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2001 Paul Barlow

Chrysanthemum Culture

The purpose of this page is to pull together a number of other pages into a comprehensive article describing the way I grow chrysanthemums,  from managing the previous years stools through to putting blooms on the show bench. The article was originally written in 1999 and published by the NCS in their Year Book 1999. This version includes a number of additional pictures and charts.


I started growing chrysanths in 1981, since then it has become an all consuming pastime. Like many chrysanth growers what started a a hobby has turned into a life long obsession. My aim is to grow and exhibit chrysanths to the highest standards I can achieve. If, at the end of each season I can look back on a degree of success then I'm happy.

The passion for exhibiting has taken me to a variety of locations throughout the UK. From the RHS halls at Westminister, for both Early and Late National shows, to Peterhead and Fraserburgh in north east of Scotland. From Stafford for the early National to Stirling for the Scottish National. I hate to think how many miles I've travelled - but it's certainly nice to think back to the people I've met.

My Garden

Before getting into my methods perhaps a quick look at my garden layout and how it has developed since moving from Great Sutton (near Chester) to Aberdeen in 1992. Link here to My Garden

Lifting and boxing

My end of year routine is no different to other growers. Every lateral that produces a show quality bloom is marked with a twistit. All stools that are marked (preferably both laterals) are lifted and boxed during September and October. An old kitchen knife is used to cut around the stool and lift it from the bed. It is then shaken to remove most of the soil and the roots trimmed back to about 2", stools are then placed, with new compost, into a seed tray or similar container. All green growth is removed prior to placing in a cold frame or cold greenhouse. When boxed the stools will be about 9-12" tall, the height is gradually reduced to 4-6" as the old stems dry out. The compost used at this stage is usually what's left over from the top dressing mix for the lates. If there's none left then I'm happy to use a soilless compost from the DIY store.

Getting Started

In eary late November/early December it is time to start the old stools into growth to produce the cutting material for the forthcoming season.  I use both standard seed trays and plug trays for propagating and find both equally successful. If I had to choose I would probably go for the plug trays as I think they produce a marginally better root system. My propagating materials consist of soilless compost and perlite. The perlite is mixed with the soilless compost and also spread about 1/8th inch deep over the top of the compost before the cuttings are inserted. The page called Getting Started provides more information on chrysanthemums stools, taking cuttings and compost mix for propagating purposes.

A propagation experiment was carried out in 1997 to determine the timing of the formation of roots on the chrysanthemum cutting. The results are shown on the Propagation Experiment page.

Supplementary lighting

Before leaving propagation there's one aspect I've not mentioned. For the last few seasons I've suspended a couple of gro-lights above the propagating bench. The lights are on a time switch that is set to switch on between 6:30am and 9:30am and again 3:30pm to 7pm. In this way I can extend the daylength during the winter months. I'm convinced that this has a beneficial effect by improving the quality of the cuttings produced on the stools, and the quality of plants coming off the propagator.

Compost mixes and sterilisation

Basically there is a choice of composts, - soil based or soilless. I use both. As described under propagation I use a soilless compost mix when taking cuttings because it's clean, convenient and consistent and it certainly saves having to mix up a couple of bushels in the middle of December. Also the result I get from soilless compost is acceptable in terms of a high success rate. For all other stages after propagation I like to use my own soil based mix based on sterilised soil, peat and coarse grit. I also add shredded leaves (again sterilised) to the final potting mix.

I'm convinced that the addition of leaves in the right condition to a compost is beneficial, however I'm not entirely sure why! We just have to look at old gardening books to see that adding leaves is not new.

In 1998 I decided to sterilise the main components of my potting mixes. Link here for more details on Soil Sterilisation and compost mixes.

Change of course

In 1995 two significant things happened which influenced the way I now grow my chrysanths.

Firstly, I attended the Scottish Group Conference at Perth to hear John Pattinson talk about how he grows large flowering earlies. Secondly, the NCS published an article by Barrie Machin covering the nutritional requirements of chrysanths. The connection between these is that John Pattinson was following the Machin methods. The method is also followed by John Peace, as John explained to us at the 1998 Scottish Group Conference.  The combination of these two things led me to change my cultivation ideas.

