It Is a Process!
By Dr Satish Prabhu
Columbia, South Carolina

(From Rose Exhibitor's Forum, Fall 1999)

Someone recently called and asked, "If I use ECOJOY this year, will you guarantee I will win a National Trophy this year?" Upon reflection, I find this a very interesting question. The caller is obviously assuming that she is doing everything else nearly perfectly. And if she is, then she will be another of several rosarians who are all trying similar things, expecting similar results. This would at best give one an equal opportunity to win a particular trophy.

Serious rose exhibiting is a continuously evolving and constantly improving process that might finally culminate in winning some national trophy. It has basically three limbs. The first phase includes the following items and processes; it starts at the end of one fall exhibiting season and lasts until the early spring garden work. These are: studying the winning entries and evaluating one's own entries to understand what might be improved the next time, studying a list of winning roses and compiling a list of those roses that do well in one's own region. For instance, it would serve no purpose for a resident of South Carolina to plant a variety that does well in the Pacific Northwest but poorly in South Carolina. Completing soil analysis and taking remedial measures if any are needed, making new beds in preparation for planting new roses, removing those varieties you have decided to stop growing, are all activities included in this phase. Also, when the list of new roses is finalized, possible sources for those plants must be located and orders placed early to avoid disappointment. This is also a good time to fix the various protective devices that may need some repairs and make new ones as needed. Fertilizers may be acquired and kept ready for use in the spring. Similarly, garden implements, sprayers and pruners can be serviced and kept ready. Watering systems may also be serviced or upgraded.

Early in the spring, beds are weeded and cleaned as needed and roses are pruned according to the correct timetable for your region. Then a steady program of preventive spraying is started and maintained throughout the growing season. A custom fertilizer program is initiated and maintained. This may include application of granular material once a month with a booster of soluble fertilizers, and application of composts as well as nutrient rich organics, and perhaps some foliar feeds and fish emulsion when the weather is cool. Next comes the process of careful disbudding and staking the prospective Queens. Finally, as the blooms start to unfurl, you may have to protect them from the wind, rain, too much sun, dew, fungus and insects.

A Continuously Evolving Process

This brings us to the last phase, which includes careful watching and harvesting of each bloom at the most appropriate stage, cleaning up the foliage and conditioning of the blooms, proper refrigeration with additives in the water to enhance preservation of substance and color. Then careful consideration must be given to proper packaging and transporting of the blooms to the show area without any damage. Techniques of packaging for flying by plane vs. driving an automobile differ immensely from each other. Once at the grooming area, roses have to be groomed properly and the best possible combinations for a particular class must be chosen from the available roses. Then the roses are exhibited in the specially provided areas in a timely manner. For example, in staging challenge classes too soon, one would risk an occasional bloom advancing rapidly and unexpectedly to a full bloom stage. Staging too late may lead to hurry and anxiety. When all of these things are done to the best of your ability, it gives you an equal opportunity to win the national trophies.

There are, however, certain things beyond an exhibitor's control which may greatly diminish his or her chances of winning: a hurricane ("Hugo', who visited me three weeks before the national at Houston, Texas), or a big hail storm that can destroy all the foliage just days before a show are good examples.

When I review this process, I find that fertilizing roses is a small, but very important, part of one of the three limbs of this continuously evolving and improving process! It is a common misconception that a particular exhibitor knows a particular secret formula or a special fertilizer, which is helping him win the national trophies. Whenever someone wins a national trophy, soon after the judging is finished, one will find a swarm of rosarians, including some very experienced ones and previous winners, asking: "what (fertilizer) did you use that helped you win this trophy?" The rosarian then tells them: "chicken manure or fish emulsion!" Perhaps because that is one substance they had not applied in the previous years or that is the last thing that they remember using! So the success of good soil and fertilizer management is erroneously ascribed to a single substance.

Clearly, their good working soil is a direct result of seasons of careful tending, meticulous maintenance of good pH, and generous use of composts, some application of nutrient rich organics and judicious use of fertilizers. While a winner may honestly mention one fertilizer or another, there is really no miracle in the miracle fertilizer or a miracle organic mix! What result you get from an application entirely depends upon the condition your soil was in just before you applied that substance. For example, if your soil had a reasonable fertilizer balance, your application of miracle fertilizer may not yield any significant improvements; on the other hand, if the pH was right, but the soil had very low fertility, an application of Miracle-Gro might bring you miraculous results. Similarly, if you had applied generous amounts of organics such as blood meal and fish meal during the previous two seasons, and applied some balanced fertilizer this year, an application of a miracle organic mix would not bring about a major improvement. On the other hand, if the rose beds had received no organic composts and mixes during the previous two growing seasons, a couple of cups of any organic mix applied might lead to nearly miraculous results!

The more likely reason for success is that a consistent winner manages the entire process well by paying close attention to all aspects of this process and working very hard and meticulously to grow the best roses he or she can!

It is also important to recognize that there is really no magic grooming technique to transform a dog into a Queen. When you groom a dog, you get a well- groomed dog! When you groom a potential Queen, you get a Queen! All you need is a reasonable amount of skill to do a reasonably good job of grooming. In addition to removing damaged parts of foliage and cleaning and shining the foliage, there are basically three things you can do for the bloom itself. First, petals with damage/streaks of white in a red rose, etc. may be removed. Secondly, a damaged peripheral part of a petal may be carefully excised. Thirdly, you may move the petals to position them where you want them to afford a uniformly unfurling appearance, with equidistant petals, but they may not stay where you moved them to and revert back when you remove your Q-tips and cotton balls. More energy should therefore be spent in growing good roses and developing techniques that help you transport them to the shows free from damage!

Any part of this process can easily be expanded into an entire article or presentation by itself. So readers are encouraged to continue to share their knowledge and experience with the hope of constantly improving our own techniques.