How to grow Chrysanthemums
Chrysanthemums, called by their oriental developers “the flower of Royalty”, have been steadily blossoming their way upward in the American garden’s social scale for more than 50 years. Already mums were well on their way when Dad bought Mother a giant yellow one to wear to the big game right after they got engaged in college.
Blooming as they do from August to early December (in the milder cool areas) the new cushion mums fend off for about three months the impending horticultural desolation.
The gardeners who grew these sturdy flowers 25 centuries ago in China and Japan and elsewhere would hardly recognize today’s magnificent colors and 15 types of bloom.
The Greeks named it. They took the words chrysos (golden) and anthemon (flower) and got chrysanthemum.
Today’s beautiful varieties, as colorful as roses, have come a long way. They are golden, of course, but also yellow, bronze, red, purple, magenta, blue and a host of other delightful shades. Growing together in a giant field at the nursery they remind enchanted visitors of a giant oriental rug.
We got into chrysanthemum culture through our local Garden Club. Anyone interested was asked to volunteer as “testers” for some of the big nurseries who wanted their new types of plants grown rather carefully under typical garden conditions.
Some of our members took roses, some took lilies. I decided on chrysanthemums because my eyes had been opened wide on a visit the year before to a chrysanthemum nursery here in Connecticut. We could just see out garden alive with color and perhaps some of the area around our little stone house enhanced with the bright blooms as foundation plantings. We had bought many plants for $1 and $1.50 and liked them so much we wanted more.
When our first, tiny cuttings arrived they did not look as if they had great bloom potentials in their small, pot-shaped balls of earth. But they were beautifully packed for their parcel post trip.
Each earth ball was wrapped in aluminum foil to retain as much original moisture as possible. Then it was placed in one of a series of compartments in a heavy, card-board box tightly bound with copper-covered wire.
Couldn’t Go Wrong
We couldn’t go wrong with them because, inside the package, was a printed instruction sheet. It aimed to get us off to fool-proof start—and it did. We read it carefully and then pasted it on the kitchen cabinet.
“Spade the soil for chrysanthemums thoroughly, working in peat moss or well-rotted manure. Space plants about 18 inches apart. Dig hole large enough so that the ball of earth containing the roots just fits into it without crowding. Make the hole deep enough so that the top of the ball is covered with one-half inch of soil. Pack the soil firmly around the ball and soak thoroughly soaked. Also shade each plant from hot sun for two or three days after planting. Soak once a week during dry weather. Light daily sprinklings are injurious.
“For bushier plants and greater success you should remove all but three new shoots per square foot. Pinch these new shoots about the 15th of May, again on the 15th of June, and for the last time about a month later. If you have just acquired you mums this spring the shoots should still be removed in June and July. Chrysanthemums will give you continuous color in your garden even after hard freezing weather.
“When chrysanthemums have finished blooming in the fall, they should be covered with two or three inches of straw or other light material. Do not remove any top at this time. The dead top can be cut back to ground level in the spring when the straw is removed.”
Those instructions got us off to a good start. We did just what the man said. By autumn, when they burst into strikingly beautiful bloom, those insignificant cuttings of early spring had won us over entirely to chrysanthemum culture.
We have chanted their praises ever since. Not only have we extolled their beauty, emphasized their simple care, but we have persuaded friends and neighbors to plant them to push back a little certain desolation of late fall and winter. And we have spread the faith with welcome bouquets of vivid color taken to the office and distributed to friends even to the sick. Everywhere they evoked tremendous admiration.
But all has not been smooth sailing. A little cockiness crept in to upset the chrysanthemum cart. Some misguided “expert”—and you’ll always find a few hanging around the fringes of success, no matter how small—told us to forget the mulch. Our plants wouldn’t need it.
Every Plant Died
So we skipped the mulch—and every danged plant died.
We were so saddened by our folly that we told all. The company forgave us and sent us new plants in the spring. And this time, so help us, we mulched with some four inches of material—brush chippings which we have found excellent.
Again, come spring, we feared that even mulch had not “wintered” them. Most of our perennials were well up in the garden, but no chrysanthemums. Again had we goofed? We kept recalling the words of an older friend and a master gardener. He had said, sadly:
“You’ll never get those new varieties to winter over unless you lift them and store them in your cold frame.”
We’d hoped he’d been wrong. And that hope bore fruit. Pretty soon our plants began poking up their heads. Then we knew. Since chrysanthemums are fall bloomers, they can be pardoned for sleeping a little later in the spring.
And we didn’t move that mulch. We just left space for the new stalks and this was pure luck. The past year in Connecticut has been the driest in more than a century. So you can see what mulch meant. (It always pays to mulch.)
Today, with our plants well established, our first blooms begin coming along toward the end of August, though we may get a few scattered ones before. Since we have not—as yet—followed the practice of pinching back our plants, as perhaps we should, our blooms are in sprays about two feet long. We just happen to like them that way. The blooms are the size of a silver dollar—and beautifully formed. Next year, however, we plan to have two plots and compare the pinched with the unpinched.
