Having decided which varieties to grow, it is necessary to obtain the best stock you can find as either tubers or plants. Extra attention must be paid to tying as it is essential that the plants and stems are erect.
Quite often, giants need to be potted up into 5 inch pots during May to avoid the plants being restricted.
Timing of stopping, debranching and disbudding.
For the early shows, plants must be stopped by mid June. In the case of giants and poms, these must be stopped in the pots in mid May to allow side branches to develop in time. The poms receive a second stopping at the end of June to increase the size of the bush.
Start debranching in mid July, trying to select branches of different ages. It is possible to delay flowering, but not to advance it. This is important to have flowers over the period of the show calendar. Disbudding commences when the terminal buds begin to develop, but again try to select buds to spread the flowering period.
Well before the show season, it is necessary to check you have adequate stocks of the materials you will need. Once the show season is underway, you are not going to have time to obtain them. You need a good supply of split canes and paper twist-its. Make sure you have schedules for the shows you intend to enter, and that you are growing the appropriate varieties. Check staging times to make sure you will have enough time to reach the event and stage your flowers, reducing the classes you intend entering if time is a problem.
Check to see if the show provide vases, if not you will need to obtain some of your own, so allow plenty of time for this.
Use of neck stretchers.
Larger blooms whose heads sit at 45 degrees to the stem tend to be mis-shapen. Gravity causes the bottom petals to be longer than the top petals, an effect known as bearding. In order to prevent this, it is better if the blooms sit on top of the stem, giving a much rounder and more pleasing appearance. In order to achieve this, neck stretchers can be used. A neck stretcher is a split cane with some soft material on the end like a large cotton wool bus, or a small piece of pipe lagging. This is placed on the developing stem and attached with two twist-its, one at the top and one at the bottom. The material needs to be under the chin of the bud and pushing up slightly. Each day as the footstalk is extending, the stretcher must be moved up to remain under the bud. This process can stop when the stem has hardened and the bud is at the best angle, The neck stretcher can be left in place as a support to the stem and ready for cutting the bloom when it has developed
When the buds start to show colour, many exhibitors erect some form of covering to protect the flowers. Rain will get into the blooms and cause them to get heavier which may well snap the stems, or cause the petals to rot on the stem. Excess sun will cause the flowers to be bleached, and this is particularly obvious on red and purple blooms. It rarely is evident on white and yellow blooms, so many showmen concentrate on these colours on the show bench. The strong winds that blow every year in early September will also cause much damage.
Many growers erect a large wooden framework that is covered with thick polythene above the plants. the polythene has to be secured very firmly to prevent it taking off in strong winds. The disadvantage to the cover is that natural moisture doesn't reach the plants and many growers install seep hoses around their plants to supply the water. A further disadvantage is that the Autumn dews will develop on the ground and as the day warms, this moisture will rise under the covers and often mark the back petals of a bloom. Quite often, these covers have Rokolene wind break material fixed around the sides to prevent the effect of winds.
A cheaper form of covering is the use of umbrellas, or polythene cones attached to strong stakes. These can be used to protect individual blooms and moved to another after the first is cut. These are easier to work with than large covers, but occupy more space, and are not as effective overall. Umbrellas are particularly useful to avoid bleaching.
Instead of using Rokolene for wind protection, some people use a natural barrier like a row of runner beans alongside the dahlias on the windward side.
Growers normally use covers for medium blooms and upwards, but not for smalls and below as the blooms suffer less with water in the petals.