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Village Show Top Tips




To produce prize winning blooms:

Stopping, debranching and disbudding.

Once the plant has grown to the required height, it should be ‘stopped’, i.e. the growing tip should be removed. This will reduce the natural apical (i.e. the growing tip) dominance and encourage the plant to produce side shoots from the buds in the leaf axils. More shoots means more flowers. The exhibitor can also use this to control the flowering times.   For a flower head that is less than 20cm (8inches) across (i.e. a ‘medium’ classification or less), it takes 8 weeks from stopping to flowering, longer for larger blooms. At this stage, a high potash feed should be applied.

As the plant starts to produce flower buds, the exhibitor will remove all wing buds (side buds), just leaving the main crown bud. At the same time the lower third of leaves should be removed. This reduces overall water usage and allows the shoot to concentrate on a single, and much larger, flower head.

Bloom protection

When the buds start to show colour, many exhibitors erect some form of covering to protect the flowers. Rain will get into the blooms and cause them to get heavier which may well snap the stems, or cause the petals to rot on the stem. Excess sun will cause the flowers to be bleached, and this is particularly obvious on red and purple blooms. It rarely is evident on white and yellow blooms, so many showmen concentrate on these colours on the show bench. The strong winds that blow every year in early September will also cause much damage.

A cheaper form of covering is the use of umbrellas, or polythene cones attached to strong stakes. These can be used to protect individual blooms and moved to another after the first is cut. These are easier to work with than large covers, but occupy more space, and are not as effective overall. Umbrellas are particularly useful to avoid bleaching.

Selection of blooms

In the week leading up to the show, check to see which blooms are likely to be at their best on show day. As they are selected, they should be supported with a split cane attached with two twist-its. In selecting, it is important to bear in mind the qualities that are required in the exhibit. The blooms should be balanced for size and colour and facing the same way when staged, and obviously should be as near perfection as can be achieved. As the show nears, check the schedule again to see if you have sufficient blooms for your entry, if you don't have enough for the vase, then leave them out to reduce work and unnecessary carrying.

Cutting bleeding and tying


Most blooms need to be cut the morning before the show. Cutting is best in the morning. Before cutting ensure you have a tub of cold water close by so the bloom is out of water for the minimum time. The stem should be cut at an angle at the bottom of the stem. The cut bloom should always be carried with the head down to avoid damage due to the weight of the head. Once cut, the stem should be put into the tub of cold water as quickly as possible. Since dahlias are hollow stemmed flowers, there will be air trapped in the cut stem. This has to be released to allow the bloom to take up the water properly. This is a process called bleeding. Insert the blade of a thin sharp knife into the stem about an inch below the water level, and this will release the air bubbles from the stem. It is always worth taking one or two spares in case there are any problems with the selected set of blooms (mark spares with a piece of coloured wool on the stems to avoid wasting time at the show).

Setting up blooms in the vase/s, bleeding stems

When setting up blooms in the vase, you need to consider the effect you are trying to achieve. The blooms should all face the same way and be fully visible, not overlapping each other and the vase should give the impression of a well balanced set. This applies whether the vase is to contain three or five blooms. Usually a three bloom vase would have two at the back and one at the front, while a five bloom would be three at the back and two at the front.   The best bloom of your set should be in the centre back with a five bloom vase, but with a three bloom vase I put my best bloom in the centre front.

The actual process of putting the blooms in the vase depends on the packing material you are going to use. Packing must be used to fix the blooms in position, don't leave them to move around each time the vase is touched. If you are using bracken or reeds or damp paper as a packing material, the stems will need to be longer than if you are using floral foam like oasis. Oasis allows you to stage the blooms more quickly, but you only get one chance, while with the other materials, you can re-do the job if you don't like the outcome. Using these other materials, you will need to bleed the bloom stems as they are transferred to the vase, but it is not necessary with oasis. Most people use oasis for staging now.

Select your best bloom and check how high you would like it to stand above the vase, allowing for some stem to be in the vase and trim at an angle at that length after removing the twist-its and the support cane. Check the bloom carefully for blemishes like bruised, old, dying, limp petals or insect damaged petals. These can be pulled out carefully and there should be no evidence of their removal. The front pair has to be lower than the back set. They should be placed between the centre bloom and the appropriate wing flower.



Aim for uniformity - i.e. being alike in size, shape and colour


Wash gently with a sponge.  Aim for medium size with clear skins


Tops should be cut off leaving about 10cm stalks.  Carrots should be a good colour with no green top.  Parsnips should be free from side shoots.


Aim for a set around 22" in circumference. This seems to be the measurement that most of the top shows are won with and also seems to be about the top size that you can get your onions in perfect condition.

Once you have decided what size you are going to lift them at, you cut the tops off leaving a long neck for tying, then with an old knife cut away the roots through the soil so that you can then easily remove the onion. The other onions are then left in the ground until they also arrive at this size so that getting a matching set becomes a lot easier.

Wash the onions very carefully using a soft sponge in some tepid water to which has been added a few drops of washing up liquid and dry each one with a soft cloth. Once you have washed them all, you then powder each one using some talcum powder on a pad of cotton wool, this will uniformly dry out the onions skin and can be repeated every other day or so. The onion are then placed on some soft material to start harvesting and getting a proper colour. If the onion has been lifted on the correct skin, the colour will come naturally and uniformly all over, but if you have removed one skin too many then you will find that the onion will not harvest uniformly.

The necks look best if tied with raffia.  Start tying them as near as you can to the show date as you don’t want the raffia to work loose later on.


Remove all side shoots to divert the plant’s energies towards producing long high quality young beans.  When the trusses are setting, the best beans are formed from around a metre above ground and the best individual beans are those nearest to the main stem on the truss. Don’t thin them down to one bean as it would be too coarse. Start thinning the trusses down to two or three beans when the bean nearest the main stem is around 3 inches long. At this point you are able to tell which beans to leave on, the best being those with short handles or stems, being straight and parallel and the same width right along its length.

It’s important to walk through your beans regularly when in flower and any pods that haven’t released themselves clear of the flower casing need to be released. This is paramount as those beans attached become curved or boat up, the term used by bean growers. These beans then become set on that shape and it’s almost impossible to straighten them. The beans must be well watered throughout the season.