Bringing Your Roses to the Rose Show

Resurrecting an old post, with some good info:

I’d bring roses to the show, but….

Yes, you’re not the first person to say that, so hopefully some tips for deciding which roses you want to bring and how to cut and prepare them will convince you that this year is the time you will actually do it. (Go here for the Rose Show info.)

Autumn Splendor Mini Rose

Always make sure your rose bushes are well hydrated. Water, as my mentor Sylvia McCracken would say, is the most important fertilizer you can give your roses. Dry soil stresses the plant, making it more susceptible to disease and insects and it also leaves the bush without the substance, the leaves aren’t healthy and vigorous in appearance.

As you wander through your rose garden you notice that you have a rose that is starting to open up. Buds do not bring awards at a show, but sometimes we get early roses – at least that is true for your editor. Normally I am fortunate if I can get miniature roses ready for the 4th Saturday of June, but with our show this year a week earlier I am seeing more color than I had imagined possible.

Okay, you see the rose. For hybrid tea “one-per-stem” blooms you don’t want any sidebuds. If you were not watching for this and see some side growth but think the bloom is worth showing, try snapping if off with a sideways pull. Or after you have cut the bloom, using a razor blade or very sharp knife you can carefully cut out the side growth so it doesn’t leave a stub.

That is not to say I haven’t seen roses shown in national shows with stubs sometimes ¼ to ½ inch long, but that is not what you want to have.

Amadeus, Large Flowered Climbing Rose
Amadeus, Large Flowered Climber

Removing those side buds when they are just forming helps to keep the main rose standing straight, but right now we are more concerned with just getting you past the fear of bringing roses to the show.

The ideal time for cutting blooms is early morning or early evening when the rose has a lot of moisture, but roses do not always reach their ideal cutting stage at these times.

If a bloom is ready in the middle of the day, go ahead and cut it. Just bring it into the cool house right away. One never knows what will become of that rose as it develops.

What you are looking for is a rose where the sepals have come down and the bloom is starting to open. For roses with a lot of petals you can wait for it to open up more, but with a rose with, say, 25 petals or so, that one will continue to open and be a fully open bloom before it ever hits the show table.

Even then, all is not lost, as we have classes for fully open blooms. To be classified that way you need to see the stamens. When any stamens are visible, that eliminates the rose from the exhibition form Class 20. Practice this during the summer, and you will soon see how rapidly the different roses open up.

Apricot Twist Miniature Rose

As you cut each bloom, place the blooms in a bucket of warm water that you carry out to the garden with you. Do not cram too many in the bucket at one time as you may tear some of the foliage. Cut enough stem length to allow for cutting off another half inch or so when you are conditioning the roses.

Another thing I like to do is make some strips of paper on which I can write the name of the rose. Especially with mini roses, it’s amazing how much alike they can look when you have a container of them. Wrap the paper strip around the neck of the rose and affix it with a pin or tape. Be sure, however, to remove it after you have recorded all the pertinent information on the entry tag. Judges don’t like it left on, believe me!!

For miniatures, if you have an old shoebox, you can make holes in the top and insert orchid tubes. Fill them with water and use freezer tape strips for recording the names of the roses right where they sit. Next year you just pull the tape off and start with fresh recording material.

Graham Thomas, a David Austin Rose

So, you ask, what if I see a rose on Wednesday that is opening, and I know it will be fully open by Saturday? (Besides, the rain may ruin the bloom if it is opening well!) If you have room in the refrigerator, this can be done. If the refrigerator is self-defrosting, as most modern ones are, this process will suck moisture out of the bloom, so it is a good idea to protect the bloom.

To keep it from being mashed and misshapen, cut open the side of a Styrofoam cup, and into the bottom of it to allow for the rose stem, slide this around the bloom and then slip a plastic bag over the top and secure it under the cup. Keep the stem in a container of water and make room for the rose so it won’t be bent down. If this means you have to remove some food to take out a shelf, so be it!

To be honest, I rarely do this, because while we have a refrigerator in the shop that is not self defrosting, I have seen it freeze the blooms for me, and that is quite discouraging, believe me! Some roses don’t like being refrigerated. Often red roses will turn bluish, but you will soon learn with some practice.

What does it mean to condition the rose?

