Growing For Showing Page
Two articles on Showing your Begonias
This info is useful for growing nice plants for your yard, even if you don't plan to enter a show


Requirements Of a Show Plant: ABS Rules

by Brad Thompson

You should look at your plants with a critical eye but not be overly critical or you will never have a show plant. None will measure up to your standards. Sometimes our standards can be higher than the judges will be because the have seen many plants and shows and know the degree of difficulty involved in producing a near perfect plant (there is no such thing as a perfect plant). Strive to grow your plants the best you can and you will undoubtedly have some that can go to a show. Most of you have been to Begonia Shows before so I guess it will come as no surprise to you that the majority of the plants are entered by a minority of the members. It really shouldnít be this way, as a member you really have an obligation to participate in the club activities and to help promote begonias. Even if you donít always win the trophies that shouldnít dissuade you from entering plants, winning isnít the most important thing, the participation is. Believe me you will grow better plants as you go along and eventually you will win awards too. I havenít always gotten trophies. The first year I entered plants, I got a trophy for Best Novice, and one trophy for Best Terrarium at another show. Of course it was very encouraging but the next year I entered even more plants and didnít win a #%$# thing (sorry) I mean darn thing, and even though that was pretty discour-aging it didnít stop me from participating the next year after that. I always enter as many plants as I can because we want to put on a nice show and to do that you need a lot of entries. I know they arenít all going to win something but I enter all the nice plants I have just to have the plants there for people to see. Do try to support the clubs this year and especially the Conventions with as many nice entries as you possibly can, if you need help along the way just ask, thatís why we have clubs in the first place, to help each other grow Begonias. The following are a few tips on how to produce a nice finished plant for entering-

1. CHOOSING THE PLANT: A show plant should be characteristic of that variety;, it should have leaves of the proper color and size, it should have the proper color and size flowers, it should be mature and be the normal height for that plant (within reason of course). It should be healthy and full, and as symetrical as possible for the variety. It should be potted in a pot of the appropriate size and type for the plant and be of an excepted color. Black nursery pots, cans or decorator pots (outside of the unusual container class) will not be allowed in the shows. Pots should be wood, moss, clay or plastic pots (green or terra cotta plastic pots are acceptable, white may be allowed but is generally discouraged and may be marked down for.)

2. MAKE SURE YOUR PLANTS ARE CLEANED UP: This is probably the most important item in showing plants. I canít tell you how many times Iíve seen nice plants that probably would have won something, get nothing, just because the owner didnít groom and clean the plant before they brought it in. Even plants that did win awards might have won higher awards or cultural certificates if they would have done a little more grooming. Remove leaves that are damaged (unless they are large leaves and removing the leaf will ruin the looks and symetry of the plant). Remove dead flowers, and remove dried stipules (those little papery bracts around the base of the leaves and flowers) on most plants except plants like B. venosa where the bracts should be left on because that is one of its defining characteristics. Remove spider webs and dead stuff from inside the plant and remove any debris from the surface of the soil. Look carefully for insects and bugs because the judges have to only see one on your plant to have it removed from the show.

3. DETAILING THE PLANT: After all the bad stuff is removed you need to actually clean the leaves. Some people use a soft brush, like a makeup brush but most probably rinse the leaves. If you do a preliminary cleaning a week or so before the show, they will be much easier to touch up at show time. I use a spray bottle filled only with water and spray the plant until all dirt is rinsed off. Using a hose may damage the plant, and it sometimes takes a couple of bottles of water to totally clean larger plants. Start at the top and work your way down and if your plant has hairy leaves or is especially dirty, spray the plant and then let it sit for awhile to loosen the dirt before you try rinsing it off. I usually donít do this cleaning until the day of the show because I usually donít choose whoís going until that day Itís too nerve racking for me to pick the plants earlier and then worry whether theyíll still be perfect at show time. After cleaning, I put them in front of a gentle fan to dry them faster. Make sure you keep them out of the sun when the leaves are wet so they wonít burn and also because the leaves sometimes streak like a window you try to wash in the sun. As a general rule, my leaves are already pretty clean because I always rinse the leaves off when I water. Now most people (who shall remain nameless) recommend not wetting the leaves because they say it will cause mildew but I donít find that to be the case in my yard, in fact I feel it rinses off the mildew spores. Besides, it seems unnatural for a plant not to be able to get its leaves wet. Use your own judgment and experiment.

