Tips on Entering a flower show
From The Real Dirt, Spring 2008
Many a ribbon has been lost in a horticulture exhibit because the cut specimen was not conditioned properly. The term "conditioning" means treating cut plant material to make foliage and flowers last as long as possible. It is not just for specimens used in flower arranging.
There are some general tips for the majority of cut specimens.
While many people recommend cutting in the evening or early morning, I have found it best to cut flowers at sundown when the plant's food reserves are at their maximum after a full day of photosynthesis. Since the plant's ability to absorb water ends when its pores (stomata) close at dark, these cuttings will lose less moisture at nightfall than at other times. The exception is very hot weather when stems should be cut in the morning before the dew has evaporated.
Make sure all your cutting implements and containers are clean before you begin. It is important to get the cut specimen into water immediately so no air enters the stem to prevent the uptake of water. Carry a bucket filled with enough warm water to be able to submerge at least the lower half of each stem. Use a sharp knife, scissors or clippers to cut the stem at an angle, being careful not to crush it. Always cut the stem as long as possible. You can recut it later, under water, to modify the length to fit the proportions of the container or other cuts in your exhibit. Cuttings will benefit from standing in water for several hours or even overnight, if possible, in a cool, dark place. Remove all leaves below water level. This helps to prevent decay and rotting of leaves that can result in a buildup of bacteria.
Grooming is one of the most important parts of growing and showing. The cleanup should not be put off until moments before the show but should be part of your daily routine for the well-being of your plants. Don't wait for yellow leaves and faded flowers to drop!
Both plant and container need to be considered in a well groomed exhibit. Here is a check-list of some of the things to do:
Clean leaves with a soft cloth, paint brush, Q-tips, cotton balls, etc. When removing dust and debris from the plant, don't forget to look under the leaves.
Do NOT apply oil or polish to the leaves.
Use fingernail scissors to CAREFULLY and unobtrusively remove brown stubs. Try to camouflage the cuts with charcoal, eyebrow pencil or soil.
Center the plant in your pot (unless it is a Par entry, such as a bonsai-style plant). Plants have been overlooked for awards because they were not centered. Turn the plant regularly for symmetrical growth.
If a plant to be exhibited needs repotting, do so well in advance of the show.
Remove perlite, tiny weeds and any stray debris from the surface of the potting soil. If you are not repotting, scrape off a little potting soil, without disturbing the roots, and add additional soil. This really improves an entry.
Be sure to condition your specimen thoroughly. Generally pick flowers when they are 3/4 open so they will be open for the show. For branches, try to choose specimens that have many flowers in various stages (bud, partially open and fully opened)
Top dressing may be used, if specified in the schedule. However, it should always be below the rim of the container. If the specimen has a stem that divides near the surface of the potting medium, the top dressing should not obscure the single stem, or judges may assume there are two plants in the container and disqualify the entry.
Spent pollen should be removed from flower petals (you could try a soft paint brush, but it is not easy).
If you are grooming insect or wind damage on leaves, trim the leaf to match the shape of an undamaged leaf. Egg white on the cut edges will keep them from turning brown.
And remember when deciding what to enter:
Hairy leaves are difficult to groom.
Plants with many small leaves and flowers are hard to groom.
Ideas for Transporting Plants
Taken from material by Carolyn McGregor, Green Tree GC of Milwaukee, Zone XI
Well before the flower show, plan how to transport your entries. A few tried-and-true methods:
Place potted plant in a box. Surround pot with thickly crushed newspaper to stabilize it. Blow up commercial plastic sandwich bags. Twist ends, fold over and tie very tightly to prevent the escape of air. Place inflated bags under and around foliage (these are so light they will protect the plant and not interfere with its natural shape).
Transport the plant in plastic foam (picnic) container. Use plastic pellets to protect the plant.
Use beer or wine cartons already fitted with dividers.
Support plants in plastic foam boxes with openings or cardboard boxes with circular holes cut to the size of the pot. These boxes can be placed in larger cartons for added protection.