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Gardening | IN THE GARDEN

Mum's the Word for Rich Autumn Color

November 03, 1996|ROBERT SMAUS | TIMES GARDEN EDITOR

This is the month for mums, although the work of growing these fall-blooming beauties begins months earlier.

In spring, little slips or divisions of the perennial flower are started. Then after a summer of pinching and training, fertilizing and watering, the dramatic payoff comes in autumn, when masses of daisy-like flowers or little button-sized blossoms bloom and the fancy exhibition types unfurl.

On view this month are chrysanthemums in their full fall glory at the Huntington Botanical Gardens in San Marino, at the Wild Animal Park in northern San Diego County and at the source for all these amazing mums, Sunnyslope Gardens in San Gabriel.

Sunnyslope has sent 1,000 mums to the Wild Animal Park and more than 700 to the Huntington and is hosting its annual chrysanthemum show, a chance to get in on a Southland gardening tradition that started in 1933.

Mums will be everywhere during the Huntington Chrysanthemum Festival, which lasts until Nov. 17, with special sales from 1 to 4 p.m. Nov. 7 to Nov. 10. There are many other special events. For information, call (818) 405-2141.

At any of these locales you'll see the spectacular cascading mums, mums trained as trees and exhibition mums like the incurves, recurves, semi-doubles, spoons and spiders--the same fancy mums you see at florists. At Sunnyslope you can buy them or order cuttings to plant next spring.

Every year since 1933, Sunnyslope, 8638 Huntington Drive, San Gabriel, has presented its show, originally under almost an acre of cheesecloth with hand-sewn seams. Owner Philip Ishizu's uncle, Tom Tashima, started the nursery and was soon joined by his brother-in-law Bill Ishizu. Philip Ishizu took over in 1972.

Friends kept the nursery going when the family was sent to an internment camp in Arizona during World War II. After the war, Philip's father began bringing in some of the very fancy Japanese varieties of mums. Mums have been prized in Japan since AD 366 and as early as the 15th century BC in China.

Through the years, Sunnyslope has introduced more than 1,000 varieties of mums that are sold worldwide.

Mums are in abundance at nurseries now, and they're just the thing to temporarily brighten a garden bed or pots on the front porch or patio with rich autumn color. With any luck they will last until Thanksgiving.

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At the Huntington and at the Wild Animal Park, spectacular potted cascading mums look like waterfalls of flowers. These are probably best bought in bloom because they are a lot of work to grow, but what a show they make in the garden.

You can restart them the next year in fresh potting soil by cutting back the plants, dividing off one of the stolons that sprout to the side of the plant, then training this to a wire support angled at 45 degrees up and facing north. Pinch back the side branches after they have about three or four sets of leaves until the end of September.

When buds form, gently bend the wire and the plant until they are horizontal, then bend again to face down at a 45-degree angle when buds begin to show color.

Tree-shaped mums can last more than a season if you trim the tops after flowering, but they are also better restarted from side stolons each year. Encourage one long shoot to become the "trunk" by trimming off all the side shoots until it gets to the right height, them let it bush out, pinching a couple more times to make it full on top and to encourage more flowers.

You can see that all this training makes the $17.50-$20 price for cascades or the $15-$17.50 price for trees a real bargain at Sunnyslope, but for those who want to grow their own mums will find complete instructions in the Sunnyslope catalog.

The exhibition mums--so called because they are exhibited at chrysanthemum shows--also need pinching and usually staking, and do best if their buds are constantly removed so the remaining flowers get about twice as large as they normally would, but these flowers are truly amazing and come in every conceivable shape and form.

Plants are usually "stopped" when about 2 weeks old by pinching off the very tip of the plant so it forms several strong new shoots. Disbudded plants have all their side flower buds pinched off as they grow, so only one big flower ends up on each stem. The flowers come in an astonishing array: There are the quills with narrow little tubular petals, called spiders (or "Fujis" at florists) if the petals get curly at the end, spoons if the tubular petals are open at the ends. Others have petals that are thread-thin.

There are the incurves that curve in and the reflexes that curve out. If they curve both ways they're called irregulars.

Some of these are sold at this time of the year, though they have not been disbudded, so the flowers are smaller. You can enjoy them now and restart them in spring by pulling apart the clumps and planting little divisions.

If you have an area set aside for a cutting garden, or a place to grow a few in pots, these exhibition types make fantastic, long-lasting cut flowers for the house.

If not, you can enjoy them this fall at one of the festivals, or plant them in the garden or in pots for quick fall color.

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