Planning to enter flowers at the fair this summer?

Here are some tips for blue ribbon entries.

1. First and foremost, flowers must be fresh.

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.

2. 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 stems are thin. The anvil type pruners tend to mash the stems.)

Immediately place blooms in a sterilized bucket of clean water.

3. Wash the vases you'll need in hot, soapy water, rinse thoroughly with warm tap water, and then fill with fresh water.

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.

4. Check your fair premium book to determine the number of blooms allowed per arrangement and the classes you can enter.

If the rules say 6-8 blooms per entry, don't stick in 10 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.)

5. 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.

6. Submerged leaves will decay rapidly, so be sure to remove all foliage that will be below the water line.

7. 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.

Here's wishing you success with all your fair entries.

Until next time, happy gardening!


Robin Trott is a horticulture educator with University of Minnesota Extension in Alexandria. Contact her at 320-762-3890 or at