Thursday, September 4, 2014

Mums Away! September Song....

Oh its a long long while 
from May to December.
But the days grow short 
when you reach September...

...And the days dwindle down
To a precious few....
September Song (Anderson/Weill)

Way back when, a couple of calendar pages ago, the greenhouses were full of fresh tender young things; the people began walking and watering and picking up and setting down when the day was young and rested but briefly before beginning the whole process over again the next day.  Mornings were cool but middays were bright and hot inside the greenhouses when the next season's boxes arrived via FedEx just after Mother's Day.  Those boxes held the germ of fall in the form of stems and leaves: the essence and scent of fall without the root, the flower, the hue, the mass of color that the cuttings portend.  Each sandwich baggie held 100 cuttings and a thin piece of plastic with their name.  One hundred and eighty baggies.  Eighteen thousand potential mum plants.

Mums themselves are both tolerant and tough.  But not without roots.  From May 12 to the first week of June, the cutting lived in sheltered comfort, as climate controlled as we could manage given Mother Nature's vicissitudes in late May and June.  The cuttings were watered in gently and lined out on the floor of the greenhouse where the groundcloth was still cool and damp.  The greenhouse was covered with shade cloth and the mister ran twelve hours a day providing humidity and lowering the temperature and stress level of plants and humans.  After a couple of weeks, the cuttings ceased to wilt at midday and began to put out some new leaves.  Growth on the top meant growth underground; underneath the six packs clean white roots poked out of the drainage slots.  Time to move outdoors, to be pinched, to be potted  and lined out row by row like the soybeans planted in the field surrounding.

Mums grow fast.  They are vigorous and will fill just about any size container given enough time. Mums come in multiple sizes naturally; some stay compact enough to flower and flourish in an 8 inch pot.  Others billow and branch and need more ballast to balance out their enormous bouquets atop. Mums are both daylength and temperature sensitive, meaning they are prompted to start developing buds when nights are long enough.  In the very early spring, mums in a greenhouse can set buds and bloom because the nights are long enough to send that signal.  Growing mums out under the sun and stars like we do is always a gamble.  A June toad strangler followed by July heat can put the new roots under stress and bring on some pretty nasty fungi to attack the crowns and what lies under the soil.  As the soybeans grow, the number of pests they host and protect expands exponentially as well.  No one buying soybeans has any idea what ravages the foliage of the parent plant has endured.  Not so your garden mum. If there is more than a critical mass of damage from beetles, caterpillars, grasshoppers and all other crunchings and munchings , the mum won't reach its full potential as a blooming machine. Mums in one's garden have the luxury of being laissez faire with regards to pest control, but mums contracted for sale, a certain number of a certain color for a certain job at a particular location cannot afford the natural state. We usually have to spray for pests with six or more legs twice and maybe three times.

Watering is a daily chore unless Mother Nature intervenes with at least a half inch. At the start of July, watering is an every other day affair...but by the end of the month, the mums have fulfilled their destiny, have filled their containers with roots and are reaching down through the groundcloth.  A pot bound mum needs water every day....I repeat, a pot bound mum needs water every day.  Mums are resilient but not designed for a xeriscape.  We walk the lines as the pump motors whine and the swallows do cartwheels over the greenhouses grabbing snacks off the hot plastic.  The crops in the field this year reward the temperate conditions with glorious extravagant explosive vegetation, the likes of which we haven't enjoyed for these last three dry years.  When I lift my eyes from the rows, checking for the tell tale fountains of leaders chewed off by goodness knows what small annoying thirsty creature, I follow the velvety curves of the soybeans, regular as corduroy around the terrace, 

This July's summer nights dropped into the 50s and sure enough, our mums, with no eyes to read the calendar, sensed fall around the corner and started the blooming process.  Hmm.  That is going to result in a compressed season with the mid season bloomers joining the chorus of early bloomers in a glorious explosion of color.  Not what we drew up last winter when we ordered the blend of varieties we have, but flexibility becomes a virtue when wedded to circumstance.  The moderate, wet August keeps folks from hunkering down under the air conditioning unit and makes football season and fall less a futuristic figment, so mums away!  Let the deliveries and September begin!  Harvest is upon us all....

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