The Great North Carnation Society

Affiliated to the BNCS

Growing Pinks, Border Carnations and Perpetual Flowering Carnations

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Border Carnations - Cuttings or Layers?

The start of this season has seen a completely different approach, with a new greenhouse being constructed and the old greenhouse being removed has left somewhat of gap, this with having to also build a foundation base to house the new greenhouse has left the cuttings to be taken rather staggered over a period of time this partly due to the plants not being ready for such or the temperature being too high but even worse has been the need to use the poly-tunnel to accommodate the cuttings which I know is not “cutting friendly” Having had problems with cuttings in the past with the poly-tunnel I was not entirely happy with having to use it again but when needs must. The only option was to take as many cuttings as possible knowing that my losses could be heavy, with limited space laying was no a possibility, it was a case of take the cuttings then to dump the mother plant in the skip along with the soil being dug out for the foundation of the new greenhouse. Strange but when I ordered the greenhouse in April time was not a problem but now time was not a luxury and to make matters worse August so a mini heat wave.


The seedlings that had flowered were reduced from 60 plants to just 6 and even though these would be grown on only 3 showed real promise, it’s hard to believe how many single flowers were produced amongst the seedlings and I had decided with all the upheaval this year that I would not take any seed and it was only when I was discussing such with Phil Cross that I realised I had actually made an error regarding how I allow my seed to be crossed and therefore it was fortunate that I had not taken any this year, the problem being is that I had commented to Phil on a wonderful Border Carnation cultivar named Mary Conlon which is a very nice Pink self with a strong scent but its known for having problems with its calyx and whilst discussing hybridising with Phil I did mention that it would be nice to have its strong scent but Phil pointed out that would be all as it has the problem with the calyx and the only way if we do allow open air pollination is to ensure cultivars like Mary Conlon are not in the area as we would not want the bee to cross with it and thus its seedlings may carry over the calyx problem, this then dawned on me something I had not taken into consideration when allowing bees to pollinate my stock that all Borders were in proximity of each other with only Borders being kept in the poly-tunnel  the bee could have used any for cross pollination and this would have even been worse this year with having to solely rely on the poly-tunnel is that both Pinks and P/FS had been housed with the Borders so I would have not known what had been crossed with what and that the seed could be from any cross of the three genus. It just shows something as simple in that if you want good seed then the best way to start is to ensure that only the best plants for pollinating are available to Mr bee, anything that has poor form, weak necks or stems should not be in the vicinity otherwise poor seedlings might be the result.


Something to think about for next year when hopefully all will be back on track.


Any way the cuttings have come through, yes there were some losses but not as bad as I had thought. One way I have taken cuttings now when space is tight and a method I intend to adopt is one of taking a square 10cm pot, I then place the final mix in the bottom of the pot and fill the rest with cutting compost, firm down to eradicate any air pockets and then take four cuttings from the same mother plant and place one per corner, water in and place out of direct sunlight; after a couple of weeks move to the staging but still out of direct sunlight. Then it’s just a case of monitoring them and for me they all seem to root, once white roots show at the bottom of the pot I water again with Maxicrop then depending on how many is still in the pot as one can be lost they are potted into finals; so if four are still in the pot then they will go into a four litre final pot, three to a three litre and nothing less than a two litre pot even if there is just one cutting left.


As it happens with this present mild weather I have been potting into finals and so the season starts again.



Once white roots show at the bottom of the pot through the drainage holes then it’s a sure sign they are ready for potting on into final pot.

One of the most talked about subjects regarding Border Carnations is that of whether to layer or to take cuttings and its one that I am constantly asked at shows, most newcomers to growing Dianthus or somewhat apprehensive when the talk comes to propagation, probably from old tales of one cutting off fingers when layering and not being able to take cuttings from the Border Carnation.

I often comment that I do prefer to take cuttings as I have done so now for many years from all type of plants and I see no problem taking such from Border Carnations as it suits my needs BUT I also do layer the occasional pot and the only reason that I do not layer all of my stock is due to the fact that I need the space and cannot afford such space for 6-8 weeks whilst the layers are making good root. This debate on which is best “layers versus cuttings” will no doubt go on but I thought if you are like me and would prefer to take cuttings then some thought on the subject is needed.

Let us first consider the obvious controversy “Layers versus cuttings” but from a different angle, which is best for the plant? To make a layer a stem is cut along its length for a one inch, one side of which is severed leaving suppurating sores two and a quarter inches long, when these cuts heal the roots form, another cut and off comes the layer and potted into the growing medium of choice. A cutting makes one single cut and is then placed into rooting compost, which would the plant prefer if it had the choice.

Then why make layers? Border Carnations are slower growers than Pinks and Perpetual Carnation therefore they normally take longer to root so by keeping them attached to the parent plant they survive by still be attached whilst still forming root. A cutting rooted under the same conditions inserted alongside the Mother plant would probably die, why? Keep a cutting in a polythene bag with moisture and the cutting will survive at low temperatures for quite some time but it would not form roots, so therefore just keeping a cutting alive is not enough, we have to make it root and root quickly, a word or two on the way a cutting forms roots may help; it is a matter of cell function change, the cells in the part we have cut from the plant divide up into cells that have stem and leaf forming cells and later with the aid of photosynthesis to flower forming functions, we need some of those cells to become root formers. We accept that roots form more quickly at a node so it is at this point we make our cut there, we inadvertently damage thousands of cells doing so, so we use a fine blade. There are many hormone aids now on the market and we use such to encourage cell change to form root, this action has the same effect of putting ointment on a cut finger, it causes scar tissue or callous to form and it is from this callous on our cutting that roots will form. In order that roots do form darkness is essential, hence placing the cutting into compost for such. For optimum results the compost must fulfil certain conditions, it must be sterile, fine and easy to insert the cutting, provide aeration and hold water. A rooting compost mix of 50/50 peat and Perlite being perfect for such.

Top Row, Layers are taken and ready to be potted, cuttings are ready when the roots show and both are ready for potting.

The choice of layer or cuttings is left for one’s own choice.

A New Season begins 2017.



Some of the cultivars that I would like to try again next year.

Above left: - Harkel Special, then Clunie, Lucy Hogg and one that I did like Paul’s Leslie Rennison.

 Left: - John Wood and Right a sport of John Wood which has slight difference and this sport was achieved by using ericaceous compost.

Nov cutting
tray roots
Nov Plugs