. 'Sheffield' is just one of the names I've come across. That should come as no surprise since daisies tend to bloom in summer and mums in fall and the Sheffield daisy is in full bloom in late September, October and even into November in a mild season.

Sheffield daisies, also known as Sheffield pinks and Dendranthema x rubellum, as I suggested before, need lots of sun. They grow best in zones 5 though 9 meaning they'll do very well on Long Island with it's zone 7. They have the added advantage of being somewhat drought-tolerant. That means less watering for you, the gardener. They make beautiful cut flowers and attract bees and butterflies to the garden. I have come across some information which suggests that they are deer-resistant, but not having a "deer problem," I can't attest to that personally. Remember, no plant is "deer-proof." If the deer are hungry enough, they'll eat almost anything.

Pruning Sheffield daisies follows the rule of 100, that is, allow at least 100 growing days from when you last prune them until when they are expected to bloom. In other words, prune them in late autumn, after they have finished blooming or in early spring, with July 4 being the cut-off date. Personally, I prefer not to prune in autumn as the assorted leaves and debris which collect around the base of the plants seems to act as insulation against the winter's cold.

Rich, well-drained soil is ideal, so amend your bed with compost. Sheffield daisies reach two to three feet tall and easily as wide so space out the new plants. Soil preference is for mildly acidic to mildly alkaline. If your soil is very acidic you might want to add some lime.

Propagating, as with most perennials, is best done by dividing the clump in spring every three or four years, whenever it seems overgrown. Stem cuttings can also be made to root. I did come across a notation that while some will produce seeds, the seeds don't necessarily breed true.

I've found a number of vendors that sell Sheffield daisies, but one was most interesting. It was selling five varieties of descendent mums under the name "Global Warming Mums." They were named that due to their late bloom time, late October, when many other mums were past their prime. Colors of the Global Warming Mums ranged from the pale pink ('Pink Dawn') so typical of Sheffield daisies to a burnt orange ('Rustic Glow') to an autumn red ('Glowing Embers').

Ellen Barcel is a freelance writer and master gardener. To reach Cornell Cooperative Extension and its Master Gardener Program, call 727-7850.

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