National Chrysanthemum Society
Easy Earlies by Ken Dear (first published in 1999 Autumn Bulletin)
Growing chrysanthemums for exhibition can be highly technical and time consuming. However they are adaptable flowers and winners may be had from simple methods. Small growers such as novices, those with limited time or senior members with reduced strength can produce excellent results using labour saving methods. Early flowering chrysanthemums for exhibition include sprays, garden/cushion mums or disbudded blooms (one bloom to each flowering stem). We shall concentrate on the latter for now although the same methods are usable for the other types. Small growers of 100 plants or so may grow exhibition earlies in:
1. The open ground
2. Pots or containers
It helps to look at cultivation like a chrysanthemum clock with 12 important jobs.
The clock is continuous from season to season and you can start anywhere, but for me the season starts with stock selection.
The various jobs can be described briefly as follows:
Stock Selection - Make sure we only grow the best plants of a particular cultivar
Overwintering - Keeping this years plants to give next years cuttings.
Planning - What cultivars to grow, how many and which classes to aim for.
Propagation - Taking and rooting cuttings
Growing On - From rooted cuttings to plants for planting out or potting on.
Planting Out - Moving plants into their final flowering quarters.
Watering - Keeping the plants in the condition we want.
Pest Control - Preventing insects. fungi and diseases.
Training - Normally called stopping and disbudding i.e. making the plant
grow how we want.
Feeding - Giving the plants just what they need
Bloom Protection - Flowering to give the best possible results.
Showing - A big job: putting the blooms in the show.
In this article we will cover up to watering and the remainder
in a second article 'Easy Earlies part 2.
During flowering we should mark the plants that have given the best results. Mark these with twist its round the bottom of the stems: 3 for the best to 1 for okay. Only these stools are kept to take cuttings of in the spring. We should never propagate from poor plants.
After flowering and selecting the best generally about mid October), cut the stems to about 12 inches Carefully trim any green shoots to soil level and these will produce our new cuttings. Dig up the plants, called stools. trim and wash the roots and box up in fresh compost. Mushroom boxes from the supermarket are ideal. If you have grown in pots trim as above and either save in the pots or cut into cubes (5" x 5" x 4") and box up in fresh compost. In all cases the stools may be washed in dilute disinfectant such as Jeyes Fluid or Armatillox. After boxing the stools lightly water and place in a cold frame or cold greenhouse during winter and keep on the dry side. The stools are bought back in late December watered and given some heat (say 45 deg F). If you have a small number of plants a house window sill can be used, Home made or purchased bottom heat propagators are ideal.
This is usually done several times during the winter and is very enjoyable. Get as many catalogues and schedules as possible and go to club lectures. Ask local growers which cultivars do well in your area. Try to decide which classes you might realistically aim to show in and if you grow a small number specialise in one type or size. However if you are a new grower try all types to see which do best in your ground by your methods. There are three main types: incurves, intermediates or reflexes with large or medium sizes. So if you're a beginner growing say 50 plants, grow five plants of 10 cultivars across all sections. If you are specialising, all the cultivars would be in that section e.g. medium intermediates. Reflexes generally grow better in the open ground so if you're using pots stick to incurves or intermediates. In my experience reflexes perform quite well in grow bags so this method is worth trying.
Plants may be obtained from a number of sources. Specialist nurseries such as H. Walker. Woolmans and Frank Charlton and John Peace regularly advertise in our Bulletins and are the main suppliers. If you're growing a few plants you could buy in every year to save time. However if you are going to grow for some time, or larger numbers and to improve your stock. its best to take your own cuttings.
Again a home made or purchased propagator will be a great help. Having bought the stools in from the cold and started them into growth in December, the first cuttings should be ready to take in late January to early February. Cuttings are rooted in much the same way as fuchsias or geraniums. A bottom temperature of ca. 15 deg C. with an air temperature of 5 deg C.