Cushion mums, as most of us know, can be grown to almost any reasonable size in the outdoor garden, even the big ones that grace the football games. These are developed by permitting one or two blooms per plant. The energy channeled in this way makes bigger flowers.
A Few Fundamentals
You’ll grow beautiful flowers, too, if you follow a few fundamentals such as these:
Chrysanthemums don’t like wet feet. Since they are shallow-rooted, chrysanthemums get their moisture from the six-inch area at the top of the ground where their roots feed. If the plot does not drain well, forget it and find one where the soil is watered and dried by the regular action of rain and sun.
Chrysanthemums like it cool. Coolness is basic in growing chrysanthemums. They prefer latitude that gets consistently cold in the fall. The men who study such things at our leading experiment stations have found that plants thrive best on a 60-degree temperature. At that heat the plant makes proper formation of buds.
Chrysanthemums do better if divided. After plants become mature, they form clumps of roots. The clump is called a “stool.” These stools are made up of thick, underground stems called stolons. Along these stolons will be found most of the plant’s live roots.
Most of us who grow them are familiar with these stolon-shots for they tend to form a circle of new roots around our established plants. These shoots can do your plants in if they are not controlled. Left to themselves they eventually can give you a tangled growth instead of the plentiful flower you’d rather have. So the plant must be divided, but that is all to the good since it gives you more plants to set out somewhere else. It also gives you plants for your friends to place in their gardens and makes you feel good in promoting beauty wherever you can.
The way to divide is to plant a five and six inch section of stolon—one with a healthy, green shoot and strong roots—in a newly prepared chrysanthemums bed, a flat or a pot. If potted, it can later be transferred to the garden. The experts call this a “Dutch” cutting.
The important thing to remember is not to plant the Dutch cutting deeper in the ground than it was. Sometimes this stem seems too long and the temptation is to shorten it a bit by burying it “just a little deeper.”
Most of us are more familiar with softwood cutting that our parents made from chrysanthemums. For these, you snip the top three or four inches of new and healthy growth and root them in builders’ sand, vermiculite or sphagnum moss. The trick here is to make certain that moisture is just right and that these soon-to-root cuttings are inserted deeply enough in the planting material. Again the coolness demanded by mature plants is the order of the day in coaxing your cuttings along to the transplanting stage.
Above all, we have discovered, ‘mums seem to thrive best on the organic method. We have always set our in a particularly rich spot where our compost pile formerly stood. That is why, we are convinced, and our plants were so sturdy, had a deeper green color and were free of pests. The flower color was brilliant, too.
And we discovered, on our first visit to our nearby chrysanthemum nursery, that there huge quantities of well-rotted leaves went into the soil on which the magnificent acreage of blooms grew that attracted thousands of flower lovers from all around.
Design a Chrysanthemum Garden
Whether you want giant exhibition blooms or a mass of color and beauty, start your mum garden plan now. Long after summer has gone, chrysanthemums challenge late autumn and winter with lavish blooms.
There's a garden full of difference in chrysanthemums. They capture the blazing beauty of the autumn woodlands with colors that stretch from frosty white to soft yellow, from golden amber and burnt orange through mauve, pink, magenta and true lavender.
You can fashion a glowing carpet with creeping cushion mums that grow 10 to 12 inches high, and spread two feet or more. When October's bright blue weather hides behind the clouds, and a chilly rain beats the garden, you'll be happy to have a few pompon or button chrysanthemums to hold their prim little heads straight and sturdy on stiff branches.
Include the anemone for a novel touch. The flowers are single with a curved crest of deep, colored petals. Or try the spoon group for sprays of striking, compact blossoms that grow in a bushy clump. Long-petalled decoratives will weave a vivid tapestry over the fall landscape. Productive, free-blooming plants will create feathery masses of bold color for pleasure outside, and for filling vases inside.
Chrysanthemums prefer it on the sunny side. They like to bask in the crisp, bright glow of Indian summer, shaking their shaggy heads as the days become shorter.
Spring is the ideal time to plant chrysanthemums, because the plants will have time to become established before blooming. However, while chrysanthemum foliage is substantial and a pleasant, dark green, it is rather monotonous from spring until September. Many gardeners like to wait until the flowers are ready to open before they place them in a prominent position. The secret is to water them thoroughly before and after moving. Keep those roots soaked, and they will stretch comfortably into the earth and settle themselves in u new location without complaint.
You will get the healthiest specimens from fertile, well-drained soil. So for erect stalks densely packed with spectacular flowers take pains with your soil preparation. Prepare the soil about 10 days before you are ready to plant. Dig and loosen it to a depth of about 8 inches. Work in peat moss, compost, or well-rotted manure — the more organic matter, the better. Then, immediately before you plant, respade the soil to kill weed seeds that have begun to sprout.
