BNCS Badge

Leading the way with Dianthus

British National Carnation Society

Articles 8

Oh No, Not Carnations As Well

By John Peace

I first started growing carnations three years ago.  I always remember when my dad used to grow them, not to show, just for pleasure and cut flowers.  I think Fred Wynn used to fix him up with his spare plants.  I can remember going into the greenhouse during the summer months and dad used to say ‘what do you think of these’ and to be honest at that time, not a lot really.  I did not really appreciate them but in my defence I was still quite a young boy and had not yet picked up the gardening bug.

However since dad passed away four years ago, I decided I wanted to grow and show everything he used to dabble in, which were mainly daffodils and carnations.

I first stared with the daffodils and have enjoyed some success at National and at the RHS, Westminster shows winning championship classes and the occasional ‘best bloom’.

I then moved on to growing carnations as well, much to Allyson’s dismay.  To be fair she had tolerated the daffodils as they did not really affect our lives outside of flowers but now with the carnations she said ‘Oh no, not carnations as well’ hence the title of this article and further stated ‘we might as well sell the caravan now’.  We had been in the habit of going off in the caravan at weekends, in between the chrysanthemum season during the spring and summer months.  Now the carnations have taken up all my spare time leaving no time for weekends away.  The caravan is now up for sale and Allyson is not happy!


The varieties I grow are as follows:-

‘Joanne’s Highlight’, ‘Linfield Annie’s Fancy’, ‘Bob’s Highlight’, ‘Annie Claybourne’, ‘White Joanne’, ‘Janelle Welch’, ‘Crompton Princess’, ‘Crompton Classic’, ‘Grange Classic’s Choice’, ‘Arthur Holmes’, ‘Cariba’ aka ‘Heracles’, ‘Kristina’, ‘Atletic Schubert’ and ‘Schubert’.


I try to grow 20 of each; I grow this number as I find it easier to make vases of twelve.  Most of the championship classes in the North East call for 12 blooms.

So far I have grown my carnations two ways.  First year I tried Ivor Mace’s way by rooting the cuttings in October, keeping them on bottom heat with an air temperature just under 50 during the winter months.  The other way which seems popular with growers in the North East sees rooting begin during July/August which does seem to work better for me.  These early rootings include the ‘Joanne’ family, ‘Linfield Annie’s Fancy’ and ‘Bob’s Highlight’.  By rooting them early they need no bottom heat and they grow away really well.  I root into Jiffy 7’s and after about four weeks I pot on into 3” pots using a compost made of two parts loam, two parts levington m3, one part perlite with 3oz antagon beneficial bacteria added per bushel.  2009 was the first year I used this compost and found the root systems to be good, nice and white with the plants quick to grow away.

The earlier rooting means the plants are well established before winter sets in and I usually manage to get the plants into 5” pots before December when I can keep the greenhouse frost free.  This is the time I usually stop the first of my later flowering cultivars when I can leave six true pair of leaves to grow away.  To recap these include the ‘Joanne’s’, ‘Linfield Annie’s Fancy’ and ‘Bob’s Highlight’.

Hopefully this action will give me flowers for the July and August shows.  I do root and stop a few later to aim for a succession for the later shows.

My aim is to show from July through to the end of September.  I have found that you need to water very carefully as the plants can develop very poor root systems which can lead to root rot.  I only water when the plants show signs of needing a drink, judging this by the plants taking on a blue hue together with limp foliage.

Rooting times for other plants such as the ‘Schubert’s’ and other Dutch varieties takes place right through to February when I usually commence my spraying programme using dynamec.  I believe prevention is better than cure so spray twice within a week which would kill any adults or eggs should they be present.  The next spray would be in about a month’s time unless I saw signs of infestation when I would take immediate action.

Touchwood, since I have been growing I have never seen any signs of the dreaded red spider and hope I never do.  Regarding fungicides, the main one I use is systhane and this is applied on a monthly basis.  Thankfully I am not troubled with ‘rust’ although I have found the odd trace on plants which I have bought in and which are immediately placed into quarantine and sprayed with jenton.  This is a relatively new fungicide for treatment of rust which is not available off the shelf as you need a chemical licence to buy and use it.

By keeping the greenhouse temperatures down and ventilating during warm weather I am looking for a nice stocky plant, blue tinge (grey) in colour and with a really good root system.  Usually at the beginning of March I go round checking the root systems of the first plants rooted in July/August which would still be in 5” pots and should be full of root if you have done the job right.


For final potting I use a three litre pot and this year I intend to add more loam for certain varieties.  Last year I really learned a lot as I used the same compost for all my carnations which was equal parts of John Innes number 3 and levington m3.  This worked well on certain varieties like ‘Crompton Classic’ and the ‘Schubert’s’ but the ‘Joanne’ family were too course.  I had earlier in the season given some plants in 3” pots to Gordon Dowson who grew them on in a compost heavier in loam and his resultant flowers were better in form with nice smooth petal and edge.  As stated earlier. I learnt a lot last year not least about the use of shading.  I will not shade this year as I got good colour in the flowers but the stems were too weak.  Whilst this is ok in the North east where we are allowed to wire our show stems this is not so at BNCS shows.

Regarding feeding, last year I fed through a dilutor with chempak number 2 but this year intend to use a feed slightly higher in potash, namely chempak number 4 which may also help to stiffen the stems.

Once the plants are in the final pots I place a wire ring around the breaks which I make simply from a peg with a galvanised wire threaded through the spring of the peg which is clipped onto a 3’ cane to train the breaks straight up.  I then lower the greenhouse staging to around 18” high as the plants begin to spindle which also makes for a nice height to work on them.  Black and white polythene sheeting is placed black side down onto the top of the staging to reflect as much light as possible back onto the plants.  All plants are grown five breaks up and further wires are fastened onto the canes as required.  When the flowers arrive I do not put collars on until they are cut and they go straight into deep water.

I aim to cut blooms about two days before the show and transport them in specially made racks made from timber and 20mil plastic pipe cut to the length of the stem.  These are really light and easy for one person to carry.


In finishing this report I have to say that we in the North East are really spoilt with so many good shows to attend and with so many good keen growers to keep us all on our toes.  

‘What a canny bunch of lads’