National Chrysanthemum Society
Easy Earlies - part two
by Ken Dear
In the previous article we more or less covered the early part of the season. This article will take us to the Show, which for many of us is the highlight of the season. It's important to continue to pay attention to jobs at the right time and I would also recommend keeping a diary. Then in the winter you can study your records and plan for the next season. I would make note of dates such as:
•When the cutting was taken
•Bud securing date
Other important information is cultivars grown and numbers; feeds applied; how the blooms performed; spraying carried out and what happened, and finally the shows themselves - how you did and what did you see you liked. You can then relive the whole season again later!
Pest and Disease Control
To have our blooms in the best possible condition we must prevent pests and diseases harming our plants. This is not always easy. It helps to have somebody to advise you and it is worth joining your local society for this one reason. Failing that you can always phone the NCS office. Black fly, white rust, caterpillars and earwigs usually give the most problems. PBI Systhane sprayed at 14-day intervals in spring and autumn is the best treatment for white rust. The new Levington plant protection compost is very effective all season for black fly and helps with other pests such as thrips and weevils. Although more expensive it makes sense to use it if you are growing a few plants. Alternatively use at the first potting for early season control. For general spraying I use Sybol, Tumblebug, and Malathion for pests and Nimrod-T for fungus diseases . Malathion keeps earwigs away and Tumblebug or Picket will help to reduce caterpillars. In addition earwigs and caterpillars can be captured with fingers or tweezers after dark using a torch. This also satisfies our hunting instincts and entertains the neighbours.
Known in the chrysanthemum world as Stopping and Timing. These techniques enable us to produce blooms at the right time with the best quality. Chrysanthemums grow with side shoots, which eventually produce buds. Our aim with earlies is to have2-3 blooms per plant at showtime or for cutting.
First stopping and then disbudding achieve this. Depending on the cultivar stopping is carried out from April to mid-May. At the required date the very tip of the growing plant is removed. This stops the plant growing upwards and causes side shoots to form. Some time after stopping (usually2-3 weeks), these side shoots are removed to leave the 2-3 strongest. These side shoots are generally at the top of the plant and ultimately carry our flowers. Stopping of a cultivar is carried out on it's Stopping date. They can be found in catalogues and the NCS Northern Group publishes a small booklet of stopping dates for a large number of cultivars. These dates vary with area and aspect and are guidance until you can identify your own. Again ask the help of a local grower.
After stopping our plant is growing nicely with 2-3 breaks (side shoots or laterals). These are tied in regularly and eventually more side shoots grow in the leaf joints. In time a bud forms at the end of each break called a terminal bud. This is the one to produce our best flower. All others are removed to ensure maximum development of our main bud. These side shoots or buds are removed gradually, as the plant grows. In late June or early July 5 or 6 side buds are left. These are removed gradually over a few days until the terminal bud remains. This bud is now said to be secured, or taken. This last term is confusing, as the bud must be left on the stem to flower. This process is called disbudding.
This should be kept as simple as possible, especially when you're just starting to grow. In the future you will find some cultivars need alternative methods. You will also find your grow some much better than others!!
We use solid or liquid fertilizers for feeding. Solid feeds are used for applying before planting in open ground (base dressings). They are normally slow acting and last a long time. Liquid feeds are fast acting and can be used for pot growing where we need more control over our plants.
Two or three weeks before planting, a base dressing of a general fertilizer is applied to the chrysanthemum bed and hoed in the top few inches. Typical fertilizers used are:
Fertiliser/NPK N P K
Vitax Q4 5.3 7.5 10.0
Fish, blood & bone 6 7 6
Chempak BTD 6 8 10
After 2-3 years on the same plot it will only need to be fed with nitrogen. Nitroform or nitrochalk at 1 oz./sq.yd gives the best results. Plants in containers or growbags are best fed with liquid fertilizers by diluting a soluble powder or concentrated liquid in water. Always follow the maker's instructions. One exception is that better results may be obtained by feeding more frequently with weaker solutions. If they say feed weekly it is better to feed at 1h strength twice a week or'/4 strength four times a week.
Typical products are:
Balanced feeds - Vitax 101, Chempak3. These are used 4weeks after planting up to securing buds.
High N feeds - Vitax 301, Chempak 2. These are used from securing until colour show.
Protecting blooms from the weather is necessary during flowering for exhibition. Methods that can be used for small numbers are:
1. Bagging. Blooms are covered with greaseproof paper or plastic bags specially made for the purpose. The latter have holes for ventilation. Paper bags are not waterproof and need additional overhead protection. Two plastic bags inside each other and placed over a Mortis frame do prevent the majority of rain spoiling the blooms. Although expensive they last a long time and would be practical for a small grower. Mortis frames and bloom bags are available - refer to NCS Suppliers page for more details.