In each year since 1996 I have sent off soil samples for analysis. This has usually been done around the end of March/beginning of April. The reason for doing it at this particular time is for the application of lime (if required) to be done six weeks before the application of pre-planting fertilizers.

As you may have already seen from my garden page, I have four growing areas: two greenhouses and two garden areas (terraces). Terrace 2 is the most recently constructed and has  been analysed since 1998. From the results of soil analysis it is clear that each growing area has slightly different soil nutrient characteristics. Clearly the greenhouses will be different to the outdoor areas due to the absence of winter leaching; nitrogen and potash levels should be higher, which typically they are.

Soil Analysis and the Machin method

I think that pH is the key to successful chrysanthemum growing. It is the control over the availability of other nutrients, get this one right and the chances of success will improve.  My first analysis (1996) revealed pH as low as 5.6 in one plot, and all plots well below the ideal 6.5 - 7.0. This link to the Soil Analysis page will provide more information on the importance of pH.

Actual results 1996 onwards

I think the important point about soil analysis is that we know where we start each year and we can begin taking the necessary action to rectify any deficiencies and deciding on cultural tactics to minimise the impact of excesses. The actual results of analysis have been plotted on a series of graphs. Link here to Analysis Graphs

Nutrient charts

Of course there are other important nutritional elements that should not be ignored. The soil analysis results may also give guidance on these.The two charts shown on the Nutrient Charts page demonstrate the percentage of major and minor nutrients present in chrysanthemum leaves after drying.

Potting On

I move my earlies through a series of container sizes. Twelve plants to a standard seed tray or 3/3.5" pots is the first move after propagation then into 5" or 6" pots before planting out.

The choice of a 5 or 6" pot depends on how long the plant will be in this container and the vigor of each variety. The larger pot would be used if the plants will remain in this container longer than 6 weeks. So basically the early rooted varieties like Chessingtons and Lynn Johnson will go into the larger pots.

As soon as weather permits I move the plants to a cold greenhouse or into a cold frame. This will normally take place around end March/early April.I always think of this as a relatively un-exciting time in terms of visible growth - but it is so important. The root system which is building up in this period will form the basis of growth for the remainder of the season, so careful management of water is essential at this time. Of course this is a fine balance because I am also thinking about stopping most varieties around now and I don't want a plant which is so hard that it breaks unevenly after the stop.


I stop my plants between early March and the end of April depending on the cultivar. Nearly all plants are grown conventionally on first crown, but some are flowered on the break bud and others on a run-on. I have tried the break bud method with the cultiver 'Fred Brocklehurst' with reasonable results.

A variation on the normal second crown approach is the Run On. It amazes me how fast the run on lateral develops. I've recently tried this method using the cultivar   'Vanessa Lynn'  with no appreciable difference in bloom size and tremendous vigour in the run on lateral. The page called Chrysanthemum Lifecycle includes one or two diagrams relating to stopping chrysanthemums.

Pest controls

We have to be prepared to deal with pests and diseases from the earliest stages of plant growth, through plant and bloom development and right up until we box stools ready for propagation in the following year. For exhibition purposes this basically means using chemicals in the form of insecticides and fungicides. I use 'garden centre' products on a regular basis, applied in rotation. I tend to spray when I see pests in the early stages of growth, changing to a 7-10 day programme after planting out, and increasing the frequency to every couple of days when buds have been secured. Hopefully this will ensure that when bud bags are put in place all buds are clean and free from aphids and other pests.

Planting out

All plants are grown in 5 or 6 inch pots, mainly plastics. By early May I’m hopefull that every plant will have a healthy, vigorous root system and good strong breaks coming away nicely.

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Root system - cultivar 'Muriel Vipas'

This is my plot immediately after planting out in early May. The pre-planting fertiliser application is applied one week earlier according to the soil analysis recommendations. Rokolene netting is used to protect North, South and East ends of the plot

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Plot after planting

The main outdoor bed will accomodate 100 plants, 4 rows of 25, staggered planting to allow me easier access to the middle two rows from the paths. Planting distance is about 16" between plants and 18" between rows.

