Planning to enter flowers at the fair this summer? Here are some tips for blue ribbon entries.
First and foremost, flowers must be fresh. When you pick the blooms and how you handle them does make a difference in how well they will last in a cut flower arrangement.
Pick your flowers the day of the fair, preferably in the morning when the stems are filled with water. If you pick flowers in the heat of the day, they already may be partially wilted. When the stems are cut, air may enter the water-conducting vessels, blocking further water uptake.
Select only top quality blooms for your arrangements. Cut at a slant near the bottom of the stem, using a sharp knife rather than scissors, which tend to crush the stems. (Scissors work fine if thin stems. The anvil type pruners tend to mash the stems.) Plunge blooms in a bucket of tepid water to carry back to the house.
The water should be deep enough to come just below the flower heads. Use separate pails for each variety, or wrap each group in newspaper before placing in the bucket.
Indoors, precondition the cut flowers to make the arrangement last for several days. Wash the vases you’ll need in hot, soapy water, rinse thoroughly with warm tap water, then fill with fresh water that is bath temperature (about 100 degrees F).
Add floral preservative to the water. You can get this at any florist shop. Without the preservative, bacteria will multiply, clogging the stem ends and causing the flowers to wilt. Place the stems in the vases and move to a cool, draft-free area. Leave there until the water cools to room temperature.
Then it’s time to start arranging the flowers. But first check your fair premium book to determine the number of blooms allowed per arrangement and the classes you can enter. If the rules say six to eight blooms per entry, don’t stick in ten or 12 or your entry may be disqualified. (This is also a good time to make notes about flowers you may want to grow next year for cut flower categories as well as arrangements.)
For themed categories, such as a holiday arrangement or formal table centerpiece, be creative. For these classes, the container and idea play into the judges’ decision as much as the quality, choice, and arrangement of the flowers.
Recut the stems of soft-stemmed blooms under water, removing about one-half to one inch of the stem to allow better water absorption. Submerged leaves will decay rapidly, so be sure to remove all foliage that will be below the water line. Florists are no longer recommending that you crush the stems of woody plants, a practice floral arrangers–and fair exhibitors–have followed in the past.
To transport flowers safely to the fair, dump some of the water out of each vase into a larger container to avoid spillage. Bring this water with you to top off the vases when you arrive at the fair.
Pack arrangements upright in a sturdy cardboard box, using wadded newspaper to keep them separate. Do not let wind from open car windows blow directly on the flowers. Take extra blooms in case stems are broken or crushed during travel.
Give yourself plenty of time to get to the fair before the deadline for entering closes. Be sure to fill out each entry card completely. Then sit back and wait for the judges to announce the winners. One of them may be you!
EXHIBITING FLOWERS AT THE FAIR
By Dr. Leonard Perry
Extension Nursery and Greenhouse Crops Specialist
University of Vermont