Grow to show

Article originally published by: Kiwi Gardener

President of the Auckland Chrysanthemum and Dahlia Society, 
Graham Attwood explains how to grow show-stopping chrysanthemums.

In autumn, you can start preparing prizewinning chrysanthemums. The “mums” are in bloom, but once they have finished flowering, you can set to the following tasks, to make next year’s stems showstoppers. Cut chrysanthemums down to size after flowering, to encourage new and fresh growth in the spring. The stools, as they are called, should be kept clean to protect them from all the creepy-crawly critters that enjoy a meal of tender fresh growth (a spray is always helpful).

August will see new growth on the stools. When this has grown to at least 100mm, take your cuttings for the new season. To test if the new shoot is ready, bend it at the 100mm mark – it should snap off cleanly. Some cultivars respond more quickly than others and take some time to reach this height, so don’t be disappointed at the start; patience is a great thing, nature will look after that situation for you. Remove the bottom few leaves from the cutting (roughly half its length), then dip it in a commercial cutting compound ready to be placed in the potting mix.

Choose a small, easily transportable box and fill to 75mm with good-quality potting mix, a third of which should be coarse sand or pumice. Ensure the mix is moist. With a knife or pencil, create a hole and insert the cutting. Fill in around the cutting until the mix surrounds the stem completely. Place a tag with the date and variety alongside the cutting. Cover the box with a layer of newspaper and set aside in the shade house and out of direct sunlight. A mist spray will be all that is needed.

In three to four weeks, these cuttings will be nicely rooted and ready to be transplanted into a small container, no bigger than a breakfast cup (approximately 7cm in diameter). After a few more weeks, cuttings will be large enough for a 13cm pot and their final home will be one 26cm in diameter.

Each time the plant is transplanted, roots should be tight enough to hold the mix together. When roots appear through the holes in the pot’s base, it’s time to go up a size. Top up the new pot with good-quality fertiliser – well-composted farm manure is a helpful addition, and, once in their final pots, keep plants moist and sheltered from the wind.

By the end of December, plants will be ready for stopping. This means removing the top of the plant so it will grow some side shoots, which in turn will be stopped again. The aim is to finish up with five or six good strong leaders on the smaller cultivars, or only one or two on the giants. The plants will require staking, and side shoots should be removed as they appear at the base of each leaf.

Early autumn, the plants will start to form a crown of buds at the top of each stem. There will be one bud in the centre and that is the one to keep, the others are all removed by a gentle breaking movement with the thumb. The secured bud will take approximately six weeks to bloom. When the bloom starts to show colour, the plant needs to be placed under cover to stop any weather damage.

Show time! The blooms are best picked in the early morning, with a stem of 450mm. Place in a carry tray with a small container of water, and tie to the support built into the carrying tray. Care needs to be taken during this process as you have spent a lot of time to get your blooms to this stage. Some growers will spend up to six hours on the road travelling to a show.

At the show venue, blooms are placed in vases. The rules for any particular class require one, three or five blooms per vase. Vases are then placed on the show bench in their class. The show room is a sight to behold and gives the grower a great deal of satisfaction to see the combined efforts of a group of like-minded gardeners.

There are many variations to the process described here, but the aim is one in the same. For further help, we would encourage you to join a chrysanthemum society in your area to learn about and grow these magnificent flowers, as well as nurture new friendships.

Please be aware range will vary by Mitre 10 store.

Preparing to take cuttings.
Removing cutting.
The bottom few leaves should be removed.
Ready to be dipped into cutting compound.
Nestled in its new home.
Make sure to name and date each cutting.
These are ready for their final home.
Blooms on show at Wanganui.