4. FERTILIZER AND BLOOM: Fertilizing is something you need to start weeks in advance if you have plants that are hard to get to bloom or want a lot of extra bloom. What Iím referring to is using a high bloom fertilizer (a high bloom fertilizer is one that has a higher middle number like 15-30-15) and most say high bloom on the bottle or box if they are. I use it ľ strength once a week like I would other fertilizer. You need to start using it six weeks or so in advance or even sooner because if you wait too long you wonít see the affects before the show. Any plant that should normally be blooming at the time your show, will be marked down in points for not having enough bloom. The amount of bloom can be the difference between getting a blue ribbon and getting a trophy in many cases. If the judges have two plants of equal quality, the amount of bloom will usually be the deciding factor. Do not leave old spent blooms on the plant, however, because you can be marked down for that also. You will lose points for poor grooming in that case .

5. CLEAN THE POT: The final step is to make sure your pot is clean. An easy way to do this, if the plant is not too large and if it can be easily removed, from its pot is to just slip it out of its old pot and into a new one of the same type. Unless I totally change pots, I usually just wash mine with mild soapy water and a rag and dry with a dry rag. Of course, this is for plastic pots, these are the easiest to clean and I highly recommend them. To clean clay pots you can restore them with baby oil (Mary Sakamoto uses hand lotion) on a cloth and they will look like new. Youíll have to figure out the wood ones on your own. Make sure the soil level in the pot is refilled up to about Ĺ inch to 1 inch from the rim of the pot if the soil level has gotten low. I usually put a shallow layer of small orchid bark on top of the soil to finish it off and give it a clean look (remove the bark when you take the plant home so your plant wonít stay too wet.)

Hopefully, I given you a few tips and hints to help you have award winning plants. Iím including the points scoring at the end of this article so you will know just how plants are scored and how much each item is worth.

40 points Cultural Perfection: deals with the overall appearance of the plant, such as symetry, fullness, size, staking, etc.

30 points Condition: deals with your grooming of the plant, cleanliness of the container, removal of bad leaves, and whether the plant looks healthy, and the amount of foliage.

10 points Quantity of flowers: deals with whether the plant has the proper amount of flowers for the variety for the time of year. (If itís summer and rhizomatous are not blooming you will not lose points for your rhizomatous plant not having flowers. If your are entering a cane and it should be in full bloom, your plant will be marked down if it isnít)

10 points Quality of flowers: Deals with how nice the flowers are and the grooming of the flowers such as removal of dried seed pods and spent flowers etc.

10 points Difficulty of Cultivation: These points are mainly brought into play if there are two plants of equal quality vying for the same award. The one that is more difficult to grow will usually win.

I havenít included the point scoring for tuberhybrida which uses different point scoring, with most points directed toward the size and quality of the flowers. I expect to see your plants at the Shows... yes I do mean you.


Grooming and Showing Your Begonias (part 2)
by Brad Thompson

  Many people are hesitant to enter plants in shows.  Either they donít know what a show plant is, are afraid their plants arenít good enough, or donít think they will win anything.  Let me address those three issues.

1. What is a show plant?  A show plant is any clean, well groomed, healthy, mature plant  Size is not always a consideration, not all begonias grow to a large size.  As long as the plant is reasonably symmetrical and healthy it can be a show plant.  The main purpose of a begonia show is to acquaint the public with the wide diversity of begonias and to show them examples of what they can look like if well grown.  The more nice plants entered, the more they can see.  If youíve grown begonias for any length of time you should have at least a few that are nice representatives that you can share with the public.


2.  What if my plants arenít good enough?  We canít all grow begonias like Arlene Hoskins or Bob Golden & Iris Bird but all of us have some nice plants that we can show.  You may even have some plants that you donít think are nice enough but maybe they just need a little attention to grooming.  If you really have doubts, have someone more experienced come and visit your garden and help you pick out what plants should be entered.  Even experienced growers have doubts about whether their plants are good enough but they still enter anyway.  And all of us experienced growers have had doubts about entering a particular plant until a friend comes over and says, ďoh you have to enter that plantĒ. 

3.  But what if I donít think my plants will win anything?  First of all, if your main objective in entering your plants is to win something, then you probably shouldnít enter plants.  You are just setting yourself up for disappointment. Your main reason for entering should be to help the club have enough plants to put on a nice show and to share your plants with the public.  Nothing sells begonias like a good show to go with the sale.  Secondly, if you donít enter, you will of course never win anything.  Do you think Brad has always won something at a show?  The second year I entered shows, (after winning a few trophies and best novice the first year), I didnít win a darn thing, not even a blue ribbon.  Every year you enter shows you learn from your mistakes and you get better.  Many times youíll also be surprised to find out your plant is better than you thought.  If you really want to win something at shows, and yes we all do like to win something once in awhile, take notice of what categories or divisions donít have very many entries and grow some of those types for the next show.  For example, in every show there is always a ton of canes, shrubs and rhizomatous begonias and a lot of competition in those divisions.  Of course your odds of winning one of those divisions is much harder.  If however you were to enter a semp, terrarium, thick-stemmed, trailing, rex or tuberous, your chances of getting ribbons and trophies for a nice plant are improved.  Of course some of those types are harder to grow but not all of them.  Semps and semp species are inexpensive and you can grow a slew of them so you have several to chose from.  I can only recall a handful of shows where a semp was even entered.  As I said earlier though, the main purpose in showing your plants is the sharing with others not the winning.  Winning is just a side benefit and that comes with experience. And of course, you only gain experience by trying in the first place.


