A behind-the-scenes look at the real stars of a beloved New Year’s tradition.

Rose Bowl Stadium
Harry How/Getty Images

Growing up in Pasadena, California, I always associated New Year’s Day with the Rose Parade and Rose Bowl Game. Almost every year, I’d sleep over at my friend’s house, which was right on the parade route (at the very end of it!), and we’d wake up the next morning and watch the floats and marching bands go by. Yes, the new year technically starts at the stroke of midnight, but when I was younger, the new year officially started when I heard the Air Force flyover whizz past my friend’s house, which signified the start of the parade.

The parade and Bowl game are time-honored New Year traditions for residents of the San Gabriel Valley and beyond. People come from all over California, other states, and even from other countries to see it all in action. And while the big game is so exciting and sometimes there are celebrities and notable public figures in the parade, you can’t deny that the real stars of the show are the flowers, and especially the roses, of course.

And when it comes to those roses featured in the Bowl game, not any ol’ rose will work. Each bloom used in the Rose Bowl events (Team Arrival, Trophy Ceremony, and Trophy Ring) has to meet a very certain set of criteria. “The rose cycle is 13 weeks and consists of lots of variety-specific tender loving care. Only the best of the best roses are used for the Rose Bowl. Not every rose qualifies, each is hand-picked and must meet a specific head size and stem length,” explains Ivette Harrouche, co-founder and Chief Operating Office of POMP Flowers, a family-owned farm in Colombia that has been the official rose supplier for the Tournament of Roses and the Rose Bowl for the past 12 years.

Rose Bowl trophy and roses

Alberto E. Rodriguez/Getty Images

More Videos From Sunset

So what are the official measurements and criteria? Harrouche says the roses used have the largest heads with thick and long stems (between 50 to 60 cm long)—these also tend to have longer lifespans. And of course, they have to be classic red. A couple days before the event, the POMP team sends a whopping 1,500 roses for the event—they’re delivered to chosen nearby florist shops, where they’re hydrated, trimmed, and prepared for the big day. To keep them looking fresh during the event, they’re placed in wet floral foam.

And if the parade and game compel you to get a dozen roses for yourself just because, Harrouche shared some at-home care tips. First, she recommends removing the flowers from their packaging and cutting one inch off the bottom of each stem at a 45-degree angle, which will help the blooms absorb more water. You should also remove any leaves that will sit at water level in the vase. Second, place in a clean vase with fresh water and add some flower food. And finally, to keep them lasting for many days to come, make sure to keep them out of direct sunlight and change the water and re-trim the stems every two to three days.

Read the Current Issue Here!

Get one year of Sunset—and all kinds of bonuses—for just $24.95. Subscribe now!