Each year I say I am not going to buy many mums, and each year I see a variety that I cannot pass up. I never realized until a couple of years ago when I began to research certain varieties that there are certain bloom times. There are early season varieties, middle and late, so if you are going to spend the money it is worthwhile to span the fall season. I see many people walking out with plants in total bloom and know that they will not be pretty for very long. Select your mums when the buds are still tight with just a few opening up so you can see the color.
Helga is an early mum in a creamy white. The insects seem to leave this one alone and it blooms for a long period of time. I also have had luck with Helga returning for a couple of years.
The pale colors and dark tones look lovely up close, but if you want your mums to pop out of the landscape from any distance, choose the bright yellows and oranges. I love white mums or creamy colors, but some of the pure whites attract slugs at night.
I have begun to use some perennials in my containers in the fall. Sedums, like Vera Jameson look wonderful hanging over the edges of a containers, ajugas, cabbages, sedge grasses, some bright orange pansies all look great and all can be transplanted to the garden late in the season. I have my Vera Jameson from last year hanging over my vegetable garden.
Upright White Peacock Cabbage
Yellow Stemmed Swiss Chard
In the landscape, cabbages will hold up until December and some of the pansies are guaranteed to come back in the spring. http://www.plugconnection.com/downloads/mums-f2008.pdf This is a link that will give you an extensive list of mums, their chacteristics and bloom times.
If you must have mums, and I will probably give in and buy a few, bring your list with you of the bloom times so you can have them throughout the fall season.