Over the past two decades, Cindy Drumgool has seen changes to the mum market, but one thing has remained the same: Mums are a staple fall crop for greenhouse growers.
“When you think of fall, you think of mums, which set the stage for all of our favorite fall activities,” says Drumgool, who has worked with mums for more than 20 years, first as a grower at a commercial operation in Massachusetts and now as mum business manager at Ball Seed.
According to Drumgool, one of the top keys for mum production is to fertilize the plant early in the production cycle. “Mums are heavy feeders, so it’s important to load the plant [and] be able to provide the nutrients the plant needs throughout the growing processes,” she says.
Additionally, for growers propagating mums, Drumgool says it’s important to keep the cuttings warm. In areas where temperatures drop below 70°F at night, mums can sometimes initiate flowering earlier than normal, with crown budding occurring. When that happens, the plant may no longer be on the ideal growing schedule. Oftentimes, depending on when a grower is planning to finish their mums and get them to customers, this can be early in the season, when cool nights are still occurring in May and June.
“At that time, growers are cooling their greenhouse and not even worrying about having to heat,” Drumgool says.
Current market trends
On the market right now, Drumgool has seen a trend toward families of mums — plants with similar color and size that can be grown together.
“It’s something we are working on with the breeders we work with, it’s really important for growers to have access to a series of colors that grow and time the same, and can be grown in combination,” she says. “You see more and more trends with patio pots and combos. Homeowners want easy ways to decorate the outside.”
Coming to market for 2020, Drumgool says, is Zuma Orange — a mum popular among trials. It is a striking deep orange with a darker center.
“It showed excellent heat tolerance with no heat delay and has performed really well in blackcloth trials,” she says. “That’s an early variety in the north. It features limited fading too.”
Another popular new mum called Hot Sugar Gold Bronze is a late-season variety with golden-orange to bronze coloring and a mounded growth habit ideal for landscapes, Drumgool says. Two other standout options are Kizzmet Golden Yellow, an early-season variety ideal for landscapes, and new Trickster Golden Bronze, a mid-season variety that is golden yellow to orange bronze and is more golden in high heat and has a mounded growth habit. In non-fall colors, Whispered Lavender and Skye Pink are two standouts.
Bringing mums to market
Drumgool says it takes at least three to four years for a new mum variety to reach the market because breeders will present a large batch of mums to test in the first year of development. From there, trials help narrow down the list of mums that may eventually become available to growers. According to Drumgool, it’s important to take the necessary time with this process because some varieties will perform well where the breeder is based, but will do poorly in trials where a potential grower is. Oftentimes, she says, trials occur in Europe before they even reach the United States.
“It’s asking, ‘Do we see here what they saw at trials in The Netherlands?’” Drumgool says. “That’s the first test — to see if it has good keeping quality, good color, that it doesn’t split, performs well throughout the growing season and it blooms at a proper time.”
If a variety makes it into year two, Ball evaluates the plant in more detail to see if it fills a gap in its mum program, fits into a certain family, and/or would be an upgrade on a plant currently in the program.
“That’s a very small group of product,” she says. In years three and four, the plants will be introduced into tissue culture to grow stock plants. Then, the chosen plants are listed as new varieties and as available in small quantities for growers to try as Ball collects more data on the plant.
“We want a plant that’s going to have good keeping quality so it performs well not just for the grower, but the retailer, the landscaper, the end consumer,” she says. The main characteristics Drumgool says Ball values are keeping quality, disease resistance, habit and uniformity, no heat delay and excellent overall performance.
As for colors, she says the most popular colors on the market are the standard fall ones.
“Yellow is the most popular, along with the oranges and the reds,” Drumgool says. “What we have seen is the purples are becoming more popular in color and the pinks are less so. If the growers have a choice, they tend to prefer the purples over the pinks.”