I am excited and humbled to be taking on the role of Mid-Atlantic Regional Director here in 2014. The ASCFG was hugely important to the success of my farm in my early days of growing flowers. I’m truly grateful for the opportunity to give back to the organization now. I’m really looking forward to writing for the Quarterly and hope to use this report each issue to discuss new approaches to marketing, new crops/varieties, and floral design, particularly for weddings since that is the main focus of my business, Love ‘n Fresh Flowers. If you’d like to learn more about me and my farm, please visit www.lovenfreshflowers.com. Also, I welcome any feedback or questions to the pieces I write. Please feel free to email me at [email protected]. Let’s get started!
Re-Considering the Chrysanthemum
I have to confess that I was most decidedly in the anti-mum camp for most of my life. I considered them boring and far too common. I first saw a catalog from King’s Mums while working at Longwood Gardens before starting my farm. I thumbed through and became fascinated by all the different bloom classifications. Even while loathing the many (many!) hours of disbudding and pinching in the Longwood greenhouses to get the highest quality blooms for the gardens and conservatory, I was incredibly inspired by their beauty and the idea of growing them for cuts.
As Love ‘n Fresh Flowers began designing for more and more late autumn weddings and holiday events, when the risk of frost is ever-present, I knew heirloom mums were the answer. These hardy plants can handle light frost without flinching. If grown under the cover of a hoophouse, they can easily keep blooming through Thanksgiving here in Philadelphia. They have a very long storage and vase life as well. Each plant is hugely productive so a small amount goes a long way. Now in our fourth season of mum production at the farm, I feel like I’ve got a good handle on some of the varieties that work best for wedding and holiday centerpiece designs.
All of the following are available from King’s Mums (www.kingsmums.com)
‘Lynn Johnson’ A large, lush, white irregular incurve that blooms early on tall stems. It’s super productive and the best of the many whites I’ve tried over the years. Great for bridal bouquets and centerpieces alike.
‘Seatons Ruby’ One of the only flowers I know that displays a true gold quality at the tips of its petals. When fully open, it has a large cushion in the middle. I often use it before it’s fully open, though, and absolutely love the very warm red and gold hues mixed in with other autumn colors. Flowers very nicely as a spray. Buds are especially cute for boutonnieres.
‘Apricot Courtier’ A new cultivar at the farm this year, but firmly on the favorites list and definitely a repeat, this very warm peachy gold bloom is superb for wedding work. The buds are large and nicely colored for personal pieces like boutonnieres, corsages and hair flowers. The full bloom is large and lush with coloring that pairs beautifully with ‘Seatons J’Dore’, ‘Honeyglow’, and anything orange.
‘Mocha’ Spider mums are incredibly unique but sometimes tricky to use in wedding floral designs. Mocha’s soft toffee color helps it bridge the gap between weird/funky and elegant. My favorite time to use it is actually when the blooms are about half open so it looks more like a quill than a spider. The little curled ends of the petals are incredibly precious. The plant is very productive and with nice long slender uniform stems. Those slender stems do mean that it’s prone to toppling in heavy storms. ‘Mocha’ would be best in a hoophouse.
‘Candid’ One of my favorite mums of all time, the rich ruby red of this bloom is unlike any other I’ve seen. It’s a red that actually works wonderfully for weddings. It’s a striking accent in centerpieces, and I love to pair it with soft pinks and peach blooms along with purple kale. A very reliable producer, it’s great grown as a spray with long enough laterals that you can split the main stem apart to use side stems in centerpieces. Buds are also great in boutonnieres.
‘Coral Charm’ (photo left) Always a looker and highly productive, this little beauty tends to bloom more warm mauve than coral for us. It’s really a great color for fall and I prefer it to a true coral anyway. It’s super productive and great grown as a spray. Wonderful for centerpieces with hefty blooms that make designing quick. The warm undertone of the color lets it play nicely with other warm autumn colors, even red. This cultivar has been at the farm since we started growing mums and will be there until we stop. Definitely a keeper!
‘Honeyglow’ Your classic orange mum, ‘Honeyglow’ is ridiculously productive and easy to grow. It’s a definite “must” for anyone growing for autumn farmers’ markets or wholesale. Stems are long, and it grows wonderfully as a spray with all the blooms at pretty much the same level on each stem.
The color is a really nice warm tone so it mixes nicely with ‘Candid’ and ‘Seatons Ruby’ for autumn centerpieces. It is an early bloomer so if you’re considering it for Thanksgiving sales, make sure you have a cooler so you can hold it if needed. Like all mums, it’s got a very long shelf life. I’ve kept if for over a month in the cooler and still had customers rave about how long it lasted in their arrangments.
‘Seatons J’Dore’ You’ll never find a pink quite like this. So very delicate, it is a warm hue that blends superbly with the classic red and copper tones of autumn. Mix a few of these with ‘Apricot Alexis’ and ‘Candid’ in a bouquet or centerpiece for instant drama and color harmony.
Our rooted cuttings from King’s Mums are grown on in 4” pots in the heated greenhouse from March through May. As the plants grow, they are pinched at about four or five inches tall. The pinched piece gets dipped in rooting hormone (also available from King’s) and then rooted on a heating mat set at 70F. These newly rooted cuttings also get pinched as they grow, and the cycle continues so that we have a massive number of plants by the time we plant them out in the field (usually the first week of May).
Our mums are grown in black plastic with drip irrigation. Spacing is 12” apart, two rows in a three foot wide bed. Mums are ideally supported with two levels of Hortonova netting, though if plants get too big before we get around to putting netting on, they get supported with stakes and twine. Harvesting through the netting is tough, so we’re still weighing the pros and cons of different supports for cut production.
The plants get a second hard pinch in July, pinching all branches down to about two sets of leaves to encourage even more branching. If we wanted earlier bloom production for some reason, we would not do this second pinch.
We do not disbud at the farm. It’s too labor intensive for our small operation and team. Instead, two hard pinches prove to be sufficient for getting nice blooms for wedding work. There are many blooms on each main stem, but we can cut each large cluster apart and use the shorter side stems in centerpieces. This system works for us but may not work for every farm. If you are selling to high-end florists, you may want to consider disbudding and demanding a premium price for each stem.
Most of our mums are field grown, but about 25-30 plants go into the hoophouse as well. When we have more hoophouse space, we will grow many more inside as wind and rain can be very hard on mums. However, mums can definitely do well out in the open field if you don’t have a hoophouse.
The only major pest we’ve really experienced to date are aphids. They are quite abundant, and we use Pure Spray Green, a horticulture oil, as an organic control. Regular sprays are important to keep populations from exploding and ruining the harvest.
January is a great time to order your mums for the coming season!