Prize winning cactus -

It’s very easy to produce a prize winning cactus. All you have to do is have one slightly better than whoever would have won had you not been competing. Of course, depending on the quality of the competition this could be easier said than done!

Now if you were not aware before, then you will need to know about those motivated folks from the British Cactus and Succulent Society (BCSS). Their love of cacti and succulents borders on obsession and for a few of them that line was walked over years ago. So if you have a BCSS club in your area then the likelihood is that there will be an official BCSS judge available, and that means the competition will be a lot more serious.

Get the basics right

Read the rules. Understand the rules. Apply the rules. As with all plant shows affiliated with the Royal Horticultural Society there will be set of rules and requirements that must be adhered to. It doesn’t matter how amazing your cactus looks, get this part wrong and you will receive a ‘Not according to Schedule’ notification. In layman’s terms this means that your entry has been disqualified. If you do not know the rules then get a copy. There is no excuse!

Are your specimens healthy and blemish free?

Cactus -
If you have done your homework and your specimen fits the category requirements then make sure that it is in peak condition. It doesn’t matter how rare or old or how difficult it has been to grow, if your cactus looks sick, diseased or is actively being feasted upon by pests then you will not win your chosen category. If you are not sure of your plants requirements then do your research. Furthermore, there should be no discoloured blooms and all spines should be present and undamaged which means transporting larger, wobbly specimens with as much care and attention as humanly possible. You will notice that the more established exhibitors will tend to stick with low-growing, clump-forming or miniature cacti for ease of transporting and damage control.

Correct labels

If you do not know the botanical name of your cactus then again, do your research. Failing that, email images of your specimen to the BCSS or RHS for identification by their dedicated team of botanists and plant specialists. In a close run competition then a correctly named plant will always be chosen above one with a missing or incorrect name. Wherever possible use the genus, species and where necessary the cultivar name. All names should be correctly written as per the rules of Linnaeus nomenclature.

Pots and containers

Cactus pots -
At the very least your pot or container should be clean and free from any damage. Avoid plastic pots as they look cheap and if in any doubt use a new terracotta pot with the label and glue cleaned away. While the pot or container will not gain you any points as such the more established competitor will choose pots that will help to show off cacti to their best. Pots that complement the habit or colour should always be favoured. Too small a pot will just look as though you have neglected your cacti while too large a pot will over-power your cactus and make it look less impressive. However larger pots can be used to ‘frame’ your cactus using rocks and gravels.

Top dressings

Never offer up a specimen with just the pot and the compost as a backdrop. If you have a top class specimen then provide a suitable top dressing to show it at its best. Fancy sands can fall out the pot during transportation and cheap gravel looks exactly that. There are plenty of fine grade coloured gravels to choose from, just make sure you choose the right ones to enhance the look of your plants rather than diminish them.

What do the judges want to see?

Cactus judge -
The difference between first and second place is just a single point. So to curry favour with the judges you will need to tick several boxes:

1. Difficulty of cultivation. Anyone can grow a cactus; usually you ignore it and then water it whenever you feel guilty about its neglect. To impress the judges you will need to present a species that requires a more challenging routine and in perfect condition.

2. Present a well-balanced plant and container. See above notes for pots and containers. It is not a pot competition so you will not get extra points for having a nice container. However anything that can make your plant look better has to be worth the investment.

3. Judges want to see age in a cactus specimen. Anyone can purchase a clean looking plant from the local garden centre but nothing will impress them more than a show quality specimen with good ten or twenty years under its belt. In fact it is not uncommon to come across established competitors showing plants that are 40-60 years old! Along with age, plants in full flower will always be good for a few bonus points. Be aware that some judges will prefer any evidence of flowering to prove maturity while others will not. It is always worth having a word with the organisers for their advice on this particular point.


If you want to try and ‘buy’ your first prize then remember that all horticultural entries must be the bona-fide produce of the exhibitor. Competition organisers usually expect show plants to have been grown for a period of at least six weeks before the show and can ask for proof if they smell anything fishy (besides carefully masked fungal rots) about your cacti.

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