How to groom, ready and transport your plants to a show


   Step 1:  Go through your collection and determine which plants you want to enter.  There will be two types of plants you want to look for.  One are the plants that are your best plants and the others are lesser plants that you donít think will win anything but are still nice plants that will add to the show.  Donít just limit yourself to the perfect plants, you always have some others that if you cleaned them up would be nice enough to look pretty on the tables or for display.

   Step 2:  Always start with your nicest plant and work your way down to the least nice plant.  The nicer the plant, the more effort you want to put into cleaning it up and grooming.  Plants you know are not going to win anything should of course be cleaned well but you donít have to be quite as meticulous, especially if you run short of time with the cleaning process on your better plants.  Although you can do any major cleaning way ahead of time, the real grooming should be done the day before the show or the day of the show.  Doing it the day before is best but remember to check them again the day of the show if you do them early.  The can get dusty again in a day outside depending on where they are.  Besides, some of the more picky parts of grooming need to be done as close to show time as possible to prevent having to redo it.

Step 3:  Grooming your plant.  Grooming makes the difference between a nice plant and a winning plant.  Very few of us could just pick up a plant out of our yard and take it to a show and expect it to win anything.  I have transformed damaged plants into Best in Show plants just by detailed grooming.  More about that later.  First remove any obvious litter from inside the plant, such as dead leaves etc.  Cut off any dead stumps back to living tissue or the soil line, whichever applies. 

   Next if the soil level in the pot is more than an inch below the rim add mix to fill the pot.  If it is a plant where the soil will show, a simple tip that will make it seem more attractive is to put a shallow layer of small orchid bark on top. (Remember to remove this when you take the plant home, some begonias donít like to grow with the bark layer left on, it is just for the show.  You can leave it on for awhile if the plant is going to be going to another show in a few weeks though)

   Next remove any dried stipules, except for the rare species exceptions which require the stipules stay on such as B. venosa, some venosa hybrids, B. fernando costae and possibly B. kellermanii and B. peltata.  The rule is to leave the stipules on plants where the stipule is a distinctive part of the look of the plant.  If you have a large number of stipules such as a hanging basket cane, spraying with water will sometimes wash most of them off such as from a gentle hose or mister.  You need to also remove any faded or old flowers.  Donít leave any dried seed pods on the plant.  The only exception is if the plant has been purposely pollinated such as making seed for the seed fund.  If the cluster you leave was purposely pollinated, make sure to note this on your entry card so points wonít be taken off for it.  Also remove any badly damaged leaves.  On a small leaved plant with many leaves you can usually remove all of the damaged leaves without affecting the looks or symmetry of the plant.  In the case of larger leaved plants, you have to way whether more points will be taken off for the damage or for the lack of symmetry if the leaf is removed. 

   One tip for fixing damaged leaves such as a brown edge, is to trim the leaf with scissors to remove the damaged edge.  Make the trimming follow the normal contour of the leaf or match any serration etc.  In other words trim it so it looks natural and not like itís been trimmed.  Trimming the edges is legal for shows as long as itís done to appear natural and not just parts lopped off the leaf.  One year I had a B. ĎAlbo Pictaí that I wanted to enter in the shows but when I took it down to look at it closer, nearly every leaf tip was brown.  I trimmed, reshaping the tips on I donít know how many dozen leaves, and that plant went on to win best in show.  Since I took care to make the trimmed tips normal in appearance no one even noticed.  The trimming should be done the day you take it to the show, ideally, just before you take it.  If you are grooming early do this step last.  If you are removing leaves, make sure to take them off at the stem or rhizome, donít leave a stump.  If you canít break them off at the stem easily, use your pruners to trim them neatly close to the stem.

   Next, staking your plant.  Ideally you should have had your plant staked as it grew and not waited till the time of the show to do it but there are always plants that seem fine till you start cleaning them up and then find they are a little too weak.  Even some plants that may appear fine, if they are tall plants or somewhat delicate, you have to remember they are going to be transported and moved around.  A plant that might be fine without staking in your yard may require it for all the moving around itís going to go through.  As a general rule, if you chose to stake, stake all the stems, not just a stake here and there.  The only exception is if you have a plant where you might just need to use a stake to move a stem over to fill a space.  The stake should be placed behind each main stem.  Each stem needs itís own stake, donít tie more than one stem to a stake.  Use inconspicuous twist ties, and do the twisting on the inside of the plant where it wonít show and trim off any excess.  Except or maybe tuberous which have more delicate stems, you shouldnít use the plastic stretch type ties.  They are a little too wide and are hard to use inconspicuously.  Preferably you should use all new stakes and not old faded ones.  After a stem is staked, cut off the top of the stake far enough below the tip of the stem so that it doesnít show.  This is usually two leaves below the tip.

