Romancing the Mum

by Debra Prinzing on November 23, 2010

in Come along with us on a farm visit,Growers,The Book Project

Reviving an old-fashioned flower for today’s design-savvy customer


'Paint Box' and 'Pretty Polly'

At the Association of Specialty Cut Flower Growers annual conference in Tulsa, Oklahoma last week, grower Janet Foss of J. Foss Garden Flowers near Chehalis, Wash., managed to cram a lifetime of chrysanthemum-growing knowledge into a 90-minute presentation and captivate a room of fellow cut flower growers and wanna-be’s like me.

Her passion for this classic cut flower is contagious. “When 50-cent bunches of mums are being imported to the U.S. market from Canadian auction houses, it’s important to remember that specialty chrysanthemums are difficult to ship,” Janet says. Floral designers who appreciate the value of the unique forms of Chrysanthemums will pay local growers upwards of $5 to $6 per stem.

So this is the message for U.S. flower farmers: focus on the novelty, exotic and uncommon selections – and you can move mums out of that 50-cent commodity position into a value-added fashion statement for brides and their designers.

'Lone Star'

Floral designers will pay top dollar for dazzling ingredients they can’t find anywhere else. As a late-season flower that often blooms after the similarly-hued (and shaped) dahlia, specialty mums are an excellent crop. Check out this gallery of unique mums that I photographed at Bear Creek Farms in Stillwater, Oklahoma.

Generally hardier than dahlias, mums also deliver coveted deep hues. Bronzes, greens, browns and other intense pigments appear on the fanciful petals.

Janet’s show-and-tell as she passed around cut stems from her farm was all many of the audience members needed to get psyched about adding chrysanthemums to their own fields.

Some of her tips and advice includes:

  • There are two main Chrysanthemum forms: Sprays, which have multiple flowers on one stem and Disbuds, which produces one bloom per stem.
  • If you want to start growing mums, Janet recommends purchasing cuttings the first year. One of her favorite sources is King’s Mums of Oregon City, Ore. “By starting with cuttings, you ensure the plants are disease- and insect-free, they’ve probably been treated for rust, and they are uniform, named varieties,” she says.
  • Plant cuttings between May 15th and June 1st. Use a rooting hormone and consider growing cuttings with bottom heat. Janet transplants her cuttings into tall, bottom-less, 2-inch pots. Once transplanted into the ground, the mums are mulched with black plastic and grown about 8 inches apart into a two-tier trellis-style netting to keep them from flopping over. Another method Janet uses is to give each plant a pair of bamboo-style stakes and use tomato clips to secure the flower stem to the stake.
  • ‘Apricot Alexis’

    Pinching is an important technique to control growth. I don’t want to explain this incorrectly, so if you want specifics, please check out the growing instructions on King’s Mum’s web site where pinching, lateral removal and disbudding are discussed.

  • Chrysanthemums are best grown as annuals, especially in the Pacific Northwest where Janet (and I) live. “They don’t like rain and wet in the Northwest,” she says. “If you leave them in the ground, they will die” when hit by a hard frost.
  • Many commercial growers uses hoop houses, but if you’re growing mums in the field or border, it’s a good idea to choose early-flowering varieties that bloom in September and October. “Rain can be damaging to some varieties, so I like to grow those that bloom before the extreme weather arrives,” she says.
  • To store over the winter, mums should be pulled up and stored “dry” in boxes. Janet keeps track of the plants she really likes and uses them as mother plants for cuttings the following spring.
  • Cuttings can actually be taken at any time of the year when there is active growth on a plant.

If you find yourself traveling from Portland to Seattle (or vice-versa) next spring or summer, make a point of tracking down Janet. Here’s a little more about her farm, excerpted from the Local Harvest web site:

J.Foss Garden Flowers is a small farm located near the Newaukum River near Onalaska. We sell locally grown seasonal flowers, many unusal types that are rare and hard to find in florist shops. We have a large collection of vintage cut flower chrysanthemums in the fall. Our flowers are sold at our farm stand on Highway 508, and at the Chehalis Farmers Market on Tuesdays, downtown Chehalis, and the Woodland Farmers Market on Friday evenings. Our flowers are fun and interesting, special flowers, for everyday and for parties and events. We have garden roses, calla’s, dahlias, many perennials, annuals, bulbs, and branches. Pussywillows begin the season in January, and Chrysanthemums end the season in November we have a plethora of flowers throughout the summer.

I, for one, will make the floral pilgrimage! Thank you, Janet - it was a great presentation!

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