Growing Heirloom Chrysanthemums
Growing mums is a great way to extend your growing season. These flowers bloom in late fall when everything else has fizzled out in the garden. Keeping in mind, since they bloom so late in the season (Between Oct-Nov), they need to have proper protection to keep them from the elements. Here in upstate, NY our first frost date falls around the second week of October (sometimes earlier). While these plants are pretty resilient to frost and cold temperatures, it's the blooms we worry about and want to protect. Once these plants start to bud up, we want to make sure they are covered properly so we can ensure a beautiful harvest come late October/early November.
Every season we order in new mum plugs in the spring. Our favorite company we order from is King's Mums. They have a great selection of heirloom varieties that will be sure to stop you in your tracks. I never used to like mums much. I actually used to despise them. Starting out, I worked as a grocery store florist and couldn't stand using the traditional mums in design work. They were always so stiff and I was tired of using the same old, same old. I was skeptical about growing mums at first, but once I started seeing all the gorgeous instagram photos of these unusual heirloom varieties, I knew I had to get my hands on them!
Pictured: Fleur De Lis
Every spring we get our plugs in around the second week of March. When ordering, we actually only order 1 plant of each variety we like. Since they are a heirloom variety, they are not patent protected, which means that we can propagate them. Propagation is actually pretty simple. Once the plugs come in, we pot them up and let them grow big enough to take cuttings from them. From a plug plant, you may not get a ton of cuttings so it's good to also overwinter mother plants.
At the end of each season, we dig up mother plants and pot them back up in pots. We cut them back and store them inside our house next to every window we have. It's kind of chaotic in our house during the winter months, between all of the house plants, scented geraniums and mum plants, every window is filled. The next hardest thing is remembering to water them all! ha!
The first week of March is when we start the propagation house up and that's when all the mother plants get brought in and prepared for cuttings. We cut about 3in stems, stripe the bottom leaves off, dip them in a rooting hormone and place them in a tray of perlite/vermiculite mix. The tray then gets covered with plastic or a dome and gets constantly misted about 3-4 times a day. The plastic helps keep everything moist, but I have also had success without using a dome or plastic. As long as you keep misting the cuttings, they should root. Chrysanthemums root fairly easy, so if you have never rooted anything before, this is a good plant to practice on.
Picured: Lili Gallon
Cuttings are grown on in small pots in the greenhouse until the last weekend in May when it's time to plant the field. I make sure to plant all the mums together in two rows that our caterpillar tunnel fits over. The tunnel doesn't get installed until September when the nights get cooler and we start to prepare for our first frost.
The caterpillar tunnel we use is fairly easy to set-up and pretty inexpensive compared to your typical high tunnel costs. The best part about it is that you can easily move it and take it apart before winter arrives. I will write another blog post explaining more about how to construct one of these simple tunnels soon.
Pictured: Caterpillar Hoophouse
Pictured: Mums in hoophouse budded up
You really can not grow mums without some kind of protection. The first season I tried growing them, I thought I could get away with just throwing remay over them to protect them. While the plants themselves lived, I never saw a bloom that season.
With the tunnel up, we even go one step further and cover the plants with a double layer of remay under the tunnel. This can be a very tedious job when the plants are all budded up and these heavy stems are toppling all over the place. We reconmend that the plants be staked or netted to prevent stems from breaking and flopping. I will say, that if you use netting, it can be very difficult to harvest. I don't mind curvy stems for my design work so I have gotten away from using the netting. If we were selling to florists, this would be a different story.
Pictured: Judith Baker
Since our season is short in NY, we try to order particular varieties that bloom earliest. That being said, we are still able to extend our flower season into Thanksgiving with these blooms. Chrysanthemums have an amazing vase life. We host Halloween and Thanksgiving centerpiece workshops and people claim to enjoy their arrangements into December! Customers really love seeing all the unique and interesting mums, they are far different than your traditional grocery store mum and last longer too!
Pictured: Evening Glow
Looking through mum catalogs can be tricky because sometimes the catalog just doesn't do the mum variety justice. It really helps to see photos of the blooms from other farmers who are growing it. To help growers find new varieties to try, I created the hashtag #heirloommumweek on instagram. It is a compilation of images that myself and other growers have posted to. It really helps get a clear idea of what the variety will look like and gets people excited to try new mums!
Please feel free to post some of your beautiful mum photos using the hashtag, #heirloommumweek. I love seeing what everyone is growing! This season I am excited to try the following varieties; Bronze Fleece, King's Delight and Seaton's Galaxy.
Pictured: Judith Baker
Pictured: Apricot Alexis
Pictured: Seaton's J'Dore, Moira, Fleur de Lis
Of course I am always excited to see Seaton's J'Dore every season along with my new favorite, River City. Growing chrysanthemums really puts a smile on my face. When everything else in the field has withered away, I look to the mums to fill me with joy.
Again, for more mum eye candy, head over to instagram and check out hashtag #heirloommumweek. There you can find a ton of beautiful photos to inspire you.