Next, dig a hole large enough to provide a spacious, new home for your chrysanthemum, Allow the roots to spread out. Be careful not to jam them into a narrow hole where they will be cramped. As you plant, press soil firmly around roots to avoid air pockets between roots and soil. Then water the plant, keeping the soil around the base of the plant really saturated for about a week.
Usually, the spring and summer rains will supply chrysanthemums with enough water. But be careful that you never allow them to become parched. During dry spells quench their thirst regularly with a deep, thorough drenching.
Plant low-growing, bushy varieties two to two and a half feet apart; plant cither mums one to one and a half feet apart Then mulch the plants with peat moss, straw, or a layer of evergreen boughs. Weeding will be easier and less necessary, and the chrysanthemum's shallow roots will be protected from scorching, summer sun.
Chrysanthemums are undemanding, adaptable plants that do not need coddling. But that doesn't mean that they don't need some attention. It is extremely important to pinch plants back at regular intervals to encourage branching. When they have reached a height of 6 to 8 inches, snip off the light-green growing tips in order to produce strong side branches. If you neglect to clip these tips, the plants will develop limp, spindly stems. Finch all shoots every two weeks until mid-July. In autumn, the mature plants will be husky and bushy with each branch producing clusters of freely blooming blossoms.
To achieve mammoth, exhibition blooms, large-flowered mums should be disbudded. When plants are approximately 6 inches tall, pinch out tlie growing tip. New shoots will soon emerge along the stem. Break off all but 3 of these newcomers. Permit the remaining ones to grow into brandies. When flower buds show, remove all except those on the top 3 inches of the branch.
As these top buds develop, examine the first or crown bud. When you are certain that it is healthy, pinch off all other buds. Do this by carefully bending the stem of the bud downward and sideward with your thumb. The stem should snap off easily at the point where it joins the branch.
If the terminal flower bud is injured, or looks as it' it will not develop, pinch it off and leave the second bud from the tip. Take care not to damage or break off the one flower bud that is left. A new one will not develop after you have taken the others off. Continue to remove side branches until flowering time. This method will produce giant mums and can be exciting to try with a few plants. However, for over-all garden effect, for huge drifts of color on the autumn landscape, a bevy of smaller flowers is an eye-catching sight.
When in bloom, chrysanthemums will command your attention simply because they are too striking to overlook. However, after blooming they require a bit of care too. After plant tops die, cut them to the ground. Gather up fallen leaves and remove the mulch you applied in the spring. New shoots will start growing in late fall. Spread a new mulch to protect them for the winter.
Established chrysanthemums need to be divided every spring. This is the key to sturdy, prolific plants each year. After the last killing frost, lift plants out of the soil. You will discover that many smaller plants, each possessing its own roots, surround the original plant. Gently separate them, choosing the new outside ones to reset, and discard the woody center section.
Like many other garden favorites, chrysanthemums are prey to several disfiguring diseases. It is much easier to prevent these maladies than it is to cure them. So follow these few don'ts and do's for sound, vigorous plants:
These simple, common-sense precautions can do much to guarantee a brilliant autumn harvest. Chrysanthemums are among the most versatile and the most dependable perennials. They create a harmony of color and design that will keep your garden literally blanketed with bloom right up until winter skies cast a leaden shadow over the entire garden scene. Why not design a chrysanthemum garden of your own this year?
STEPS THAT INSURE SUCCESS WITH MUMS
1. DIG AND LOOSEN SOIL TO 8-INCH DEPTH.
A pinch in time makes your Chrysanthemums
Pinching back, the gardener's term for the very simple operation of removing the growing tip or top of the main stem or stems of a plant in order to induce the development of side branches lower down — is an old practice and a very simple one.
With few plants in the garden, and perhaps with no other perennial, is pinching back more essential than it is with Chrysanthemums.
Gardeners use the term "pinching back," rather than the more general term "pruning," because this type of pruning should be done while the growth to be removed is so immature that it is removed more readily with the thumbnail and forefinger than with pruning shears. In the case of Chrysanthemums, stem growth which has hardened to such an extent that pruning shears would be required to cut it should not be removed. Good shoots will not readily form below such a point.
To get stocky, self-supporting plants, with more bloom, pinch out the growing tips during early growth; first when main stems are 6 to 8 inches high; and new growths again (at black lines). Arrows show where new branches developed after pinching back outdoor Chrysanthemums is getting bushy, well-rounded plants which support themselves, instead of the tall, lanky growth characteristic of many varieties when left to themselves.
When should pinching back be done? It depends not on the calendar but on the stage of development of the plant. Newly purchased plants, often not delivered until late May or even early June, should be allowed to make 6 or 7 inches of new growth; then remove 1/2 inch to an inch or so from each tip.
The stronger lateral, or side, branches which result from this pinching will grow upward, and these, when 8 to 10 inches long, are pinched out at the tips. Plants that still show a tendency to grow tall and leggy may be pinched again up until mid-July to August. Later pinching will delay the formation of flower buds. The number of pinchings desirable will vary with the time of planting, the variety, and season. The more rapid and luxuriant the growth, the more pinching.
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