When Tex Lu walked into his first Sacramento flower show last November, the other competitors had one word for his marvelous mums.
“Wow! That’s all we could say,” said Sharon Peterson, a longtime member of the Sacramento Chrysanthemum Society. “He entered as a novice (a first-time exhibitor) and he could have won every single prize.”
A year later, Lu’s mums will be competing in the 73rd annual National Chrysanthemum Show for honors as America’s best. Fortunately for Lu, that show will be held this weekend at the Sacramento Marriott. The retired engineer doesn’t have to travel far from his West Sacramento home to show off his magnificent blooms, some as big as salad plates.
The hardest part will be choosing which flowers to enter, Lu said. “I have so many different ones – 272 cultivars. I have at least two of each, so that’s close to 600. It all depends on which ones are ready for the show.”
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“His flowers are all so spectacular, it’s hard to pick,” added Peterson. “His spiders are unbelievable.”
This event also doubles as the 69th annual Sacramento mum show, the first time these floral extravaganzas have coincided since 2005. Instead of facing just locally grown competition, Lu’s mums will have to measure up against flowers from much-more-experienced growers, some with decades of exhibition success.
“Tex has a multicolor thumb, not just green,” said Jon Peterson, Sharon’s husband and president of the local mum club. “His flowers deliver the wow factor. That’s what you want at the show.”
Exhibitors will bring flowers from throughout California and Oregon plus a few from the East Coast, said Sharon Peterson, who is helping organize the twin shows. “It will be pretty much West Coast, but there will be a ton of flowers including hundreds that people have never seen before.”
Mums come in many forms, colors and varieties. That lure originally drew Lu to King’s Mums nursery, a mecca for flower lovers for four decades.
Lu was looking for something unusual for his own garden. Before it was sold in 2008 and moved out of state, King’s Mums grew thousands of eye-catching plants for local gardeners at its Clements nursery.
“I met the owner, Ted King,” recalled Lu. “Our last house in Davis had a smaller backyard. When we moved (to West Sacramento), I started growing other things. At the time, I was looking for chrysanthemums – some spider mums – but all you could find was the kind in supermarkets. So I tried Ted.”
King talked Lu into much more. After that first visit in 2004, Lu left the nursery with four little plants including a Dusky Queen spider mum, which he still grows. He also kept going back to King’s to add to his collection.
“Before mums, I had a lot of Asian flowers,” Lu said. “I grew Japanese tree peonies; that was my hobby. But those flowers last only a few days. After two weeks, they’re all gone. But mums last a long time – a month or more. They became my new favorite flower.”
Now, Lu’s backyard is filled with 4- to 5-foot-tall mums, all in pots. Tarps overhead protected them from last week’s rain, which would have damaged the gorgeous flowers.
Lu, who retired last year from his work as a hydraulic engineering consultant, took a scientific approach to perfecting his mums. He didn’t start competing in flower shows until last year, when he finally had time to concentrate on his hobby. Lu also joined the local mum club and absorbed knowledge from longtime flower exhibitors.
He grows all his mums from rooted cuttings, transplanted in three waves: late February, April and July. The staggered planting compensates for fluctuations in weather, he explained. Each cutting gets its own 1-gallon plastic pot, filled with perlite-rich potting mix for good drainage.
“You want to keep the soil light; no dirt!” Lu said. “They’re all on drip (irrigation). In the summer, they get five minutes a day.”
Lu adds Osmocote slow-release fertilizer when transplanting. After that, he feeds his plants only three more times with high-phosphate starter fertilizer, he said. “It gives them the potassium and phosphate they need for big blooms, but they also get a lot of trace minerals.”
As the plants grow, he trims off side buds and shoots so each mum will focus its energy on producing one big bloom on one sturdy stem – perfect for flower exhibition. As they grow, the stems get support from bamboo sticks.
Lu’s best tip for other novice growers? “Join the mum club,” he said. “That way you’ll learn.”
69th annual Sacramento mum show
This spectacular local show also doubles this year as the 73rd National Chrysanthemum Society convention and show. See hundreds of mums at their peak of beauty. Learn how to grow this beautiful fall flower.
Where: Sacramento Marriott, 11211 Point East Drive, Rancho Cordova
When: 1-4 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 5; 10 a.m.-3 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 6