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Greenhouse - several weeks after planting

My greenhouses are both 16ft by 8ft and I can get about 24-26 plants on each side of the path in a double row, so 48-50 plants in each greenhouse. Again, pre planting fertilisers applied as per soil analysis recommendations. In previous years I’ve managed to squeeze in 72 plants per greenhouse (as shown above) but this proved to be less succesful than fewer plants. After the very hot summer of 1995 I fitted an extractor fan in each greenhouse as an means of trying to reduce the air temperature.

Summer growth

Towards the end of June I begin to see the buds in the Earlies. With my feeding programme I have been feeding twice weekly since the end of May so I'm hopeful that I'll get the biggest buds possible. In the first greenhouse I remove the top row of glass to improve air movement and keep things as cool as I can.(see picture above).

The second greenhouse which has the glass puttied in is not fully glazed - the bottom row of glass is left out so I've got air intake from the bottom on both sides. Both houses are shaded using a proprietary greenhouse shading product on the glass, supplemented by roll-down blinds made from rokolene netting which is employed on hot, sunny days.

Feeding continues until calyx split and the placement of bud bags and then stops. I tend to grow two batches of some cultivars, this will usually give a good spread of blooms, a batch is either 10 or 12 plants of a cultivar. Feeding re-starts with some cultivars once they are about halfway through bloom development, but this time using half strength feeds.

Feeding Chrysanthemums

My growing programme is based on the ideas of Dr Barrie Machin, who has kindly agreed to the inclusion of my interpretation of his ideas and methods. The method is closely linked with soil analysis, given that there is a prescribed (ideal) start point for Nitrogen and Potash.

Using this method, the optimum levels for chrysanthemum growth is considered to be 200ppm Nitrogen and 200ppm Potash for all stages. The start point for this approach is to have the following parts per million present in the growing medium at planting out:

  • Nitrogen - 175 ppm
  • Potash - 200 ppm.

Under ideal conditions the feeding programme is based on liquid feeding with a solution containing 275ppm Nitrogen and 100 ppm Potash. This will gradually bring up the nitrogen content in the growing medium to the optimum 200ppm, and will maintain the potash level. Of course it is necessary to understand how to calculate the strength of liquid feeds, further explanation on this point is included in the Feeding Chrysanthemums page.

Of course, the diagram on the feeding page shows the ideal conditions, but many of us will find that the potash level in our chrysanthemum plot is substantially higher that the ideal, perhaps as high as 400-500ppm, as in my case. Under these circumstances my feeding programme concentrates solely on the nitrogen level, using Nitrochalk as my fast acting nitrogen source. We may also find that our soil is either heavier or lighter than the optimum which means the 275/100 N/K mix is not what we need and will have to be adjusted.

Bud and Bloom protection

This becomes the most important activity at between the end of June and mid August. I bud bag everything, whatever the colour. So reds and purples are treated the same as the whites and yellows. Every bud will be sprayed several times with the insecticides mentioned earlier. I also remove all bracts from the stem below the bud and also from immediately around the bud as these make ideal hiding places for aphids.

With the relatively small number of plants that I can grow I try to make every bloom count. The page on Bloom Protection gives further explanation and pictures on this topic.

Bloom transport

Having protected the developing blooms to the best of my ability, and hopefully managed to get a few other things right along the way, I should now have blooms of exhibition standard ready for the shows. Getting blooms to the shows in good condition is an important job. The page called Bloom Transport shows several carrying methods that I have used.

Staging and exhibition

My preference is to stage five blooms per vase as I think this gives a more pleasing result. This is the type of exhibit I look forward to making.

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Three fives at Fraserburgh Show
consisting of
Woolley Globe, Carlene Welby, John Wingfield

The page on Staging provides a number of diagrams and examples of the art of staging.

Chrysanthemum judging

Judging chrysanthemums is a complex activity. There are numerous aspects of quality that the judge must consider, far too many to consider reproduction here. However, there are some pointers to what the chrysanthemum judge is looking for on the page called Elementary Judging.

Page last updated on 17 December, 2001

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2000 Paul Barlow