Reprinted with kind permission from the author Jack Baker. Thanks also to the Canadian Chrysanthemum and Dahlia Society who originally published this article in the Schedule for the International Show, Toronto 1998.
At the request of Wallace Brook I will endeavour to explain in simple, precise manner my singles cultivation.
We have been extremely lucky and honoured to have had the company of Wallace in New Zealand on two recent occasions and both times he has not been impressed with the overall quality and refinement of our singles in this country. At our 1991 National Show some seven entries of 12 vases were recorded, the best yet. My involvement with Singles commenced in 1981 with a visit to a local Show. I was growing dahlias at this time but both my wife and I were fascinated with the Singles section, which contained three entries in the 12 Vase class, won that day by Leo and Jean Harnett, who were to become our benchmark as Singles exhibitors.
We only grow medium Singles (7b in England). Very few New Zealand growers of Singles grow the 7a's as those who do cannot match the uniformity, balance and refinement of those who concentrate on the mediums. The main cultivars I grow are, in my personal order of preference; Gladeye, Dorothy, Eileen Dobie, White Irvine, Yellow Irvine, Bernice, Chesswood Beauty, Elizabeth, Warners Yellow, Kim Kylie, Red Devil, Salmon Peeress and Peeress. This past year I was very fortunate to receive cuttings of Brierton Festival and Ballet Girl, both of which proved first class and were shown with success. This coming year I have three more, new English Singles, namely Joan Edwards - Staff Nurse and Sarah Wright to look forward to. Time alone will reveal their quality or otherwise.
My growing season really commences at the end of the previous season, when the top quality flowers are marked for the new spring cuttings. The superior flowering cultivars were marked with a red clothes peg on the pot, and only from those stools are the new cuttings taken. About the end of May the pots are stood pot thick under cover, are cut down, sprayed with insecticide and fungicide monthly and are kept very dry during the next two and a half months. Being under cover I have full control over their moisture content. During this period of June - July - August, our weather is fairly cold with hard frosts so by keeping the stool constantly in a dryish state I have virtually no losses. They still seem to make plenty of growth, however, and this is kept cut down till early August, when I give all stools a good drink of liquid Urea, to help activate nice sappy cuttings for selection in early September, when the first cuttings are taken. No heat at all is used on the stools, but being under cover they soon begin to grow and by September 20th I normally have all the cuttings I need.
These are rooted in a 50/50 mix of Perlite and Peat, contained in polystyrene boxes and placed on heating pads. I water the cuttings in with a Captan mix to control any damping off and I find that by watering the cuttings in, the potting mix firms around the cutting nicely. I use a rooting hormone called liba 10,000, which was developed by the New Zealand Forestry Department. It is a liquid hormone which I find vastly superior to any other type of rooting compound. My cuttings are usually nicely rooted by the twelfth day then they are potted into 2.5" pots in a mixture of 50/50 river sand and soil. No fertilizers are used at this point as I want the cuttings to develop a really good root system without the help of nutrients. This will come at a later date when the plant is more able to handle it. After a period of some four weeks the cuttings are potted on into 3.5" - 4' pots again in a river sand/soil mix with still no added nutrients, my main concern at this control over the plants' water content as they are still being raised under cover and will remain so till early November when final potting take place and the covers are no longer required. Normal rainfall will be around 30" for the year so we do not have the problem of excess moisture, such as some parts of England apparently do.
Plant height is controlled by the use of a growth retardant. I first spray cuttings about ten days after their first potting into 2.5" pots. This process will be repeated twice more during the season, and I finish up with a nice compact flowering plant of 3.5 feet, a nice height to work with, and more manageable.
Final potting time is early November, when the real growing starts. My final potting mix contains 50% new sterilized soil with a peat content, a pumice mix in place of grit, plus twelve months old, sterilized animal manure mix. to this is added 6 parts superphosphate, 1 part sulphate of potash, 1 part sulphate of ammonia, 1 part dried blood and 2 parts bone flour. I grow in galvanised iron hoops, 12' high and 10" in diameter with no bottoms, the hoop being pushed.5" into the floor of the growing house, just to secure it and then filled with the final mix, which has been ready for some two months, being continually forked over and kept covered. The rows are set out 18' apart, and 18" between each pot. The pots are filled to 2.5" from the top, this space being used for topdressing during the season, possibly four of five times, with the final mix, plus any of the following Nirtophosca - Amaphos and Peters Blossom Booster, used just prior to bud initiation. During January - February I also feed each plant a mix of Epsom Salts and sulphate of iron as a colour feed. I do this twice, 1 tablespoon in 1.5 gallons of water does about 20 plants.
Continual insecticide and fungicide spraying is carried out about each fortnight and a close watch on each plant's health and colour is maintained as prevention of problems is so much easier than curing them. Getting to know one's plants makes a daily inspection very easy as the eye will soon tell you all is not well.
All my plants are grown on second crown with the first stop being made during the first week of December and the second stop around January 10th - 15th, depending on the season and the time of our first shows, normally around April 15th, with the National Show usually the last weekend in April.
All plants will carry seven or eight breaks, each staked seperatly and kept dead straight and are soon rectified with the use of split bamboos tied up to the bud. This soon gives that so desirable straight stem with the resultant flower right on top, where it must be.
On extremely hot days I mist spray during the hottest part of the day, often for as long as 15 minutes. I feel this is important and it certainly makes a world of difference to the plants, preferable, I find, to covering with shade cloth as in my experience the use of shade cloth tends to lift the plants skywards, so I now rely on the mist spraying.
Buds are secured around February 20th onwards, and usually all are secured by March 7th. Colour shows from the last week of March onwards, when the roof (Novalite) goes back on, and with luck we have flowers ready to show from April 15th onwards. We normally cut four to five days prior to a show, the flowers being kept in a light, cool shed, with water tubes on each stem and the flowers sitting on a carrying table which is used to carry them to the show, we also place a foam robber pad on top of each flower. Staging on show day is all handled by my wife Irene, who makes a wonderful job of this so important facet of showing, she also spends considerable time amongst the plants during the growing season, especially making sure the breaks and buds are growing straight.
Well, that is about it, mainly a common sense approach, which to date has given us a lot of pleasure and satisfaction, but most importantly has been the means by which we have met so many fine people with similar interest, people we would not have known but for our common interest in the chrysanthemum.
For the record we have been lucky enough to have won to date eight 12 vases classes at National or Island level, five National or Island Single Championships and five Most Meritorious Awards, the ultimate reward for 12 vase classes, but the winning has been secondary to the many fine friendships we have made from our involvement with chrysanthemum growers.
From the National Chrysanthemum Society, New Zealand
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Last updated on 26 December, 2001