THE Chrysanthemum is, next to the Geranium, the most popular flower of the present day, without doubt. Its popularity was a sort of fad at the beginning, when the florists exhibited blossoms nearly a foot across, but the flower has won its way to the friendship of flower-loving people everywhere by its many merits, and we continue to grow it from more commendable motives than those which actuated us to its cultivation at the beginning of its career. It is a flower that appeals to all classes, because of its wonderful range of color, its beauty of form, and the ease with which it is grown. Also because it comes to us at a time when we have few other flowers in the window. Coming, as it does, in October and November, it has pretty nearly everything its own way.
Let it be understood, in the first place, that the Chrysanthemum is a plant requiring a great deal of nutriment if we would enable it to do its best. It is really a vegetable gourmand. Therefore a soil of only ordinary fertility is not the kind to grow it in if we would grow it to perfection. Old barnyard manure is excellent as the basis of the compost you give it. If this is not readily obtainable, use bone-meal as a substitute. Get the finely ground article, and use in the proportion of a teacupful to a half bushel of loam, for the early stages of its growth. Later on, as development increases, it will be well to give a liquid fertilizer, and to give it at least once a week. This, given at the right time, produces large flowers and great quantities of them. Mix some sand with the loam, and see that each pot has good drainage.
In the second place it must be borne in mind that the Chrysanthemum is a plant that likes a good deal of water while making active growth. It not only likes it, but it must have it if it is to give complete satisfaction. Often, during the hottest weather of summer, it will require two applications every twenty-four hours-one at evening, and the other in the forenoon of the following day. On no account must it be allowed to get dry at its roots. If this happens, the plant will receive a check which will cripple it for the entire season. Therefore be sure to keep it always moist at the root. In applying water use enough to thoroughly saturate all the soil in the pot. Use so much that some runs off through the hole in its bottom. If this is done you will know that you are giving the plant all the water it needs.
It also likes a good deal of root-room. If kept in small pots too long, it will become pot-bound, and this will give it a check as harmful as that resulting from an insufficient supply of water. It is advisable to start young plants off in three-inch pots. As soon as their roots fill pots of this size, shift to six-inch ones. This ought to bring them to the middle of July. Then give another shift-this time to nine or ten-inch pots. In these pots they can be allowed to bloom.
The above advice is given on the assumption that your plants are kept in pots throughout the season. Many advocate planting them in the open ground in June and leaving them there until about the first of September. This method does away with a good deal of labor, as plants so treated will take care of themselves in fairly good shape if given all the food they need to bring about satisfactory development. They will make a stronger growth than those kept in pots. But I would not advise this method of summer culture, because we will be obliged to lift and pot the plants before frost comes, and at the very time when buds are forming. No matter how carefully this work is done, the roots of the plants will be disturbed to a considerable extent, and any such disturbance, at so critical a period, will seriously interfere with the satisfactory development of the flowers. In lifting and potting the plants many of the strongest roots will have to be cut away, and in proportion to the loss of roots we must remove some of the branches. Therefore it will be readily understood that we gain nothing, in the long run, by turning our plants out to take care of themselves during the summer. In reality we lose by it, for we are likely to get a crop of inferior flowers from plants that have been disturbed at the time when everything ought to be made as favorable as possible for them.
A veranda with an eastern exposure is a good place in which to keep pot-grown Chrysanthemums during summer. The plant-shed of which I have spoken in another chapter is a better place for them.
Be sure they get plenty of air. Shower them all over daily. This will have a tendency to keep the red spider from working on them. If the aphis attacks them, as he probably will, apply Nicotocide as advised in the chapter on The Insect Enemies of Plants. Sometimes a black beetle appears on them very suddenly, and makes sad havoc with them in a short time. Be on the lookout for this pest. If discovered, apply the kerosene emulsion advised in the chapter mentioned above. Be prompt in its use, or the beetle will have done its deadly work and gone his way before you have begun your fight against him.
The Chrysanthemum is one of the most tractable of all plants. You can grow it as a bush or small shrub, or you can train it as a tree. You will find directions for both methods in the chapter on the Pruning and Training of plants.
It is a good plan to leave your plants out of doors as long as it is safe to do so. Slight frosts will not be likely to injure them, but it is well to be on the safe side, and give them a little protection when the nights begin to have a chill to them. A paper or a sheet thrown over them will be quite sufficient. But when the weather has a hint of freezing in it, take the plants indoors.
When they are brought into the house give them a room that is without fire-heat if possible. This will force them into weak and rapid development, and the flowers they furnish will be short-lived. You can make them last for at least a month longer if you keep them in a cool room. At no time after they are brought into the house will they require artificial heat, as they will have completed their flowering and be ready for the cellar before cold weather sets in.
If you decide to grow your plants in the garden beds during summer, be sure to lift and pot them early in September. The week before doing this cut about each plant with a sharp spade, leaving enough soil (as nearly as you can estimate it) inside the cut to fit the pot into which the plant is to go. Water well on the morning of lifting-day to prevent the soil from crumbling away and exposing the roots.
After the flowering-season is over cut away the entire top of the plant and place the pot containing the roots in the cellar. Treat it while there as directed in the chapter on wintering plants in the cellar.
In March the plants can be brought to the light. In a short time young shoots will appear all over the surface of the soil. When these have grown to be about three inches tall cut them away from the old plant in such a manner that each has a bit of root attached and put them into small pots.
I would not advise the disbudding process. Florists practise this with a view to securing enormous flowers for exhibition purposes. All but the crown bud is removed from each branch left on the plant. A larger number of medium-sized flowers will be found vastly more pleasing than a blossom so large that it seems a floral monstrosity.
Always keep your Chrysanthemums well staked, as they are very easily broken, their stalks being extremely brittle.
I shall not name any special varieties for the amateur to experiment with. A consultation of the catalogues of the florist will give you a long list to select from.