Gardeners across Oxford are waiting with baited breath to see if months of effort have paid off.

Judging for this year's Oxford in Bloom competition, sponsored by the Oxford Mail, is due to start today - and more than 200 individuals, businesses, colleges and clubs have entered.

There are 22 different categories, ranging from the most beautiful balcony to the best-kept public house.

Today, judges John Alcock, who used to work for Oxford City Council's parks department, previous winners Trish Stephens and Harry Robinson and Yarnton Nursery manager Lesley Booth will be casting their eagle eyes over entrants in North Oxford.

They will spend the next five days marking each garden, hanging basket or display on the general impression, cleanliness and tidiness, quality, choice and variety of plants, and the tastefulness of arrangements. Oxford in Bloom co-ordinator Mike Gass said: "A large proportion of those who entered are new entries. We seem to have lost some of the older ones but gained an awful lot of new people, which is fantastic."

Mr Gass said a large number of public houses and university colleges had entered. He said: "The weather we have had is good for growing, but it's not great for plants coming into flower.

"As soon as we get a little bit of sunshine, they will come into their own.

"Everywhere's waiting to burst into bloom."

The number of entries is up on last year.

Having rooted around in North Oxford, judges will visit South Oxford tomorrow, then Cowley on Wednesday, and East Oxford on Thursday - which usually has more entries than any other area - before finishing with the city centre entries on Friday.

The winners will be announced at a presentation evening on September 20.

Oxford in Bloom also runs an allotments competition, in which several hundred people take part.

The first phase of judging happened in June and the second round will be in August.