The Art of Grooming
By Dr. Satish Prabhu
(From Rose Exhibitors' Forum, Spring 2000)

Avid exhibitors painstakingly grow nearly perfect roses. In order to accomplish their goals of winning certain trophies, roses thus grown must also be protected from insects, diseases and the elements.. They must be cut at the right time and at the correct stage of openness of form for each variety. They must be conditioned and refrigerated. And then the exhibitor needs to develop a workable system of transportation to get them to the preparation hall with no damage.

In order to exhibit these roses to their best advantage, the art of good grooming must be mastered. It is a fine art and a skill that can be learned by observing the experts and following it up with intense practice. Having said that, the limitations of what can be done for a rose with good grooming must be realized and accepted. While a potential Queen can be made into a real Queen with good grooming, one must not expect to make miracles from expert grooming of a mediocre rose. My favorite statement is: "Groom a dog well and you will have a well-groomed dog! Groom a great rose and you will have a Queen!"

It is my opinion, gained from watching enthusiastic new exhibitors, that some place disproportionate importance on grooming rather than growing good roses. There are in fact very few things you can do to a rose by way of grooming; but one must learn to do them well. Let us briefly discuss the various components of good grooming.

While the potential Queen is still on the bush, one may remove growth around this nice new straight stem to provide unhindered space to grow, and to avoid possible damage from thorns of surrounding, crowding growth. The stem may be anchored to prevent damage by the wind. Also, a curved stem may be straightened by gently splinting it with a dowel while the new stem is still tender.

After cutting, foliage must be washed of any dirt and spray residue and then dried and carefully shined with a shoe mitt or a piece of felt or even just plain Bounty paper. Then, if there is any thorn damage or insect damage, an assessment must be made to see if it is preferable to carefully cut off the damaged part in an artistic manner to make it as inconspicuous as possible, or to leave it alone. Deckle-edge shears seem to help a little in keeping the cut edges looking somewhat natural. Extra large sepals must be trimmed. Also, the so-called terminal oak-leaves on some varieties (e.g. 'Christian Dior') must be suitably trimmed to size. Sometimes they look better if you remove the sides and leave a single leaflet; at other times, it may look better if you separate and retain the three parts.

For the bloom itself, you should first use a soft brush to remove dirt from the petals if any is present. Similarly, if there are dead thrips, they must be removed.

There are only three things that can be done with the petals:

1. Move the petals a little bit to accomplish uniform spacing between petals and to improve the unfurling pattern. The petals so moved may be held in place by judiciously using blue cotton balls or Q-tips for an appropriate length of time before sending the exhibit in, so that the petals will hold their new position/form.

2. Remove the guard petals, and or petals with undesirable color streaks (white streaks in some red and pink roses) and also those petals that may be damaged beyond hope of salvaging. Occasionally, you will find some roses with an extra petal, which will appear as though two petals are stacked up right on top of each other and they actually are. Simply remove them.

3. Trim the damaged ridges of petals. If there is one wayward petal too large compared to the rest, a margin can be trimmed off. Also, if there is peripheral damage, those petals can be trimmed off. 'Dublin', for example, typically develops some browning of outer margins of outer petals, which can be artfully trimmed. This is not to be confused with dark edges, which actually enhance the bloom, but some judges do not know and do not acknowledge this. Occasionally, you will have some outer petals go beyond the horizontal plane. When this happens, removal of a 1-centimeter margin may bring that petal into a more horizontal form.

Finally, if the center of the bloom is ill-defined because of crowding, it may be better defined by gently teasing the surrounding petals away from the center.

A word of caution: While making every effort to master the art of good grooming, do not get carried away with what can be accomplished by grooming a mediocre rose! Do not spend too much time on grooming one rose while neglecting other possibilities.

Dr Satish Prabhu, Columbia, SC