Students picking flowers at Cal Poly Rose Float Flower Field. Jeremy Sim | Courtesy Credit: Jeremy Sim | Courtesy

For the students who are members of the Cal Poly Rose Float program, spring quarter means one thing: 273 days until the parade.

From planting seeds to harvesting flowers to constructing the float, the three-hour parade involves months of preparation. Here is a look at some of the incredible details:

Cal Poly Rose Float Fields in full bloom. Jeremy Sim | Courtesy


Environmental management and protection sophomore and flower fields manager Kate Worrell said initial planning for the big day begins spring quarter.

The Cal Poly Rose Float program is split up into three teams: construction, design, and decorations.

The decorations team is responsible for choosing the flowers, cultivating the land, and growing the flowers for the float.

By the end of March, the team finalizes the design and the decorations team chooses colors for the float.

According to Rose Float Coordinator Josh D’Acquisto, the float itself is broken into 117 different elements. Everything from a character’s belt buckle to its inner ears is sectioned off with its determined color and decorated material.

This year, the float’s long-term partner, Ball Seed Company — North America’s leading wholesale horticultural distributor, donated 1,000 marigold seeds to the program.

The seeds are brought to Ball Tagawa Growers, a plant nursery in Nipomo, where they are planted and cultivated into plugs, which are small-sized plants grown in individual trays.

D’Acquisto said the nursery has donated their services, greenhouses, and staff to the program for a long time.

While the seeds grow in Nipomo for one to two months, the decorations team prepares the field.

Industrial engineering junior and Decorations Chair Sydney Strong said the students begin the process of growing flowers for the New Year parade in May.

“We’re in charge of the fields from start to finish,” Strong said. “We till the land, lay the plastic, and form rows for the seeds to be planted.”

The process begins with assistance from the Horticulture & Crop Science Department, which allows the program to use their tractors to plow the field.

Afterwards, the construction team sets up the irrigation and fertilization system.

“It’s great experience for the students to go through preparing the field so when the plugs are ready, the entire team will come out and plant the plugs by hand,” D’Acquisto said.

This year, the nursery produced 750 healthy plugs per tray. Each plant was one to two inches-tall with about half an inch of soil.

The Rose Float team planted nearly 8,000 yellow, gold, red, and orange marigolds at the Cal Poly Rose Float Flower Fields this year, with five rows of each color.

D’Acquisto said the students leave the plants to grow, only checking on them every few weeks to weed them.

Student volunteers picks flowers during harvest season. Jeremy Sim | Courtesy


Because Cal Poly’s float was certified as “California Grown” seven years ago, the program has partnered with the California Cut Flower Commission (CCFC) to receive flower donations.

In order to qualify for the certification, at least 85 percent or more of the flowers used on the float must be grown on California farms.

The decorations team works closely with representatives from the CCFC to organize flower donations from nearly 20 farms throughout the state.

D’Acquisto said the team coordinates with its counterpart at Cal Poly Pomona over the summer to work with additional farmers and decide on which types of flowers they want for their float.

“The decorations team chooses material, finds a farm that can grow the product, and makes sure the timing is right,” D’Acquisto said. “In order to make that happen, those flowers need to be in the ground by August 10 or they won’t be ready.”


It’s officially harvest season.

According to D’Acquisto, nearly 94 percent of the marigold seeds produced a flower this year.

“The flower field is beautiful and extremely photogenic this year,” Worrell said. “We grew the best marigold crop the program has ever seen.”

Worrell said the program specifically plant flowers that last all year, as a large portion of flowers grown are saved as dry material for the following year.

“We take the flowers that we grow, dry them on racks, and cut off the petals so they become a dry material that’s used on the float,” Strong said.

Worrell said nearly 50,000 pounds of flowers and organic material get put on the float, and only 1 percent of what is grown during the fall will be used on the float that year.

“I don’t think I realized the longevity you need to plan so it all goes smoothly for the next year,” Worrell said. “We like to say the Rose Float is a 14-month cycle with overlap time.”

D’Acquisto said roses make up the majority of the flowers on the float, as every float is judged and scored on their creative use of roses.

“Students have fun trying to showcase new and different products,” D’Acquisto said. “This year they’ve been looking at creative floral designs that aren’t commonly seen on floats. They’re considering everything from using protea to succulents and aloe.”

This year, the base of the float alone is estimated to take 31,500 fresh flowers. Nearly 10,350 of those will be roses. Last year, Cal Poly’s float was valued at approximately $50,000.


On Dec. 26, the team travels to Pasadena for “Deco Week.”

D’Acquisto said spectators purchase tickets to watch people decorate the floats while others volunteer to decorate. This year, volunteer shifts for Cal Poly’s float sold out within three days.

“People traveling from Ohio come out and help decorate to cross it off their lifetime bucket list,” D’Acquisto said.

D’Acquisto said their volunteers are largely made up of alumni, family, friends, community members, and girl scouts.

Students act as supervisors while volunteers decorate each of the 117 sections of the float.

“Students arrive at 7 a.m. the day after Christmas and we get about 150 volunteers per hour to help decorate the float,” D’Acquisto said. “It’s a zoo! There are barricades and people coming through to watch us decorate the float a week before the parade.”

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