‘Mum’s’ the Word at Hutson Greenhouse



June 20, 2007 – While most residents in southeast Missouri are watching their summer flower beds take off with radiant color, staff members at Southeast Missouri State University’s Charles L. Hutson Horticulture Greenhouse have turned their attention to fall mums.

Last week, some 8,500 unrooted mum cuttings arrived at the greenhouse, and staff members have rolled up their sleeves in full force as the season takes root.

“We’re usually working months ahead of the crop,” said Denise Pingel, manager of the greenhouse.

The Charles L. Hutson Horticulture Greenhouse, near the intersection of Bertling and Old Sprigg, serves as a trial site for a variety of plant breeders seeking insights and important growing information about their products. The greenhouse tests varieties of mums for Yoder in Barberton, Ohio, GroLink in Oxnard, Calif., and Ball Seed Co. in West Chicago.

“The University began working with mums in the late 1970s” and has continued to do so, Pingel said.

The unrooted mum cuttings – shipped 50 in a bag – began arriving on June 12. Greenhouse staff and student employees have since planted them in trays filled with soil and “fogged” them with a mist of water every 15 minutes between the hours of 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m. An alarm sounds four times an hour to remind staff members to tend to this duty.

The fogging “breaks the surface tension,” Pingel said. This allows the mums to release heat, which, in turn “helps them to sustain themselves until they grow roots” – a process generally taking five to seven days.  Once the cuttings take root, they will be transplanted to larger containers, Pingel said. After July 4, the mums will be moved outdoors to mum beds and will be connected to water lines. Pingel said the growing of mums is a good opportunity for students to be involved in the entire process from the planting of the cuttings to customer sales in the fall.

“It’s a really good experience for them,” she said. “Very few schools have a production greenhouse where plants go from start to finish the way we do.”

As a trial site, the Charles L. Hutson Horticulture Greenhouse is charged with evaluating the growth of various plant varieties and providing the breeders with their results. Breeders provide all plant materials to test sites free of charge in exchange for growing information. Breeders are interested in knowing how their plants grew and if they sold well. Greenhouse staffers provide them with photographs of their products throughout the growing process and with information on customer reaction to their plants. Plant breeding companies use the growing information in the future marketing of their plants, Pingel said. “We are one of the only test sites in the Midwest,” Pingel said. “We are in a transition zone,” she said, explaining that Cape Girardeau is in a region sandwiched between northern and southern growing areas. “So they are interested in us working with their plants,” she said. The greenhouse is testing about 162 mum varieties this year in three types of flowers – decorative, daisies and spiders. Mums also will be available in several colors – yellow, bronze, red, white, purple, lavender and pink. Pingel said the “very early” varieties will be available around the beginning of August, and “early” varieties will be ready at the end of August or in early September. “Mid-season” varieties will be available in mid-September to mid-October,  and “late” varieties will be ready starting in the middle of October. “Season extenders” will conclude the mum growing season at the end of October. The Charles L. Hutson Horticulture Greenhouse will have many of its mums available for sale beginning Sept. 4 and at its fall festival on Sept. 29 as a part of Southeast’s Family Weekend activities.


Photo of students working on mum plants

Greenhouse students work with mum cuttings. From left are Meghan Boerding, Andy Shelby and Tehui Ting.