CO-Horts Blog

Monday, July 27, 2015

Judge or Be Judged!

Photos and Post by Linda Langelo, CSU Program Horticulture Associate
So you have worked hard all season and now the county fair is upon us. You want to show off your very best flowers. Whether you are new or have done this multiple times, it helps to be refreshed by reading these common sense guidelines to make exhibiting fun at fair rather than stressful. Exhibiting starts long before fair. Sometime around January when you are in your recliner looking through all those new seed catalogues you start planning what you want to grow. You see all those wonderful new plants, but you don't have enough room in your yard to plant them. No one is thinking about fair or what to grow to exhibit. But the really experienced exhibitors do, along with the professional exhibitors who might professionally exhibit roses, dahlias, iris or some other flower. It is not a bad idea while still rustling through those catalogues to decide what you might want to exhibit for fair. While you are ordering, add extra to your list of what you are going to grow to exhibit for fair. You order extra because what if one plant gets a disease or something else happens to it. Once you have made your plant list, you might want to stop and plan the appropriate locations for everything in your landscape thinking about sun, water, soil, exposure and fertilizer requirements.

A good grower or gardener will have a great deal of good material to exhibit because of course you plan for hail, drought, wind and flooding, right? So it’s fair time. Once you have a fair book do the following to make fair seamless: 

1) read the rules carefully
2) decide what you want to exhibit, and remember you have already done this in your recliner in January, lastly,
3) follow the rules. If your entry calls for 3 miniature marigolds, do not enter six. This will get you disqualified. Naturally pick extras in case something happens along the way to fair.
4) If possible, prepare the entries the night before or the day of your exhibitions.
5) Pack and carry all the entries you wish to exhibit that preserves the freshness of your flowers.
6) Be on time and have fun.
7) If you are permitted, be present when your entries are being judged. You can learn a lot. Sometimes, the most successful exhibitors are those who have the most experience.

Here are some tips for selecting the best flowers to show:
1) your flower should be free of insects.
2) your flower should be free of disease.
3) your flower should not be malformed.
4) your flower should be free of mechanical damage and soil. The idea is to bring in foliage and flowers in their prime condition. Do not polish any of your specimens. In order to understand what is meant by prime condition you need to familiarize yourself with the flower(s) you wish to exhibit. Know what is typical of the flowers form, maturity and color. Many exhibitors pick coneflowers which are past their prime with slightly faded flower petals that are pointing downward to the ground. When wanting to bring three flowers of a particular specimen, they must be at the same maturity, as close as possible to the same true color of the flower for that specimen and all three the same size or very close. 

It is always best to grow a lot of one specimen so that when fair time comes, you have a lot to cut to fit the requirements. Here is yet another list to keep in mind about how your flower(s) will be judged as you are picking your flower(s):
1) form: uniformity, maturity and shape.
2) stem and foliage: strength and straightness
3) color: intensity and clarity
4) size: typical to variety
5) condition: free from blemishes

You might think this is alot to remember, but I am confident you can do it. If you have any questions, you can always call your local Horticultural Extension Agent. If you are really interested in exhibiting further, there are plant societies for almost every flower on the market. Many are professionally judged such as roses, daylilies and irises. These plant societies have additional guidelines on how those specific specimens are judged.


  1. Question - we had hail earlier in the year. The flowers are fine, but the foliage is not. Should it be trimmed?

  2. Sometimes plants do not recover at all from hail. If the flowers are annual flowers where the foliage is badly damaged, then I would say they may not recover at this point. Go ahead and clean them up and apply a light fertilization. If the flowers are perennial with badly damaged foliage, you could still go ahead and cut back the flowers and do a light feeding of low-nitrogen. The Plant Talk topic link below on hail damage refers to this topic.
    Just keep in mind, it is the foliage or the leaves of any plant that captures radiant energy(sunlight) and transforms the energy into sugars and starches which feeds the plant. Nitrogen is the nutrient that helps produce and keep leaves healthy.