Shoots of 2" - 3" are snapped off just below a leaf joint, dipped in hormone rooting powder or solution and put into boxes of compost (50/50 peat/sand) and watered thoroughly. The cuttings are in inserted into holes made with the end of a pencil. Plastic trays with 40 cells readily available in DIY shops are ideal. A moist atmosphere above the cuttings can be easily achieved by draping a white plastic bin liner over them. Make sure the liner is shaken every day to remove excess water. Cuttings should root in 2 - 3 weeks and will then be ready to box up in seed trays or 3.5" pots.
Many composts can be used to pot on plants into 3.5" and later 5" pots prior to planting out. An easier method is to box up 12 to a full seed tray and then 6 in a mushroom box. For easy earlies commercial composts can be used to produce excellent plants. It is not always necessary to buy the most expensive. I have had very good results using B&O and Sainsbury's Homebase composts for both earlies and lates at this stage. A couple of tips to produce the best results are:
1. Always buy as big a bag as you can, so all your plants are in the same compost as this way you get a even batch of results.
2. If you add 25% sand grit or perlite to the compost this will improve drainage and make watering easier.
Rooted cuttings are potted on or boxed up in the same way as other plants. Water them the day before and make sure your compost is moist. They should also be lightly watered after potting on and placed on the bench in the greenhouse or cold frame. From the end of March they will do much better in cool conditions with plenty of air. Only water when plants are flagging as we must strive to ensure the strongest root systems. Keep the plants in the cold frames in boxes or pots until planting out time. It may be necessary to pot up to 5" pots if the plants fill the 3.5" pots till planting out in early May.
Traditionally plants are given their own beds or plots of open ground. Using this method produce a bed with a nice filth similar to that made ready for vegetables and rake in 4ozs. of a general purpose fertilizer ( e,g. Growmore or Vitax Q4). 2 - 3 weeks before planting. Plant in early May, when frosts are past, 15" - 18" apart in double rows with 24" paths. Use a trowel and plant with the root ball just below ground level. Each plant should be tied to a 4ft cane with twine or twist its.
We can grow earlies in many other types of containers. We may use any container approximating to a 9" or 5lt. pot as long as it has drain holes. Use the composts mentioned earlier and pot on in the usual way. It's more important at this stage to ensure your plants are well watered the night before. Also make sure your pots are thoroughly clean. If we pot into a nicely moist compost the plants may be left unwatered for at least 10 days. This helps to give better root action.
I have grown earlies in growbags with very good results, They can be grown two to a bag in a conventional manner ensuring slits are made in the base for drainaqe. Probably a better way to use them is to cut them in half sideways and to stand them on their bottoms like a flexipot. Make sure you make slits for drainage. At 99p each this is a cheap method of growing and don't forget you can use the growbag contents as the cheapest source of compost for other containers.
In a later article we will look in more detail at covering earlies during flowering. If you are growing say 50 plants in a bed you will probably need to erect some form of structure. One of the advantages of growing plants in containers is that they ran be moved into the greenhouse or conservatory during flowering.
Plant in the open ground with a spacing of 15" - 18", in double, rows wth a 24" Path between. Plant with a trowel, placing the rootball half an inch below ground level, Each plant Should be tied to a 4ft - 5ft cane with a twist-it or string.
I consider this to be a most important task if we are to obtain winning blooms. Particularly in the early stages it should be carried out carefully to ensure our plants have strong root systems. So only water plants that are flagging particularly in the morning, When water is given we should ensure all compost is dampened. In the case of soilless composts we may need to water again after 20 minutes to ensure all compost is damp. We need to carry out this type of watering routine up until the buds are secured. From this point on the compost should be kept slightly damp right through to the finished flower. Better flowers are produced if we make sure adequate water supplies are available at this stage.
Throughout the summer during warm conditions overhead spraying will do nothing but good helping the plants, to stay cool.
In the next article we will continue the story of cultivation and consider what cultivars may give you the best results. But if you can't wait?! Here are some I would try:
John Wingfield and sports
Courtier and sports
Chessington and sports
Venice and sports
Gingernut and Yellow Gingernut
Matlock and sports
Please note: some of the products and suppliers mentioned in this article may no longer be available.