Despite the hours I’ve spent with the 188 pots of chrysanthemums (mums) I’m growing for show, I’m forced to admit three types of failures.
First Failure: Bloom Matures Too Early to Show
I loved the picture of “Olympia”, a class 4 decorative mum, in the Kings Catalog. I quickly checked out the time span in which the flower was supposed to bloom: Oct. 15- Oct.28. The National Chrysanthemum Society Show is being held at the Sherman Library & Garden in Corona Del Mar, CA, on October 30 and 31, 2010. “The show’s only two days later than the time of bloom stated,” I thought. “That should work.”
So I ordered from King’s Mums catalog an Olympia mum cutting that arrived June first. I became a little anxious when Olympia’s buds began to grow in late July. The mum matured at a rapid speed. White color showed in the bud the middle of August. It’s the middle of September, and I must admit my failure. Olympia’s white petals sparkle against the dark green of her leaves. The mum flower is six inches wide and ready to show. But alas, six weeks too early for the National Chrysanthemum Society Show. It’s early bloom makes it failure number one.
Second Failure: Insect Infestation
My husband Gordon is in charge of watering, fertilizing, and spraying our mums for insects and worms. Every week he has faithfully donned his white mask and long sleeves, armed with multiple verities of fertilizer and insect repellent. He sprayed not only our mums, but all the flowers in our garden and the neighbors’ shrubs that grow along our common fence.
But those pesky little insects keep showing up. I walk through the garden every day looking for signs of bug or worm intruders on my mum’s stems and bud growth.
Just this week I discovered a mum plant stem covered with black, moving insects. Some crawled along the stem. Others munched on fresh buds hidden in the leaves. I quickly grabbed my spray bottle of Bayer Advanced Rose & Flower Insect Killer and drenched the creatures. Then I softly washed off the bug remains with water. One insect, dead or alive on a submitted mum show bloom, limits its ability to win a ribbon. Failure to prevent bug infestations is failure number two.
Third Failure: Crooked Stems
I bought a bag of 500 bamboo stakes 3/16 of an inch wide for my mums this year. Through careful pruning early in the growing stages, I allowed each mum plant to have only three stems, which I staked when they were about a foot tall. Then, by dis-budding regularly, I allowed only one mum to bloom on each stem. That single bloom may be anywhere from 4 to 8 inches in height and width, and quite heavy. Staking the stem helps it grow straight and tall, and supports the mum bloom during its maturing process.
So what happens when a mum’s stem isn’t staked early in the growing process? It grows according to its DNA-curving and crooked. The picture clearly shows the difference between a staked stem and one left to its own devises. Failure to stake when the mum plant was about a foot high is failure number three.
Can those mum failures be rectified? Number one failure, early bloom, not this year. I won’t grow “Olympia” next year. Instead I’ll order a cultivar with a later maturation date.
Number two failure, bug infestation, can be remedied with a good showering of insecticide and a frequent checking for those pesky critters.
Number three failure, crooked stem, can be remedied by staking the crooked stem immediately. It’s best to do it when the mum plant is sun-warmed, so that the stem bends easily.
Failures or not, each mum bloom is beautiful, a created gift from God. That’s what makes all the time I spend in the garden worthwhile.
Pat Stockett Johnston is an accredited judge for the National Chrysanthemum Society.
Show and Judges Handbook, National Chrysanthemum Society, Inc., U.S.A., 2007