Madame Alfred Carrière Rose
Madame Alfred Carrière Rose

First of all, dirty leaves or bits of willow cotton on the leaves will not be well received by the judges. They may also comment if a leaf is torn. Sometimes removing a leaf, if it doesn’t affect the symmetry of the exhibit, is actually better, but lay your hand over the offending leaf and see what the specimen looks like without it. To be or not to be, that is the question! The same thing will apply to outer petals on the bloom later as you enter your rose in the show. More on that later.

After you have cleaned the leaves of a specimen, cut that half inch of the stem off under water, and place it in a second container that is filled with warm water. I like to use a tall container so I can submerge all the leaves and right up close to the bloom. When you have finished conditioning all your roses, place the container in a cool, dark place and allow them to soak up the water and ‘harden off.’ If you have cut these blooms a couple of days before the show or more, you may want to refrigerate them to keep them from continuing to open, but if it is just the day before, leave the container in this cool, dark place until you are ready to transport them to the show. Some Flora-Life in the water is good for the conditioning period, too.

Okay. It’s show day. What do I do now?

Morden Sunrise, of the Canadian Series of Roses
Morden Sunrise, of the Canadian Series of Roses

Rose show schedules were sent out to all the email members earlier. (We will also have some available at the show.) This will help you understand the show a little better. When I first became a member, not only was showing roses scary, but we had color class shows, so you had to know the color class, the name of the rose, the type of rose, all that good stuff. Now all you have to do is know the name and class of the rose, which isn’t difficult.

Look over the schedule. Class 20 is for hybrid tea exhibition form blooms, meaning one bloom to a stem at the perfect stage. That is generally considered ½ to ¾ open, depending on the number of petals. As I say, you don’t want to have stamens showing, but you want the rose to be opening.

Picture a triangle. You want the rose a little tighter than that, or by show time it will be past that stage, as the rose will continue to open as the room warms up, but this is what the judges look for in form. When you look down on the rose from the top you don’t want to see a confused or double center. Often just working with the rose with a small artist brush you can move the petals around where they are supposed to be. That’s perfectly okay to do.

The Roger Lambelin Rose
The Roger Lambelin Rose

Okay. This is your first time at a rose show, and I remember being very nervous, but have no fear. There is any number of people there willing and able to advise you. This is a fun hobby, and while we all want to win, if we see a good rose, we want to see it exhibited in the best way possible, so don’t hesitate to ask for help when you arrive at the show.

A good example was Sue Wilmoth’s Mini American Box last year. She had some absolutely stunning ‘Biola Centennial’ roses and didn’t know what to do with all of them, so we suggested using some of them in Class 45, which is a geometric pattern. Wow! So look again at the schedule and see what the challenge classes require.

Getting Them There

"Cat Tales" Winner of the Mini Keepsake Award
“Cat Tales” Winner of the Mini Keepsake Award

Transporting roses to the show is easy when you are entering a local show, because you don’t have to worry about coolers and orchid tubes and the like. You just need to be sure you have a way to keep your container upright, and. It is best to drain away a lot of the water, too, so you don’t have more outside the container than in as you travel.

You will probably find that some of the classes you planned for certain roses no longer fit. Maybe the rose opened too quickly. Well, enter it in the fully open class. Maybe you have more than one of a particular variety. That’s where the challenge classes rescue you.

The Velvet Touch Picture Frame Challenge requires one exhibition form bloom and one leaf set. So even if you have a gorgeous rose but find the stem is too short or the leaves don’t look good, try that class. There are also classes for both large and mini roses in a bowl (Classes 15 and 48).

As you place the rose in the vase, take the time to gently dry the leaves and make sure they are clean. Did you know if you use just your fingers and rub the leaves it gives them a shine. Again, it’s that little extra that makes the difference in the eyes of the judges. Don’t rub on any oils, though. That disqualifies the exhibit!

Fill out the entry tag, being sure to fold it so your name is hidden. Secure it to your entry with a rubber band that is provided by the rose society. Place it in the proper class on the show tables, and then go test something Ruth’s Catering has to offer.

That will settle your nerves until judging is over and – hey, what’s that? An award?? Guaranteed, next year it will be much easier, but one thing is sure: You can’t win if you don’t enter, so make this year the year you try.

Yes, there are probably things I failed to mention here, but you can be sure there will be an answer by a fellow exhibitor at the rose show.

Come on in and we’ll be happy to help. -Lynn

Links to more info: