Festive Display of Mums Rooted in Research at Southeast

Southeast student Yongjun Yue tends to mums outside the Hutson Greenhouse.

CAPE GIRARDEAU, Mo., Oct. 1, 2015 – Fall is in the air, meaning it’s that time of year when visitors will find hundreds of varieties of mums in their glory, on display for viewing and available for purchase at the Charles Hutson Horticulture Greenhouse at Southeast Missouri State University.

While many residents enjoy the added color mums bring to their front porch at this time of year, some may not know the Hutson Greenhouse is the largest trial site in the lower Midwest and among the largest trial sites performing full-scale mum testing using only container-grown plants. This sets the greenhouse apart from other garden mum trial sites where the flowers are grown in a planted-garden setting.

Visitors to the Hutson Greenhouse at 1039 Bertling will find mums in full bloom now, but the entire growing process began in late May when it received unrooted cuttings from GroLink and Dummen/Aris, cooperating breeders, propagators and suppliers of mums. That’s when students rooted the cuttings, grew them to the transplant stage, transplanted the rooted cuttings in containers and eventually moved them outside to complete the growing process.

“We receive mums from suppliers who provide new mum varieties to growers around the country,” said Dr. Sven Svenson, associate professor of agriculture. “Many of these varieties have breeders’ codes, but are not yet named or otherwise available to the general public. The new varieties are being tested to see if they are ‘better’ than varieties presently available. A better variety may be more pest and disease resistant during production. It may have a more appealing flower color. It may have a longer blooming season, or bloom sooner, or later, than existing varieties.”

Greenhouse Manager Denise Pingel guides student employees through the testing process, introducing them to the applied, comparative research performed annually at the facility.

Generally-accepted production practices are used for watering, fertilizing and integrated pest management, Svenson said. Any extraordinary growth responses, diseases or pest issues are recorded. As mums reach the blooming stage, students may record important growth stages, such as the first week when blooming begins, how long particular varieties bloom, how well varieties maintain a quality appearance and when blooming is at its peak, he said. Plants also are photographed and sent weekly to the suppliers.

“We do similar studies with annuals in the spring,” Svenson said. “The Charles Nemanick Alternative Agriculture Garden that surrounds the Hutson Greenhouses does similar testing of landscape, fruit and vegetable plots or of products used to grow those plants.”

Students, this fall, are selling the mums, where they learn which plants retail customers prefer to purchase, Svenson said.

He says the greenhouse’s retail customers also benefit from the research.

“They get access to mum varieties that are not available at other retail locations,” he said. “The choices they make as customers influence which varieties will be grown for retail sales in future years.  Aside from the originally-supplied cuttings, our mums are ‘locally-grown.’”

The Hutson Greenhouse also benefits from being a test site.

“Our sales are likely improved because we have the most recent varieties available, and the most diverse selection,” Svenson said.

Frances Gould, left, with assistance from Southeast agribusiness– plant and soil science student, Zach Sneed, selects mums to purchase at the Hutson Greenhouse.

Suppliers, Svenson says, gain a wealth of information as well during the growing process.

“They get to see the results of side-by-side comparisons of their varieties grown next to the varieties sold by competitors.  They learn how those varieties propagate, grow, and resist pests and diseases in our region of the country,” Svenson said. “They get an early ‘test’ of customer preferences for the as-yet unreleased new varieties.  The knowledge gained improves the recommendations they can make to the wholesale producers of garden mums supplying mums to this region of the country.”

Also getting a boost in the mum growing process is the nationally-certified Monarch/Butterfly/Pollinator garden at the Charles Nemanick Alternative Agriculture Garden. While mums are blooming at the Greenhouse this fall, they feed many butterflies and other pollinators, enhancing the habitat support provided by the nearby Butterfly/Pollinator Garden.

“So, while shopping for their favorite garden mums, I hope our customers also stop to take a moment and enjoy the colorful in-motion show provided by the visiting butterflies and other pollinators,” Svenson said. “It can be fun to try to determine if a particular butterfly has a favorite variety or flower color it prefers to visit.”

The Hutson Greenhouse is open for garden mum sales Monday through Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m. and Saturday 9 a.m.-noon. For more information, call (573) 651-2316.