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Cascade chrysanthemums: Bellingrath’s ‘big time horticulture’

Cascade chrysanthemums on the bridge in the Asian Garden.

By Dr. Bill Barrick, Executive Director

The first time I ever saw cascade chrysanthemums was in 1964 on an Auburn University horticulture class field trip to Bellingrath Gardens. The spectacle of mums hanging from the balconies of the Bellingrath Home and the Boehm Gallery was amazing, and I had a million questions for my professor on how these mums were produced.

dsc_5357Up to this point, my knowledge of chrysanthemums was limited to garden mums, florist-potted mums and pom-pom mums being worn as corsages at Auburn home football games.

Since those early days as a horticulture student, I have seen many dramatic displays of cascade mums in Longwood Gardens in Pennsylvania, Callaway Gardens in Georgia and at the New York Botanical Garden, but the mums grown by the staff at Bellingrath rival any displays in America. Thanks to our Gulf Coast climate, our show is the largest outdoor display in the country.

dsc_5391As stunning as these mums are when they are in full bloom, it is even more amazing to consider the 10 months of effort that it takes to produce them. Cascade mums are grown from special varieties of chrysanthemums from China and are noted for their freely branching character and trailing habit of growth.

These cascade varieties are very different from the garden mums found in big box stores in September and October. In addition, the culture of garden mums has changed dramatically in the 40 years that I have been working in horticulture. For example, when I began working at Callaway Gardens in 1980, our production staff hand-pinched all our garden mums several times during the summer in order to produce full-flowered plants. With the advent of growth regulators, manual pinching was replaced by growth regulator sprays that “chemically pinch” the garden mums instead.

11-24-10-041However, cascade mums require meticulous pinching and shearing to produce the branching and blooms that create the beautiful displays we set out each November. We begin work on the display each January with cuttings taken from stock plants and cultivated in our greenhouses until the middle of June, when the production shifts outdoors.

The cascades are created when three plants are potted into five-gallon containers and then placed onto the growing racks, which are four-foot-long raised platforms with hardware cloth at a 45-degree angle to the ground. The mums are trained along bamboo stakes and sheared every 10-14 days throughout the growing season in order to create many lateral shoots and fuller overall plants.

Shearing the mum columns, August 2016.
Shearing the cascade chrysanthemum columns, August 2016.
Hanging cascade mums on the Boehm Gallery, Nov. 3, 2016.
Hanging cascade chrysanthemums on the Boehm Gallery, Nov. 3, 2016.

When the cascades are just beginning to show color in late October and early November, the gardeners begin to move the mums out into the gardens. This is done with great care, because the long, fragile cascades can easily be broken during the process. The cascade mums are also grown as columns and spheres in order to add variety to the overall display throughout the Gardens.

I always marvel at the commitment of 10 months to produce plants that typically bloom for only three weeks. We’ve had a very warm fall this year and that may mean that the bloom dates of the 2016 Fall Outdoor Cascading Chrysanthemums will linger throughout November.

I often refer to Bellingrath’s mum display as “big time horticulture,” and it should not be missed by anyone within driving distance of the Gardens. We hope that you’ll take advantage of the opportunity to view one of Bellingrath’s signature seasons.


This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. I recently relocated to South AL. My first visit to Bellingrath was in October; I loved the home tour but the gardens were spectacular. I had so many questions about the plants so the article by Dr. Barrick was especially welcomed. Please continue to provide information about the flora at Bellingrath.

  2. The pom-pom mums worn to Auburn football games were a great tradition. They always had a blue pipe cleaner “A” in the center. Glad to see that you remember them.

  3. We are so glad you enjoyed it, and he will continue to provide more informative articles in the future!

  4. As a member I have enjoyed visiting the garden during each bloom season. I have watched the garden expand getting bigger & better. I have enjoyed treating family to visits to your gardens, especially the grandkids to the Chritmas light spectacular display. One thing I do wish is that all flower groupings had the common name identified. Bing an advid gardener I can identify most of them, however there are a few I don’t know.

  5. Thank you for your feedback! We will soon have new “What’s in Bloom” flyers in the Admissions building for our guests. We hope they will help everyone identify the flowers and plants that they see each season.

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