Look Down and All Around! Sustainably Grown Mums Blossoming Around Campus

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The large planters of late-season chrysanthemums popping up around campus were nurtured by a new, smart solar-powered irrigation system. Nearly 2,000 plants with bronze, orange, yellow or (naturally) maroon flowers have been moved from the mum field on Tillson Farm Road to the more than 100 planters in the campus core, with the hope that the color will last through Homecoming 2019 later this month.

Horticulturalist Tim Mercer, hired last year to grow flowering crops and help maintain the arboretum of trees on campus, suggested an upgrade in the irrigation system, which had previously required staff to trek out to the field and turn the water flow on and off several times a day. Electricity was a must to develop an automated drip irrigation system.

Todd Cournoyer, supervisor of landscape management, and Mercer settled on a solar-powered system that could more consistently and effectively water the young plants, while saving staff time and advancing the university’s sustainability efforts.

A solar panel was installed at the top of the nearby maintenance shed, which houses the electronic controller that opens and closes the water-flow valves. Mercer can program the system to optimize water pressure and its efficient delivery through spaghetti tubing that runs to a drip stick that’s pushed into every plant. 

Mercer knows that mums need a lot of water in summer and programmed the plants to receive 10 minutes of dripping water three to four times a day. “The system can provide water to different areas at different times of the day,� says Mercer, who walked the mum field twice a day all summer to check on the plants. “You have to watch the weather to know how to water the plants.�

In the end, all the hard work paid off. “Tim did a great job and grew a consistent crop,� Cournoyer says.“They look fantastic.