British National Carnation Society

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The Living Diary Of Perpetual Flowering Carnations By Ivor Mace

This article replaces the piece from the old website, Ivor has kindly updated where he feels necessary, any new text is in italics. This is quite an extensive piece and covers six web pages. We would like to thank Ivor for the time he has taken out of his busy schedule to do this for us

Camplex Soil Steriliser & Turf Stack

Sterilisation tub
Sterilisation empty

John Innes recipe for soil based composts and variations I have made, based on my own trials.
When I worked for the health authority we used to lift turf from a field containing a nice medium loam full of fibre from grass roots. We followed the John Innes Institutes recipe of:-
7parts loam.
3parts moss peat,
2 parts grit.
Adding JI base fertiliser, which contained:-
2parts Supper-phosphate.
2parts Sulphate of Ammonia.
1part Sulphate of Potash.
No trace elements are present in this base fertiliser. However when I moved to the parks nursery we had to buy in loam, there was little or no fibre in it, unlike the rotted turf I had been used too up to this point. I found that using the JI recipe, the compost set like concrete, causing both poor air porosity and poor water penetration. Eventually after some trials, I modified the recipe to:-
2parts loam,
2parts moss peat,
1 part grit (or perlite in later years).
Obviously with the reduction in the loam content and the lack of decaying organic matter in the loam I moved from JI base fertiliser to Vitax Q4 which along with its N-P-K it also contains trace elements. I feel this is important because with the reduction in loan content the need for another source of trace elements is important.

The difficulty in obtaining enough good loam and the cost effectiveness of it against moss peat has resulted in further experiments. I have found that an 80% peat to 20%
loam still gives comparable results. In other words the 20% loam is enough to give the compost some buffering capacity. That is the ability for clay particles to attract ions of the opposite polarity. Positively charged Ammonium for instance will stick to negatively charged clay particles, avoiding them being leached from the compost. Plants can absorb nitrogen in the form of ammonium but because it sticks to clay it is limited in its uptake by plants, however when ammonium converts to nitrate after micro bacterial activity, the nitrate ions are negatively charged, so they repel from the clay particles and are suspended in the soil water and are absorbed by the plants. Just imagine if ammonium was leached from the compost before it converted to nitrate, this would necessitate heavier feeding with the possibility of higher salt concentrations, root scorch and poor water uptake being a possibility. Thereby is the reasoning behind my philosophy of having some loam present in all my composts for plants that are going to occupy them for a long period. This is the reason I only make my compost to the equivalent of a JI number 1, Yes JI number 1. To get good root establishment, then I use soluble feeds to increase growth after the plants have established in their pots, 31/2 inch, 5 inch and 8-9 inch final pots.

There are several ways you can make compost: - purchase moss peat, loam and grit or perlite. Or alternatively, purchase a good quality peat based compost and add 20% loam and 10% grit or perlite, adding base fertiliser for only the proportion of loam and grit because there is already fertiliser present in proprietary composts. I write this because I am mindful of the fact that moss peat is going to become increasingly difficult to obtain because its use is being discouraged for environmental reasons. Very few garden centres stock it any longer. The environmentalists see potting compost as a necessary evil, but using moss peat for improving soil structure in gardens is defiantly being discouraged. Eventually even multi-purpose composts will have to contain a large percentage of renewable material like bark. Many already do, this is not necessarily a bad thing because composted bark has good air porosity like moss peat, where as fine grade loam has not.

My compost if I can get hold of good loam without breaking the bank will have: - 2 parts loam.
2 parts peat.
1 part perlite.
However I am quite prepared to modify it right up to:-
1 part loam.
5 parts moss peat.
11/2 parts perlite.
In fact in trials this year I grew Bob’s Highlight and Linfield Annie’s Fancy in this type of compost and they performed just as well as the other varieties.
I’m afraid I’m a little old fashioned in as much as I still haven’t got to grips with grams and litres. Therefore I use bushels, which is 8 gallons as a measurement and ounces of fertiliser per bushel. For my JI number 1 strength compost just add 4oz of liming material and 4oz of base fertiliser per bushel of compost. I have found 2oz of ground limestone (calcium carbonate) 2oz of calcified seaweed as a better option because the calcified seaweed is not ground as fine and is slower acting, therefore preventing the pH from dropping for a longer period. Regarding the base fertiliser Vitax Q4 was my choice for many years, however about a decade ago (before my carnation growing began) I had root rot on some chrysanthemum varieties. After a bit of research I found out about beneficial fungi and its ability to occupy the space where anaerobic root rot organisms could inhabit. This problem is a result of bad management, like over watering and incorrect watering, such as not allowing enough air to enter the compost between waterings. I now use 2oz of Antagon organic fertiliser with beneficial fungi and 2oz of Vitax Q4 base fertiliser per bushel of compost instead of 4oz of Vitax Q4.

I believe a plant is a plant, most plants we grow appreciate roughly the same conditions, especially regarding a composts ability to allow air to enter, and nutrient holding capacity, and therefore I use the same compost for Chrysanthemums, Onions & Leeks, and Carnations, and any other plants I grow.

When I mix compost for rooting cuttings and sowing seeds I make it up with even greater air porosity to enable respiration and cell division at the base of the cutting not to be compromised. I use: -
1 part loam.
1 part moss peat.
1 part perlite.
I use the same base fertiliser and liming materials per bushel as my potting compost

compost with Ivor

Left, mixing compost for rooting cuttings.

Right, mixing potting compost

Compost with lime and calcified

seaweed added ready for mixing

compost 1
compost left

One of the Greenhouses at Rhondda Borough Councils Central Nursery around 1987-88

Rhondda boro greenhouse 1

Trial Grounds at Pencoed College around 1998

Rhondda boro greenhouse 2

B.A.R.B. Rose trial at Pencoed College July 2008 just before I retired.

Trial grounds pencod 1
Rose trials pencod 2
Rose trials pencod