This section is from the book "The Gardener V1", by William Thomson. Also available from Amazon: The New Organic Grower: A Master's Manual of Tools and Techniques for the Home and Market Gardener.
By the time these notes are in print, many conservatories will be beginning to look gay with Chrysanthemums, and in most cases it will have been found that they come so easily into bloom, that their owners and cultivators may be inclined to think little or nothing of interest can be said about them. So far as their general culture goes, it is certainly very easy - so easy, that I am of opinion far more attention is paid to it, in numerous instances, than there is any occasion for, or than is good for their appearance. With many, Chrysanthemum-growing is looked on as a much greater concern than growing fruit-trees; and the attention bestowed on training, thinning, and disbudding Chrysanthemums, is double that given to fruit-trees. If all this rendered them good, useful conservatory plants, the matter would be easily understood, and its general application recommended; but as a rule, all the training they get only tends to make them more unnatural-looking, and more unfit to be what they ought - and that is, the most useful of all conservatory plants at this season. Size of bloom is the first and only consideration with many. Anything or everything will be done to secure this. From the first, the greatest care will be taken that the main stems are not stopped or retarded in any way.
If they can be induced to grow to 5 or 6 feet, it is considered something wonderful, and as near perfection as possible has been attained; but the training does not stop here. As soon as ever the buds are visible they are all thinned off to two or three, and in some cases only one is left. Then the great bloom which so much has been done to produce opens, and it is neither an ornament in the conservatory nor useful in a cut state, at least sufficient numbers cannot be had to make them useful. This and other equally useless practices are what is termed specimen-Chrysanthemum growing; but to the great majority of cultivators the systems have nothing to recommend them, and should be avoided, however highly the results may be pictured. To our mind, the real conservatory Chrysanthemum is a low-growing, natural-like spreading bush, which may be placed on a side shelf, or centre bed, or anywhere on the ground-level, and still retain its individual attraction, the rich clusters of bloom being looked down on, and not stared up at. Chiefly for want of water and nourishment in summer and autumn, many Chrysanthemums lose all their bottom leaves, and the bare stems become rather prominent to view.
This does not improve their appearance when in the conservatory, unless there are some long-growing bushy plants placed in front of them; and their appearance in this way is worse still when a large number of stakes are used to support the stems. Frequently these are so numerous, that the stakes are more bulky than anything else; but fine ornamental Chrysanthemum plants may be grown for conservatory decoration without any stakes. At the present time our Chrysanthemums are just showing bud. They are mostly growing in 8-inch pots, each potful being composed of about a score of shoots from 12 to 36 inches in height. These have been grown, well exposed to light on all sides and plenty of sun, since last spring, and every shoot is so robust that it is self-supporting, which does away with the use and time of staking altogether; and the plants when in bloom are very pleasing, as, at the end of every shoot, fine-sized blooms come out in massive clusters. These plants are used here and there in the conservatory, and a single row of them, over 300 feet in length, is placed along the front of the orange-house; and in both ways the effect is infinitely better than we ever saw or could get with trained plants and thinned-out flowers, attention to both of which we consider loss of time, and no gain in any other way.
To secure dwarf bushy plants of the kind we indicate, the cuttings may be taken off and rooted in February or March; and as soon as they have begun to grow freely and make roots in single pots, stopping should commence.
Keeping the plants dwarf at first, and securing a good base of young shoots close to the bottom, is the best way of beginning to get the most useful of all forms of the Chrysanthemum. The shoots may require stopping oftener than once or twice; but they should be allowed to grow up from the middle or end of July onwards. From then until they flower, it is of the utmost importance that they are never allowed to feel the want of moisture at the root. Being allowed to become over-dry once or twice, or repeatedly, as is often the case, interferes greatly with the healthy appearance of the plant, and it has also a tendency to diminish the size of the blooms. A free growth and unchecked development are what give the best results, and reasonable attention will always insure this. At the present time, as Chrysanthemums are now our staple flower, there is little danger of their being neglected; but it is not so much when they are just coming into flower that special and constant attention is wanted to make up for other or previous omissions. If well grown up to the time the flower-buds form, they will, in a sense, take care of themselves afterwards, and open their flowers freely and fully.
Still, when in small pots, and these well filled with roots, the soil and manure used at potting-time may be nearly exhausted; manure-water may then be given with advantage two or three times weekly. Although very hardy, Chrysanthemum flowers are very liable to damp or decay prematurely if the atmosphere about them is close, cold, and humid; and when it is desired that they should last good to Christmas or further on, conditions of the kind must be avoided. Chrysanthemums, especially before they come into bloom, will bear much frost without injury; and when they are wanted late, there need be no great hurry to get them under cover in autumn. Some of the earliest-flowering ones may be taken in about the middle of October or so, but the late ones should be left out as long as ever the blooms are not liable to suffer. This plan will give a longer succession of bloom than trying to keep them back after they are in full flower. Where many plants are grown, it is seldom all are wanted for cuttings, one of each kind generally being sufficient to supply a stock; and it is well to look better after these plants than the others.
When done flowering they should not be put suddenly out in the cold, or behind a hedge, or any such place, but they should have the protection of a cold frame and a glass light at least. For the old plants, plenty of light and air on all favourable occasions will insure a supply of robust healthy cuttings; and a good deal depends on getting a fair start with them. Sickly, half-starved cuttings, or those which have been drawn up in a dark close place, are never satisfactory. The general culture of this useful plant is so well known, that little more need be said about it. Cuttings root in a close cool frame, but quicker with the help of a little bottom-heat; but the latter should never be used longer than just to produce roots. They may be rooted in groups in 6-inch pots, or singly in small ones - the latter is the best plan - and from these they may be shifted at once into their blooming pots. The compost should always be rich and rough, and drainage secure. Plunging the pots in summer in ashes, sawdust, or ordinary soil, prevents them from suffering so much for want of water where there is any danger of their being stinted in this; but above all things to avoid in successful Chrysanthemum culture, imperfect and insufficient watering is the greatest.