Dahlia Exhibition Tips


Exhibiting Dahlia blooms:


Selection of Blooms:

There are a number of factors governing bloom selection, these are Size, Cleanliness, Shape, colour and form.
Size of blooms is important. Make sure that the blooms you exhibit are of similar size and that the size of those blooms does not exceed the specification laid down in the judging rules. Cleanliness is important, at the higher levels of competition you will be marked down for dirty blooms or blooms that show marks caused by the weather. Where blooms are equally pointed the bloom that is clean and free from marks will win.
Blooms for exhibition of ball, decorative, cactus and semi cactus cultivars should be symetrical with a circular outline. it should have a closed center which is in proportion to the flower. The bloom should have sufficient florets to prevent gaps in the bloom. The depth of the bloom should be approximately 2 thirds or more of the diameter of the bloom. The head of the bloom should be at an angle of 45 degrees to the stem for most classifications except pompoms where the bloom should sit straight upright from the stem.

A quick guide to the bloom sizes:


Pom pom……………………Maximum dia. 2 inches
Large pom………………….Maximum dia. 3 inches
Miniature………………….Maximum dia. 4 inches
Small…………………………Maximum dia. 6 inches
Medium …………………….Maximum dia. 8 inches
Large………………………….Maximum dia. 10 inches
Giant………………………….Maximum dia. 12 inches

The above sizes are a rough guide the current classified sizes are metric sizes and subject to constant change.

Transporting Blooms:

There are many various ways of transporting blooms from your growing area to a show, here I will cover the general requirements for transporting blooms without damage.
Blooms should not be transported dry i.e.. Without water. Carry blooms in a container that has a water reservoir, blooms are primarily water and because dahlias have a hollow stem it is difficult to get blooms to take up water if they have been cut for any length of time. Stems should be supported with a cane or split cane tied to the stem with twist it’s or ties such as pipe cleaners, or any flexible tie that will not slip down the cane. The cane should go up to just below the bloom calyx and hold the stem firmly.
We find that milk crates with a wooden frame fixed about 12 inches above the top of the case allows for secure fixing of blooms and plastic bottles with the neck cut off provide and inserted into the case provide good reservoirs for water.

Bloom Size:

The ideal bloom needs to be small enough to go through a judging ring without catching the ring with it’s outer petals. However, a bloom that is small enough to go through the next size ring down in size will be heavily penalized for being undersize. Blooms in the same vase of the same classification should be of approximately the same size if blooms are of obviously differing sizes they will also be marked down. Try wherever possible to put blooms together that are of similar size, this is usually easier when staging blooms of the same variety or sports of a parent variety. This advice may vary depending upon the exact wording of the show schedule, for example some schedules call for staging of more than one classification in the same vase.

Staging Blooms:

The staging of blooms depends very much on the type of container that the blooms are to be presented in. A basket arrangement has a different style and set of requirements than a vase or a bowl.


These lend a lot to floral art with the way an arrangement is presented, they are judged not only for bloom quality and size but also for overall effect. It may not state it overtly in the show schedule but a little knowledge of floral art can go a long way towards improving the overall effect of an arrangement. A basket must be balanced and symetrical in appearance, start from the center top and work the top line of the basket first following this with the center line down to the bottom line of the basket. Larger blooms should be used for the center of the basket with smaller blooms being used at the extremities. You should aim for a curved face to the basket with no big holes. Remember a basket of small cactus will take as many as 25 blooms and a basket of miniatures upwards of 32 blooms. Next time you look at a winning basket look at the way the blooms are presented not just the quality of the blooms. To fix blooms in a basket a block of wet foam is all that is needed, avoid using more than 1 block as this makes for more difficulties than it solves. Also remember to pre soak your florist’s foam prior to making the arrangement.


Generally staging in vases calls for either 1,3,5 or 9 blooms per vase with greater quantities of blooms for the smaller classifications. Again florist’s foam is a boon for this type of staging but news paper can also be used to great effect where foam is unavailable. For large and giant blooms where the requirement is for 1 or 3 to a vase damp news paper is more useful as it is more secure, for vases of 5 or more florist’s foam makes staging a joy. The primary problem with staging vases with florists foam is that people push blooms all the way through the foam and then wonder why the blooms are loose in the vase. There is no need to push stems all the way through, they can take up all the water they need from the foam, that is it’s purpose. When staging blooms in vases it is generally the convention to place the larger number of blooms lower down and to the front. However with a vase of 9 (usually poms) it is more prevalent to stage the blooms in rows of 3. Blooms must all be front facing and of a similar aspect. There is nothing worse than one bloom facing up and the bloom next door facing down.


This type of arrangement relies more heavily on the wording of the schedule than any of the previous 2 methods of staging. Often it is to be staged for all round effect or either for frontal effect. It depends upon the wording of the schedule how one would go about staging such an exhibit. For frontal effect aim for a 2/3 ratio of height to width again with a curved face to the arrangement and keeping larger blooms to the center of the exhibit where they will draw the eye. For all round effect try to shape the exhibit to give a steady curve all the way around the bowl with the larger blooms along the center of the exhibit at the point closest to the eye. Blooms in bowls are more often either supported on wire grids or in florist’s foam depending upon the type of bowl used.

Schedule interpretation:

Firstly the most important piece of advice I can give you is READ THE RULES, More often than not what may appear as an ambiguous statement in the schedule will appear crystal clear once the rules have been read. If you are still unsure ask the show secretary they know how the rules are interpreted and will be able to advise you on any point in the schedule. If the schedule calls for 1 variety per vase then you cannot mix varieties within the same vase. The golden rule is IF IN DOUBT – ASK.

Hints and Tips:

Always pre soak paper and florist’s foam. If you have to cut blooms more than 24 hours in advance of judging remember blooms will open and enlarge in this time. Cutting blooms at night is not the best thing to do, they are often asleep and closed and will often appear to look great in artificial light but will look awful in natural light. Use a sharp knife to cut stems. Cut stems below a leaf internode to prevent excessive water loss during transfer to a water container. Cutting stems under water prevents air locks in stems.