Corner Iris Picture

Preparing Irises for Exhibition at Iris Shows

Produced by TAIS

First Steps

The first step in preparing your irises for successful entry in an iris show is to cut the stalks before the buds open. This practice avoids potential damage to the blooms from rain, wind or hail. It also avoids possible sun fading of blooms, particularly a problem in strong sunlight in the case of the darker colored irises. Also, in spite of your best efforts, the buds may open too soon or, they may not open in time. Thus, it makes sense to cut two or three stalks of each variety as insurance against these problems.

The best time to cut the stalks is early in the morning. Next best is late evening. As the buds mature and flowers open, water and nutrients continue to be transported up through the stalk. When you cut the stalk, the "driving force" to carry water up to the buds through the stalk is reduced.

As soon as possible after cutting the stalk, it should be placed in a full container of water and placed in the shade or indoors. The foliage at the base of the stalk should be removed at this time. Evaporation from foliage helps deplete available water in the stalk. Furthermore, bad foliage detracts from the scoring of the stalk by judges, good foliage adds little.

While cutting, transporting and placing a stalk in a container, avoid handling the bud and avoid letting the bud touch anything. If you bruise the bud, the unsightly results will show up in the opened bloom. It is desirable that each individual stalk be placed in its own container so as to avoid one bud rubbing against another. It is also desirable to "wedge" the stalk at this time with plastic foam, paper toweling, etc., so as to hold the stalk firmly in the upright position in which it will be later shown. You should also attach a temporary label to the container with the name of the variety, then it should be stored in its container in a cool location out of direct sunlight. You should also be careful to allow enough space between containers to avoid contact between the open flower and other nearby stalks or flowers. What about additives in the water? Tablespoon of corn syrup per gallon of water seems to help.

If you cut it the morning before the show, you should cut stalks on which the bud is very close to opening and would be expected to open during the day before the show if left on the plant. Cutting a mature bud the day before the show is the best practice. The most effective means of forcing is to place the stalk in the container in a heated and humid space (bathroom heated from 100-110F. Placing the stalk in hot water is substantially less effective.

Condition and Grooming: Condition refers to the degree of visible improvement in the appearance of the specimen stalk as a result of grooming. Grooming involves those finishing touches the exhibitor makes so that the entry presents the best possible appearance.

Stalk Height: It is generally recommended that a stalk be exhibited at an appropriate height that is proportional. In order to maintain pleasing proportion in the exhibit, it is often necessary to position the stalk in the container with the end of the stalk above the bottom of the container. Adjust the stalk until it looks good to you.

Foliage: Trimming is necessary when there is faint discoloration, disease or injury to leaf edges. Such procedure should remove less than one-fourth inch of foliage edges and should follow the natural contour of the leaf in its entirety. Blunt edges or massive trimming is totally unacceptable. Foliage which covers the juncture between a branch and the stalk or is at the base of a bud must be left in place although it may be trimmed.

Spathes: If a flower has been removed, ascertain that the spathe has not been damaged and is intact. Detectable trimming of the spathe is unacceptable.

Branches: Suppose that you have removed a faded flower (or one that is beginning to fade}. If there is an unopened bud remaining (the second bud in the socket) the branch with the unopened bud should be left in place. If there is no unopened bud, the entire branch should be removed.

Cleanliness: The stalk, flower and blooms should be clean with no dirt, dust or spray residues. Slight smudges or fingerprints on the stalks are easily removed when the exhibitor gently wipes the stalk with soft tissue. If fingerprints are noticeable as a result of handling, wiping the stalk to remove all of the powdery substance is the answer.

Insects: The presence of one or two aphids or other insects is no cause for alarm as these creatures can travel from stalk to stalk during or after entry.

Position in Container: The bottom branch should be exhibited above the container's opening. 2/3 of the stalk should be above the bottle. Be sure that you always securely wedge the stalk in the container. Never simply stick the stalk in the container without wedging.

Removal of Flowers: The condition of the flowers is the one factor that judges pay most attention to. If one of the flowers on a stalk is aged, it should be removed. Removal should be performed carefully so that no "stub" is visible.

Exhibition Containers: Insert the stalks into the containers in which they are to be exhibited, wedge the stalk securely in place with plastic foam and attach the completed entry card with a rubber band (if inserted at home) or plastic pick (show furnished).

Transporting to the Show: Place the containers with the stalks securely in place in plastic crates with empty bottles inserted between the full ones so that no flower can contact anything else, and so that the pack is "solid" and the bottles will not fall over in case of a sudden stop. When you get to the show and as you place your entries on the show tables, check the grooming one more time. Enjoy the show!!!

Preparing Irises for Exhibition


  • Clippers
  • Sharp knife
  • Soft brush
  • Scissors
  • Containers & Carriers
  • Tissues
  • Fold-lock top sandwich size baggies
  • Wedging material*
  • Strips of paper
  • Pen
  • Stapler
  • Makeup powder

We are all going to have some beautiful iris stalks open in our gardens on show day. Do you want to leave these beauties standing unappreciated in their beds like Cinderella who didn’t get to go to the ball? Of course not, so it’s up to you to be the fairy godparent and get them there. There is excitement at an iris show. You may feel butterflies in your tummy as you hurry to do your grooming, then pride as you see your stalks standing tall and lovely among the others.

You may come back after the judging to hear the comments of the visitors. “Oh, how beautiful,” they say. “I didn’t know irises could grow like this in Arizona;” “I want one just like this one.” Then you get to tell them about our fall rhizome sale, and you have made another customer for our irises. Winning is a happy feeling, but even If you don’t win, the knowledge that you helped make the show a success, advanced the presence of the Tucson Area Iris Society and educated a few people about irises in Tucson is worth getting up early to get your irises to the show.