   Next, cleaning the plant.  Starting at the top, clean each leaf using a fine misting bottle.  Hold the leaf in your hand and rinse from base to tip.  If the plant was very dirty, you can rinse the whole thing with your hose sprayer the day before to semi clean it ahead of time.  If you donít start at the top or center of the plant youíll just be rinsing the dirt onto the leaves below it that you already cleaned.  If it is a hairy leaved begonia and had dirt that seems hard to wash off, such as pollen residue from an overhanging tree (yes I had that happen once), start by wettting all the leaves and letting them sit for awhile to loosen some of the dirt.  If that doesnít seem to be enough, you can take a fine paint brush and actually gently wash the leaf.  I do know of some people that just use a soft brush to dust the leaves off in leu of getting water on the leaves, if you are leery about getting your leaves wet.  Do make sure to wash the plant early enough so that it has time to dry before you take it to the show.  I use just plain water, some people use Epsom salts in the water for cleaning.  Donít use any leaf shine products or milk to clean the leaves.  It will give them an unnatural shine and they will be disqualified. 

Step 4:  Cleaning the pot.  Many shows have been won or lost by how clean the pot was.  Another consideration is what type of pot is legal.  Unless it is being entered in the novel grown division is must be in a green or terracotta plastic pot , wood or clay. A side note is to remember to remove the plant label or push it completely into the soil so it canít be seen.

   To clean plastic pots, I just wipe them with a damp sponge with plain water then dry with a towel.  Make sure to clean the underside of the pot as well so it wonít soil the table at the show and especially on hanging baskets where the bottom will be seen.  If the pot is so dirty or scratched that a sponge and water wonít clean it, itís best to just slip the plant into a new pot of the same size.  You can do this with damaging the plant if youíre careful.

   Wooden pots should be clean and new appearing and can also be washed like the plastic.  I know from experience that points will be taken off for old faded wooden pots no matter how clean they are.

   To clean clay pots use any type of non toxic oil such as baby oil or vegetable oil.  If the pot is very dirty I try to wash them off good with water the day beforehand so itís dry when I do the final cleaning with the oil.  The oil will remove most discoloration or buildup on the pots.  I just dip a rag in the oil and wipe the pot thoroughly.  I can tell you from experience that the oil cleaning does last a long time too and have had pots that went to several shows after just one good oil cleaning before the first show.  If the pot is so crusty or bad that the oil doesnít clean it up then you need a new pot.  Always clean the pot last, otherwise youíll just end up cleaning it again because youíll get it dirty cleaning the plant.  Another side note: Make sure to water the plant the day before you take it to the show.  If you wait to water it the day of the show it could leak water during transport or on the table at the show.

   Step 5: Transporting to the show:  More than one perfect plant has been lost on the way to the show because it wasnít prepared for the trip properly.  The easiest way is to get a cardboard box with a slightly larger circumference than the plant.  Turn the box upside down, place the plant on top and draw and outline of the pot in the middle of the box.  Then cut the outline out slightly larger than the pot so that the pot fits snuggly.  Use either a shallow box or cut down any boxes that are taller than the pot going into it.  If you donít have a box, you can also take a flat and turn it upside down and cut a hole in it like you would with the box.  Personally I use flats because they stack and can be reused from year to year.  Make sure that whatever vehicle the plant is being hauled in that the plant is protected from getting too hot or from sun hitting it through a window.  It only takes a few minutes for leaves or flowers to burn when exposed to direct sunlight through the car window.  If youíre hauling terrariums you can cover them with a blanket or towel for the trip.  If you do happen to have something happen to a plant such as a flower on a tuberous get knocked off or a leaf damaged in transit, please note this on your entry ticket and the judges will take that into account when judging your plant.

    A side bar on taking terrariums, make sure to clean the inside and outside of the glass.  Make sure that no leaves are touching the sides or top of  the glass.  And for mixed terrariums, make sure they have only begonias in them.  For the mixed terrarium class you can have many types of begonias in one terrarium but just one little fern or not begonia mixed in there will disqualify it.  Make sure to remove an cutesy additional items from the terrarium too.  I remember the first terrarium I entered I had a wooden water buffalo in with mixed begonias.  It got a ribbon but didnít win.  Irene Nuss told me I shouldnít have had the water buffalo in there so the next week I took it to another show minus the buffalo and it won the terrarium division trophy. 

   Now that youíve read all of this, you have no reason not to bring plants



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