Chrysanthemums Decorate Fall Gardens

San Antonio Express News
Sunday, October 17, 2004

By Lynn Rawe

Chrysanthemums are to fall gardens, what poinsettias are to Christmas. The history is long. The first known cultivation of chrysanthemums was in the 15th century B.C. in China. Chinese herbalists boiled chrysanthemum roots as a headache remedy, ate the sprouts and petals in salads, and brewed leaves to make a festive tea. The Chinese city of Chu-Hsien, which means Chrysanthemum City, was named to honor the flower.

Later in the 8th century A.D., the chrysanthemum appeared in Japan. The Japanese where so taken with the flower, they adopted a single flower as the crest and official seal of the Emperor. The Japanese even have a National Chrysanthemum Day, known as the Festival of Happiness.

In 1753, the chrysanthemum was introduced into the Western world by Karl Linnaeus. Linnaeus was a renowned Swedish botanist and founder of the branch of taxonomy dealing with plants and the science of identification and classification. He combined the Greek words “chrysos” meaning gold and “anthemon” meaning flower, to name this famous fall flower we know today as the chrysanthemum.

Chrysanthemums were first introduced into the United States during the colonial times. The first commercial production of mums began in the late 1940’s as florists began utilizing the flower in corsages. This long-lasting cut flower soon became a “household” word. Their beauty, durability and variety of colors available made “mums” highly favored by consumers and florists alike.

The chrysanthemum belongs to the Compositae, or daisy family. The petals are actually florets, or a small flower, usually in a dense cluster. There are many types and varieties of mums, from large “football corsage” mums that are 5-6 inches across to small “button” mums that are 1 inch across. There are the “spider” mums with their long, slender petals and petite daisy mums with different colored centers. The fall garden mum has become the most popular type of mum.

The fall garden mum blooms in an array of colors including white, yellow, pink, lavender, bronze and red. Mass plantings provide an outstanding display of color in fall gardens. Since mums are considered a “short day” plant, growers can manipulate the amount of darkness needed for the crop by using a “black out” cloth to prevent any light from disrupting the budding and flowering cycle. Light requirements will differ with varieties. Some varieties will set buds at 55 degrees, while others will need a warmer 60-62 degree range.

In order to develop a beautiful, marketable mum, some varieties will need to be disbudded. Each one of eight, ten or twelve stems is disbudded, leaving only the top bud to flower. This process can be costly for the grower as it is quite labor intensive. Other varieties require that the center bud be removed, but not the lateral ones. This all depends on variety selection.

Growers must carefully time their chrysanthemum crops to prepare for the right marketing date. This staple of the fall garden doesn’t “just happen” easily. Weeks of preparation, fertilization, calculated lighting, and other cultural practices determine the growth of this great fall flower.

When you purchase mums, choose a plant with tight buds that are not yet open. This plant will flower for a longer period of time for you. If you need instant color though, the plants in full bloom will be dazzling. As blooms fade on your mums, pinch them back. This will keep them tidy, making a beautiful display in your fall garden.

Visit your local nursery or garden center now to find great choices. Mums add accent to a sometimes dull fall garden and brighten the inside of our homes with color. In the fall, nothing says “welcome home” better than colorful baskets of mums adorning our living and dining areas.

This article was written by Lynn Rawe, County Extension Agent-Horticulture, with Texas Cooperative Extension in Bexar County.

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