Chrysanthemums have to be THE plant of the late autumn. Just when everything else is dying off, they burst into flower and - depending on what type you've got and how they've been treated - will treat you to a mass of small blooms or wow you with a smaller number of much larger ones. Not to mention a range of colours from reddy brown through yellow to creamy white - and even pink and purple, colours which are less common here. And all the different petal shapes ...
Where does the name come from? In 1753 Karl Linnaeus, the Swedish botanist who first started to classify plants and animals logically, combined the Greek word chrysos, meaning gold, with anthemon, meaning flower. And despite attempts by recent taxonomists to change the plant's classification, the name has stuck.
In Italy the shops start to fill up with chrysanths in early October. Forget lilies, here chrysanthemums are the flower of the dead - the plant you take to the graves of your loved ones on November 1st. Buy them at the beginning of the month and they're cheap. By Hallowe'en the price has quadrupled.
Being the flower of the dead, it's not a flower that most people have on their balconies here. But I wouldn't be without mine. Especially my little yellow ones. I've had them for years and they go on and on and on ... If you've bought a pot of chrysanths for your balcony this year, don't even think of throwing them away after they've stopped flowering.
They do need a bit of care though. First of all, cut of the dead flower heads as soon as - well, as soon as they're dead. If you're in a fairly cold zone, they'll need covering. We have a Hardiness Zone 8 type climate - the temperature may drop well below freezing in January. Mine get moved back towards the walls of the house and covered in fleece. And don't overwater during the winter.
By March you'll notice that new shoots are starting to come up from near the base of the old plant. These are what you want for next autumn's blooms. Take them off the plant when they're about 2.5 ins long, remove the bottom two leaves and cut vertically across the stem just below the leaf joint. Dip the end in hormone rooting powder and pop them into some potting mix in a propagator to root. Keep them in a warm place.
Well, that's what the books say. But quite honestly I find it works just as well without the hormone rooting powder and with ordinary potting soil. And I don't usually bother with a propagator - quite often I'll put them straight into the pots where I want them to grow. But then, it can be quite warm here in March. But anyway, they're one of the easiest plants to root from cuttings that I know. You may lose a few this way (so take more than you expect to need), but most will be quite happy.
And then you can throw the old plant away. You could try keeping it, but the results aren't usually as good as the first year.
Once the cuttings have rooted, keep in mind that chrysanths like soil which is rich in organic matter and neither very acid nor very alkaline. You'll also need to decide whether or not to "stop" them in April. "Stopping" means pinching out the growing shoot of the plant to encourage it to put out side shoots. If you stop, you'll end up with a myriad of small flowers, If you don't, you'll get a tall stem and one, much larger flower. As you can see from the photos, I stop ...
I have a sneaking affection for these little yellow ones. Yes, I've tried others and I'm the first to admit that these aren't half as elegant as many of the larger ones . I've got some large white ones in bud which I hope will flower soon, and a couple of years ago I had some nice red-brown ones. But nothing does quite so well as these do. They don't seem to mind the heat we have all summer, they shrug off pest attacks, and don't complain at all when they're left to the hideous over-watering that my plant-sitters inflict on them when I'm away. I don't care if the neighbours do think I'm weird - my chrysanths are here to stay.