George says: grow chrysanthemums
I associate chrysanthemums with autumn, and their distinctive scent seems to evoke memories of bonfires and my birthday, which is in October.
At the beginning of the wartime best-seller Mrs Miniver, it describes her coming away from the flower stall with a “big sheaf of chrysanthemums”. She has bought the big mop-headed ones, which I love too. I can remember my mother buying big bunches of these chrysanthemums when I was a child, but these days, the prices have rocketed, compared to spray chrysanths.
If you are lucky enough to have visited New England in the fall, you will have seen pumpkins and chrysanthemums decorating white clapboard houses for Halloween. All the garden centres there are full of them in autumn – huge great pots of yellow, orange, burgundy, purple and pink.
But as George says, they don’t have to be an autumn event – you can grow them year-round.
There are chrysanthemums for all seasons. They come in many colours and have different characteristics; they are good for cut flowers, thrive in containers and make great exhibition flowers both for entries in village shows and for nurserymen to exhibit at the big flower shows such as Chelsea, Tatton Park (above), Shrewsbury and Southport.
If you wish to grow chrysanthemums for exhibition, then you will need to purchase named varieties of the reflexed and incurved types. For cut flowers it’s the spray type varieties, then there are the outdoor types for planting in the garden or containers.
Whichever type you decide upon, the preparation for planting is a good loamy soil with plenty of humus added, and not compacted. The same applies to containers. People very often purchase a ready-grown plant just coming into bloom in September and plant in a container for end-of-season colour.
Planting takes place at the end of May. Space the young plants 2ft apart and insert a stake for stability. As the plant grows, it will need regular tying in.
When the young plant is 8ins high, remove the tip. This will encourage shoots to appear from the leaf axils, and for exhibition purposes (or if you want large blooms) only allow two shoots. When the plants starts to show flower buds, then it’s time for disbudding by removing the buds around the main head.
To create large blooms you need plenty of humus around the base of the plant. The more nutrition the bigger the bloom will develop. When the large bud swells and you can see colour, it’s time to place a greaseproof bag over the top. This will give protection from the rain, but you will need to inspect your bloom for dampness or earwigs, so every two days untie the bag and have a look.
If you wish to grow spray chrysanthemums in the garden or for cut flowers, you will need to buy varieties in your choice of colours which will produce a mass of flowers. The procedure for preparation of soil and staking is the same as for growing exhibition blooms, but one variation is to remove the leading centre bud when it appears. This will give you a more even spray of blooms, or you can just leave for garden colour appeal.
There are dwarf varieties suitable for growing in containers which come in single or double-flowered types, and again high nutrition is required for good growth, but you can let the plant develop in its natural form.
In Holland and Belgium, they grow thousands of chrysanthemums in pots for the September/October period. It’s an annual tradition in these countries to put them on war graves but the growers also sell to markets and the plants are popular for autumn colour in containers.
In the autumn you will need to dig up the rootstock or stool, trim off all the foliage, leaving a 3ins stem. Shake off all the soil, then place in a tray with a multipurpose compost, then sprinkle extra soil covering the roots, store in a frost-free environment and just keep the soil moist.
In February if you have a greenhouse and wish to take cuttings then bring your tray of stools to the light and water well. Within three to four weeks young shoots will appear, then you snip off at the base and place in a small propagator to root. When rooted place in a small pot for growing on, and planting again at the end of May.
When your exhibition blooms are ready to come into flower, you need to be mindful of the earwigs. Fill several pots with dry grass and place them upside down on canes around your chrysanthemums. Hopefully the earwigs will run up the canes, then you can collect many in the morning.
Other pests to watch out for are leaf miner, plus powdery mildew in dry conditions outside, and red spider in greenhouses.
There are varieties of chrysanthemum that can be grown in a small greenhouse for flowering around Christmas time but I feel you need to be a real enthusiast to be involved.
Five years ago, everybody was buying potted chrysanthemums for indoor colour. How fashions change! It’s all about having orchids now, which has meant big changes in commercial production.
Nowadays it’s all about all year-round production on a vast scale for cut flowers using curtains and lights to mimic the correct season with computer-controlled environment, a whole world of complexity in itself.
In the land of the rising sun (Japan) chrysanthemums are a feature and adored by everyone. Here are some great pictures of how they show off their blooms.