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Rose Show Preparation

By Tom Mayhew, CR
    Long before the rose show date, you can start preparing some entry tags (different size tags for standard size and miniature roses) for the rose show by filling in the sections requiring your name and address. Self-stick address labels are good for this. Many of the rose shows are “color shows” (the alternative is an “alphabetic show”), where the roses are entered in classes by color. So you will need to know both the ARS official Approved Exhibition Name (AEN) and the ARS official color of the rose. This “official” color is sometimes a bit different from its appearance on the rose. The American Rose Society’s booklet “Handbook for Selecting Roses” has a limited listing of about 3,000 ARS official rose names and includes the variety classification and color. Also available from the ARS, is a larger booklet containing a complete listing, “Official List of Approved Exhibition Names for Exhibitors & Judges.” Another good source is “The Combined Rose List” (
    A few weeks before the Rose Shows, look in your garden to see what roses you have that might produce potential entries for the upcoming Rose Shows. If you have a potential exhibition bloom developing on a long stem hybrid tea, pinch off any new side buds that may be starting to grow so that you can enter it as a “one exhibition bloom, disbudded, no side buds”. On developing sprays, you may want to pinch out the center bud in order to let the spray develop as a uniform and symmetrically shaped rose spray. During the weeks before the show, make sure the roses get plenty of water in order to help enhance the substance (freshness) and color of the bloom and the quality of the foliage.
   When you enter roses in a rose show, you want the blooms to be at the “most perfect phase of possible beauty” at the time the judges are looking at your rose. This means you may have to select a rose that is close, but possibly not quite yet at that stage because the bloom will continue to open somewhat, even after the rose has been cut from the bush. For a hybrid tea rose, the classic “exhibition form” is a bloom that has a high-pointed center with the petals unfurling in a symmetrical spiral form and is somewhere between 1/3 to ¾ open, depending on the number of petals. Each rose class has its own “most perfect phase” and the rose exhibitor should become familiar with what the rose judges are looking for. For more guidance on this, talk to experienced rose exhibitors or rose judges, or obtain a copy of the ARS manual “Guidelines for Judging Roses”.
   The question of when to cut the roses for the Rose Show depends upon a number of factors. To have the best freshness, substance and color, you would like to cut the rose as close to the show date as possible, preferably within a day or two of the Rose Show. However, circumstances may force you to cut the rose sooner. The rose form may be developing too fast and you may have to cut it to stop it from “blowing open” past the exhibition form stage. Or rain may be expected which would ruin the quality of the bloom for potential exhibition purposes. Some exhibitors use protective bloom covers to protect the bloom from spoilage by the rain. One of these is a home-made bloom protector, made by cutting the bottom out of a one gallon plastic milk container and then with the cap on, placing and supporting it through the container handle on a garden stake. When rain is expected, the open end of the supported milk container with its cap on is lowered over the bloom, but not touching the bloom. The milk container is sometimes painted green for esthetic reasons to blend in the rose garden.  If you are going to refrigerate the rose, than you may cut it up to a week or so before the Rose Show.

   When you do decide to cut the rose, the best time to cut it is preferably in the early morning or else very late in the afternoon. Cut Hybrid Teas with stem lengths of about 22 inches or more. You can later re-cut them for proper proportion of bloom and stem. Put nametags on the roses as you cut them so that you can easily identify your roses at the show, but remember to remove the tags before you enter the roses in the rose show. A foreign substance on a rose is cause for disqualification of a rose entry. When you do cut the roses from the plant for the rose show, immediately place the stems in “room/outdoor temperature” water. Then re-cut the stems under water to prevent air bubbles from entering the stem. Place the roses in a cool dark place simulating evening time, like in the shade or a cool basement. Keep the stem ends in water to let the roses drink up the water to hydrate the rose blooms and help retain freshness. This usually takes about an hour or so. Next, do some rose preparation at home, like cleaning up the foliage by wiping each leaf with a wet paper towel. The leaves should be clean and disease-free, no blackspot. Use a pair of deckle-edged or small straight-edged scissors to trim and shape defective leaves. You can even trim a defective rose petal.
   If the cut roses are to be kept for a few days or more before the show, a decision has to be made as to how to store them. After you have cut the rose from the bush, you want the bloom to “hold” near or at the stage at which it was cut. The roses can be stored in plain water at room temperature, but they will slowly continue to open and eventually lose the exhibition form and substance. Storing the roses in a cool dark place, like a basement can help reduce this. Alternatively, the rose blooms can be inhibited from further opening by refrigerating the roses, with the stems in water or in a floral conditioning solution. The refrigeration slows down transpiration rate, reducing the loss of moisture from the rose. A refrigerator, which is not frost free, and is dedicated to storing roses at about 36 (34-38) degrees F. with a relative humidity of 60%-80%, could be used for this purpose. But, don’t let the roses freeze.  
   A floral conditioner contains little or no rose food nutrients. This is different from a floral preservative, which does contain a nutrient to feed the bloom. The purpose of a floral conditioning solution, like Chrysal Professional 1 Hydrating Solution (which contains no rose food), is to condition the roses by killing harmful bacteria that can block water passage up the cut stem, lower the water pH, dilate the stem cells to maximize water uptake to keep the stem and petals turgid (stiff), while preventing the rose bloom from opening too fast (“holding” the rose). The roses can be stored in this hydrating solution in cold storage for an extended time. However, some rose exhibitors suggest 5-7 days as a practical maximum for refrigerating exhibition roses. Roses in cold storage should have the stems re-cut under water every 3 days or so. Roses should not be left standing in a conditioner for a prolonged period of time at room temperature.
   A new Chrysal Professional 2, that combines the hydration (70%) and rose food (30%) in one solution, is now available from Rosemania. The concept here is that the limited amount of nutrients in Crystal Professional 2 will help the bloom to hold color and substance better under refrigeration.      
   Some roses can be refrigerated for up to a week or more, while other roses do not refrigerate well and may discolor when refrigerated. Experience is helpful here. Generally, OGR’s, polyanthas, roses with thin petals of little substance and some dark red roses do not refrigerate well. If you want to enter OGRs, that will be fresh and hold up during the show, it is best to cut them the evening before the show, or if you have time, cut them the morning of the show. 
   Here is the point scoring system that the Judges use at the rose shows:
STEM & FOLIAGE……………………….20

Recommended Reading:
Showing Good Roses by Robert B. Martin, Jr.

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