by Guest Author
Dale A. Cochoy
In the late 1980s I saw and enjoyed, an established root-over-rock Chrysanthemum bonsai that was owned by the late Max Puderbaugh of Columbus, Ohio.
Max was a past ABS Director and founder of the Columbus Bonsai Society.
At that time I tried to form a similar root-over-rock plant from a garden center mum but I wasn't successful.
Well, I simply "forgot" about Chrysanthemum bonsai until many years later when I saw some VERY dwarf varieties growing at an arboretum in Michigan.
When I asked about the variety, I was told they were from King's Mums in California. I contacted the people at King's about the possibility of using their mums for a workshop at the
Akron/Canton Bonsai Society.
I was very attracted to the idea of having flowering bonsai at a time of year when nothing else is flowering in NE Ohio.
I received the King’s catalog filled with color pictures and descriptions of over 250 varieties of Chrysanthemum. King's specifically recommended seven varieties which they call "Gnomes" for Chrysanthemum bonsai.
At the next bonsai meeting we passed around catalogs and had people sign up for ordering. The way that King's handles the orders is they send your rooted cuttings on the date you specify. Each variety of cutting comes in a baggie with a label tag. They start shipping on February 28th.
A lead time is involved -- they need to root the cuttings. I recommend contacting them in late Winter (depending on your climate.) Then you can have the cuttings in early Spring.
You will want as much "growing time" as possible before the next Fall blooming period. They were so cheap that all members ordered several of each variety.
I had plenty of lead time in my order, so the nice people at King's could get the mums to me the day before our April meeting. That way I didn't have to "do something with them" until the meeting.
I just left them in the baggies and instructed everyone in the club to bring some soil and nursery containers. Since the bags of all the varieties of cuttings were labeled nicely we had a very orderly early-April meeting to pot up the cuttings.
I have a couple of suggestions to anyone sponsoring a Chrysanthemum workshop like this. You should have a good supply of markers of some type and a way to label them. We used chop sticks and a Sharpie marker to label each potted plant. The cuttings tend to all look alike when potted up.
Also, do not allow anyone to remove the supplied labels from the bags of cuttings until they are empty or you will become confused as to which bag is which variety of mum. Most importantly, keep a list of who ordered how many of which types.
Ted King recommended potting the cuttings in 4" containers and then repotting approximately every 45 days.
I never got around to repotting, and after about three months I found my plants to be too dry most of the time, not developing well and very root bound. Several other people in the club were also having problems along these lines and to top it all off, we weren't keeping up with pinching/trimming very well to work on specific styles and compactness.
I recommend potting the Chrysanthemum up in a little larger pots the first time because they grow VERY fast.
I had intended to have a Fall meeting to show off our bonsai- potted and blooming plants, but I realized that would be a problem unless we got them all under better control. So I planned a mid-Summer meeting for our mum bonsai work and at that meeting many people’s problems became evident.
Several members, like me, had tended to neglect their plants too much. This is easy to do when tending and styling many other types of bonsai.
Ted King suggests that initial training, bending and wiring of the main lateral branches be done as early on as possible while the growth is still green and pliable. Otherwise, by late Summer, stems have become hard and might be easily broken.
Ted King says “there is no vacation from chrysanthemum bonsai training.” At their nursery in California, they try to spend some time with them every 10 days. If they are neglected they tend to "get away" from their proposed styles.
He stresses the importance of pinching/disbudding the mums. He does a "reserve pinch" in mid-August. This is a soft pinch given to all growing tips. It is a very important step to produce shortened flower stems and in preventing branch elongation. This produces more flower stems from which a final selection can be made. Unwanted twigs not required and resulting from this pinch are thinned out as they occur. Ted King also recommends a regime in his notes for pinching to achieve simultaneous blooming throughout the entire plant by pinching in zones.
