Chrysanthemums – Fall Fireworks

Gardening fever can set in before the first spring shoots even pop through the snow. It can fade by the time you’ve watered, weeded, pruned, and fertilized the lawn and garden through heat, wind, bugs, and hail. Those fabulous fall bloomers that have been slowly preparing themselves all season can be a lovely rejuvenating show after a long, challenging summer, reminding you that there is always something wonderful around the corner.

Chrysanthemums are a hardy, rewarding addition to any planting for vibrant fall color. Current varieties can be traced to their wild roots in China, where they were first cultivated as a flowering herb. Many countries and cultures consider the chrysanthemum to hold special meaning, commonly symbolizing nobility, death, honor, and the month of November. One variety’s blooms are used to make tea, leaves and stems are used in various ways in far eastern cuisine, and valuable pyrethrum insecticides are made from crushed blossoms. Exhibition varieties include florists’ favorite football and spider mums and can be trained into many interesting forms. Various garden hardy forms deliver drama, bright color, and lots of long-lasting blooms on stems that don’t require staking or caging. Popular colors include deep reds, flaming oranges, and piercing yellows, but pinks, plums, and white are also lovely for blending with other fall selections.

Versatile mums can be happy in beds or containers in full sun with well-drained, fertile soil, but want to have dry feet and need room to develop their bushy habit throughout the summer. They pair well in a bed with spring bloomers that die back through the summer and leave room for dense mounds to form without competition. When mums are crowded they can be especially susceptible to molds and disease, so they respond well to division (in the spring) every three to five years. Also plan for rotation to prevent disease. Mums bloom in response to the seasonal changes in light (photoperiodic) as summer wanes, so don’t place them near street lamps and other sources of artificial light. Most will tolerate light frost and make a delightful little cut flower after other summer blooms have faded. Potted mums can be overwintered in a cool, brightly lit room indoors with limited watering, and should be gradually acclimatized to the garden in spring (protected outdoors during the day and in that cool room at night) while days get longer but frost is still a danger.

Make selections from varieties that appeal to your tastes for size, color, flower type and bloom time. They can be planted from seed, cuttings, or purchased from nursery stock (most commonly in late summer or early fall). When transplanting your established plants or introducing nursery stock, allow the roots to establish during cooler weather rather than the hottest days of summer for best results, but at least six weeks before killing frost. Consider overwintering potted mums when purchased during fall holidays for planting in spring. Some folks recommend pinching for encouraging a bushy habit and more abundant blooms, but many common varieties don’t need this special treatment to become a tight mound covered in gorgeous blooms from early to late fall. Become familiar with the variety you choose to make the best decisions regarding planting, pinching, and placement.

Compiled from Wikipedia, Chrysanthemum Flowers: What Are “Hardy Mums”? by David Beaulieu, and experience by Corinna Sinclair

What’s Weeding – Interview with Rick Shotwell

By Bess Lovec

I really like Rick’s approach to gardening, unlike mine.  I constantly feel like I should be weeding, have weeded, or plan to weed.  His yard does not synchronize with his quote about weeding, though!

Rick can’t remember when he hasn’t gardened because, as he says, there is something about Shotwells and tomatoes.  His uncles routinely competed with each other for raising the best ones.  His grandfather went so far as to sneak out of the nursing home and plant tomatoes among the shrubs.  Rick has no idea where his grandfather got the tomato plants or seeds.  This tradition apparently will continue, since his granddaughter latched onto his cherry tomatoes and told her mother that she wants to grow her own food.  Rick saves seeds from tomato plants and rotates the plants’ locations to maintain the family competition.

He finds satisfaction in growing his own food, and currently produces corn, cucumbers, and hot peppers for a mutual friend of ours, plus other vegetables.  Rick experimented with corn this past summer but considers the results poor due to lack of enough sunlight.  He plans to change the direction of his cucumber trellis from north/south to an easterly/westerly direction.  So this Master Gardener, who took the classes twice, continues to learn and grow.  The MG Program consistently promotes modesty:  When I first phoned Rick, he claimed to know nothing, an understatement if there ever was one!  The MG program introduced him to different ideas, and he means that in a positive slant.  Taking the classes twice helped to solidify the information for him.  I plan to do so as well.  My first round of classes felt like my face was in an open fire hydrant.  I only recall random snippets.

His greatest challenge is finding enough area in his urban setting.  He has reworked it, putting in sprinklers and re-sodding his front yard three years ago.  And earwigs taking root in his corn this summer provided another challenge.  From a design standpoint, Rick claims that anything looks good in a pot, and that is where flowers go at his place.  He prefers keeping lilacs trimmed.

During his four years in the U.S. Navy, Rick was a brown water sailor, which means he worked in the coastal waters, including two tours of Viet Nam, although he prefers discussing gardening.  In reflecting about his eight years as a Master Gardener, he found particular pleasure while helping with the Special K Ranch.  Lately Rick volunteers at the Metra.  His advice to gardeners is to enjoy the process and be patient.  Did gardening teach Rick patience, or is he truly a patient person among few?  My inkling is the latter.