2. If your plants are in pots, they may be moved into a greenhouse
or conservatory for flowering. They will need a lot of ventilation
and shading to ensure cool conditions. One top exhibitor grew 50-60
earlies in a greenhouse and removed panes of glass from the sides
to improve ventilation.
3. The majority of growers use special beds with overhead protection.
Glass, corrugated plastic and rigid plastic sheets are all used. The simplest
method uses a white woven polythene tarpaulin stretched over a wooden
or slotted angle frame. The framework should be at least 8' at the apex
and 7' at the sides.
The tarpaulin has eyes along all edges and these are used to tie securely to
horizontal side rails. Tarpaulins of all sizes are available - refer to
NCS Suppliers page for more details.
The sides below the tarpaulin are filled in with Rokolene or similar windbreak. It is important that all methods of covering are applied as soon as the buds show colour.
For many of us this is the highlight of the season. Much advice is available particularly recommended is that found in the NCS publication "The Chrysanthemum Guide". Selection and Cutting, Transporting to the show and Staging are the three steps to showing.
Selection of the flowers to be cut is very important. For novice classes 3 blooms are generally required. It looks better if they are all the same cultivar, but by all means show whatever you have, as practice is important. Obtain the show schedules as early as you can and study them so you know what is needed. Before cutting look carefully at your blooms and use the following guides:
1. Don't cut blooms too young; wait until they have only a 1 " center still left to come out.
2. Match flowers as closely as possible in size, form and development.
3. Look for equal depth and breadth in blooms you are showing.
4. If you have a bloom of a cultivar bigger than others, show it on its own in a single bloom class. It will look out of place in a vase with smaller ones.
5. For stock selection mark the plants with the best blooms at cutting time.
6. Plan to show just a few vases at first so you have plenty of time to look round and gather experience.
Cutting should be carried out at least 24hrs. before the show and preferably 48 hrs. Fill 5gallon cans or florist buckets with water prior to cutting and place in the cool in a garage or shed. Use a vase full of water to place your blooms in immediately on cutting. Cut at ca. 26" long with secateurs, also making a cut lengthways in the bottom of the stem.
This helps the bloom to take up water. Strip the leaves from the bottom half of stem into a bucket. When you have cut 3or 4 take them too the cool buckets. It's always advisable to cut one or two spares to take to the show in case of accidents.
After the blooms have had a good drink it is an ideal time to look at them for dirty or damaged petals. Turn the blooms upside down and remove petals with tweezers or finger and thumb. Always practice on an unwanted flower first.
Milk crates, florist's buckets or 5-gallon drums, can be used to transport blooms to the show. Canes 18" long are fixed to the containers with insulating tape or old inner tubes. They should be no closer than 8". Milk crates will carry 6 flowers and canes are fixed at the positions shown:
If canes are placed around the edges of the crate they take up more room in the car. Blooms are fixed to canes using twist-its or better still pipe cleaners. Pipe cleaners are much easier to use and will not slip when transporting blooms. Many different ideas are used to carry flowers and you can study them at the show.
On arrival at the show first find a space to stage, bring your flowers in and then have a good look round. Watching what the other exhibitors are doing is the best way to learn. Find the vases and fill them with water, including 1 or 2 spares for staging. Get your entry cards from the show secretary and find the classes you are entering, asking help if necessary.
Now we need to stage our flowers i.e. place them in the vase for judging. 3 blooms in a vase may be shown with either 2 at the front or the back.
The latter way is generally preferred with the back blooms 25-26" from the bench to the top of the bloom.
The back two blooms need to be level from the front and side. The front bloom is two thirds of the way down the back flowers.
Try to match the size and depth of the back blooms. The smallest or shallowest bloom should be at the front. The back two blooms are cut the same size and placed in the vase. The front bloom is cut to the correct length and added carefully to the vase. You can check its position by placing it in an empty vase. When you are satisfied that they are in the correct positions, pack them in place with crumpled newspapers. Fill the vase with water and add 2-3 leaves to cover the newspaper. Place the vase carefully on the show bench in the correct class, together with name card and entry card. Ask a steward if you are not sure about anything. Now all you need to do is wait for the result!!
However you do, enjoy the show and vow to do better next time. By far the best way to learn about showing is to help your local society exhibit at major Group and National shows. You get to do all the jobs and learn very quickly. If you're lucky you get to share in the feeling of a successful team effort.