I recommend following his instructions on this ... I didn't, and it showed! Disbudding of terminal bud clusters should also be carried out to retain only one bud per cluster and to select buds of similar maturity so that they will all bloom at the same time, and so that they will be spaced out evenly over the whole plant. The Chrysanthemum bonsai note sheet gave precise instructions on carrying out these important steps!
Our Summer meeting helped us get the plants into larger pots or even some bonsai pots. We got some late wiring done on a few and go into the trimming/pinching mode again.
I took the opportunity to plant some of my nicer shaped mums in dead, hollow old tree trunks, on/in rocks, and start some root-over-rock styles. Several of us managed to get some plants into fitting bonsai pots for further training.
Chrysanthemum bonsai cascade by Carlton Buck
For inspiration we had a couple copies of “The Art Of The Chrysanthemum" by Tameji Nakajima and H. Carl Young.
This book is the best source for information on growing and styling Chrysanthemum bonsai. It contains many beautiful pictures of old Japanese bonsai mums in all styles. First printed in 1965, this book is no longer in print, but, it may be available through searching used book businesses on the internet.
This book is a "must" for any serious bonsai people and especially if your local club has interest in doing a "season-long” project.
We had three meetings devoted this project. Most members got their Chrysanthemums planted into bonsai pots very shortly before the last meeting.
And I potted my root-over-rock styles, which I had been slowly washing soil off the roots for a few weeks.
Our final meeting in November was a "show off” of our Chrysanthemum bonsai and we took some pictures of some of the nicer ones and talked about how we would try to over-winter them.
We planned on trying to over-winter in several different ways. I had decided to keep my nicest plantings inside, under my tropical plant grow lights and keep them growing all winter. I hoped to thicken the trunks better and keep as much old-wood on them as I could.
Mr. King says in his notes that to promote new growth on old wood the blooms must be removed completely as soon as possible. Experiments have shown that spent blooms produce a toxin that kills back the stems.
We are supposed to keep them from drying out but not let them remain too wet. I find I am removing a lot of "suckers" emerging from the roots. If your plants old wood should die back, these suckers could be used to "re-start" your bonsai next season.
The Kings have been able to maintain one of the desirable old-wood types at their nursery for 11 years!
In his notes Mr. King also mentions several possible Chrysanthemum bonsai disease/pest problems including mildew, aphids and spider mites. I am glad to say that I did not have one single "bug" problem, but did start to get mildew on my plant just as it was starting to open the most blooms in late November.
I was not alone in having this mildew problem. Mr. King recommends keeping the foliage dry especially at night and spraying with a fungicide for mildew problems.
It seemed to take forever for our plants to open formed buds and look their best.
Depending upon your climate and growing conditions, try to get your cuttings early.
Get a "jump" on the growing season. (To help you obtain larger specimens by Fall.) This also allows you to select and wire your main branches earlier in the growing season.
The following is a list of the eight "Gnome" mums that King's recommends for Chrysanthemum bonsai culture. They were selected for their tiny (USA Quarter-sized) flowers, smaller leaves, short internodes, free-branching, and their ability to "Trunk-up" fairly quickly.:
Hatsune cultivar shown to the left. (My personal favorite!)
Yakuri to the right.
Even if you don't do a club program ... consider a Chrysanthemum bonsai for yourself!
Guest Author, the late Dale Cochoy wrote this Chrysanthemum bonsai article. Dale began studying bonsai in 1978. He studied with Ohio bonsaiman Keith Scott during the late '80's. Dale and a partner started Wild Things Bonsai Nursery on a part-time basis in 1989, Dale went full-time with the business in 1995.
Dale produced his own hand-built, one-of-a-kind stoneware bonsai pottery and in 2001 won 2nd place (modern category) in the National Bonsai Foundation's First North American Bonsai Pot Competition.
Dale is a founder of the Akron/Canton Bonsai Society and has served as President and Vice President. He is also a past President and Vice President of the Cleveland Bonsai Club. He was a member of the Board of Directors of the American Bonsai Society for two terms.
Dale passed away from cancer May 2019