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Mum’s the word

April 17, 2016

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Pink, spray chrysanthemums
Pink, spray chrysanthemums

There are — as with the cultivation of most plant species — certain guidelines on which to base the care and propagation of this huge range of both annual and perennial plants but, as with all guidelines, they are best tailored to suit purely localised conditions which, in this large and very beautiful country of ours being so climatically diverse, vary considerably from place to place and, strange as it may seem, even from street to street depending on the location of buildings.

Cultivated in China, Japan and Korea for at least 2,500 years, there are now a multitude of chrysanthemum varieties ranging in height from dwarfs of just 100millimetres to 150mm up to shrubs of 1.5metres to 1.8m and even more in height; colours range from classic golden yellow through cream, lemon and white and from the palest pink to the darkest magenta with bronze shades being one of the most popular colours of all.

Flower types vary too, although the following are the most common:


Chrysanthemum cultivation is, quite erroneously, considered to be incredibly difficult here in Pakistan. Yet, quite frankly, it is certainly no more problematic than growing dahlias, for example, and definitely a whole lot easier than growing many of the orchid varieties that are so fashionable these days


  • Single — these resemble daisies in formation and can be large, medium or small.

  • Pompom — sometimes called button chrysanthemums — form tight globes of petals.

  • Spider — have elongated petals with curved ends.

Golden-bronze, spoon-shaped, spray
Golden-bronze, spoon-shaped, spray
  • Quill — long, arrow straight, tubular petals.

  • Spoon — flattened petals with spoon-shaped ends.

  • Cushion — exactly as the name implies.

  • Anemone — cushions with an extra, upper layer of shorter, darker coloured petals.

  • Decorative — mostly large flowered varieties with inward curling petals.

  • Others include reflexed, intermediate, double, feathered, carnation flowered, spray flowered and so many more that listing them all here is impossible.

Single, golden, spray type
Single, golden, spray type

Chrysanthemums are a late autumn, winter to very early spring flowering plant. Their flowering time is linked to longer nights and shorter daylight hours than many other types of flowering plants and this fact makes them a perfect addition to what is the main flower growing season throughout the plains and coastal regions here.

They are also perfectly at home in suitably sized clay pots / containers or directly in the garden as long as soil, drainage and direct exposure to sunlight are in suitable combination.

Soil / drainage: Soil / compost should be highly fertile and excellent drainage is absolutely essential. An acceptable mix is 50pc loamy earth, 25pc river sand, 25pc organic compost, plus, during the growing season when flower buds begin to form until flowering finishes, a weekly feed of preferably organic, liquid manure with, if possible, seaweed as one of its ingredients. A soil pH of approximately six to 6.5 is ideal.

The importance of good drainage cannot be over emphasised: Chrysanthemum roots will rot very quickly in wet conditions, plus plants will be infected with various kinds of mildew. Plants should not, especially during rainy weather, be packed closely together. They need good air circulation to prevent fungal / mildew attacks.

Watering: Water requirements vary considerably depending on the time of year and daily weather conditions. Watering, even in the winter, is best done around sunset but do try to water just the soil, not the plant leaves and only water if the soil is quite dry. Over-watering kills more chrysanthemum plants than any other factor.

Sunlight: Chrysanthemums enjoy a maximum of five hours of direct sunlight, preferably in the morning but never at noon. Too much direct sunlight — or too little — can affect the flowering potential. It may, depending on your location, be necessary to move chrysanthemums into partial shade — or to cover them with green netting — during the oppressive heat of the summer months.

Chrysanthemums can be multiplied in a number of ways:

Root division — After the plants have finished flowering and been cut hard back in spring, roots can be carefully dug up and divided into reasonable sized clumps. These clumps are immediately re-planted either directly in prepared ground or in clay pots / containers of prepared soil. It is a good idea to divide up chrysanthemum roots every three to four years otherwise they become congested, and flower formation is adversely affected.

Cuttings — Again, after the plants have finished flowering and at the same time as root division if this is being done — cut off healthy, strong stems of 100mm – 150mm in length, remove any leaves from the bottom half, dip the base in pure honey (this is an excellent, organic, root promoter), and push 50mm deep into the prepared soil in suitable clay pots / trays, water light. Keep in partial shade until strongly established and then ‘pot on’ to allow for further growth / root development until the new plants are put in the ground / or larger pots, in early autumn ready for flowering the following season.

Seed — Seed for both annual and perennial chrysanthemums is best sown, in clay pots / trays of prepared compost during the last half of September until the end of October in our climate. Germination time varies tremendously according to the variety being grown. Seed can also be sown from mid-January until mid-February, but the resultant seedlings have a tendency to die once temperatures begun to soar as they have not, unlike their autumn sown counterparts, had enough time to build up the strength to take on the extreme heat.

  • Show-bench chrysanthemums — those with massive blooms — are obtained by, once flower bud formation begins, rubbing off, between finger and thumb, every single flower bud, except the all important central one, as soon as they begin to form. It is a tedious task if growing a large number of show-bench plants but well worth the effort.

Please continue sending your gardening queries to zahrahnasir@hotmail.com. Remember to include your location. The writer does not respond directly by email. Emails with attachments will not be opened.

Published in Dawn, Sunday Magazine, April 17th, 2016