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Leading the way with Dianthus

British National Carnation Society

Border Carnations


Growing carnations and pinks is not only very satisfying but it is relatively easy.  For those who have never grown dianthus before and wish to try there are a few simple things to be aware of.  As with growing any plant get the best stock available, after all it is easier to grow from good stock than it is from poor stock!  Dianthus are normally propagated by cutting or layering-it is not possible to get plants to come true from seed.  Specialist’s nurseries can provide small plants grown from rooted cuttings which are true to type, garden centres can be a source of named varieties of alpine, miniature as well as standard pink plants.  Pinks and border carnations can be grown in the garden as well as in containers, making them very versatile plants.

Once you have sourced your plants and decided on which environment you are growing them in, garden or container, then planting follows. Container grown plants should be planted in well drained compost and lightly firmed in.  Garden grown plants should be grown in a sunny spot and the soil should be free draining, incorporate some grit if necessary, and allow room for the plants to develop.

So you have got your nice new plants and potted them on or planted them out-what next?  Dianthus do not require too much attention, but a little TLC can go a long way.  Keep an eye out for pests and diseases and treat as necessary-there are a good number of suitable pesticides and fungicides available.  Providing you are growing in a good compost/soil, which is on the alkaline side of neutral, feeding should not commence until the pots are full of roots or the garden grown plants are starting to spindle up to flowering.  Feed at half strength with a balanced fertiliser and change to high potash as the buds develop.

There is a range of publications specifically aimed at growing pinks and carnations to perfection available from specialist nurseries or from the British National Carnation Society.  These are “How to grow” and the titles are “Pinks”, “Border Carnations” and Perpetual Flowering Carnations” as well as the recent publication Growing and Showing Perpetual Flowering Carnations, Pinks and Border Carnations with the Experts. These are easy to read publications which give step by step advice without being over complicated from obtaining the correct stock through to flowering and exhibiting.  They are well illustrated and show some of the modern outstanding varieties. For those who get the bug there are sections on hybridising and producing your own varieties-you never know- you may produce a world beater!

Getting started:-


1Good plants from a reputable source

2Good quality free draining compost-neutral to alkaline ph.

3Clean suitable sized containers-1-1½litre for pinks, 2-3 litre for carnations

4Support canes and rings as the plants develop

5A large vase for all the wonderful blooms you will produce.

New to Growing Carnations?

If you ask ten growers which particular compost they use you will probably get ten different responses!  Yet all the growers will swear by their results, so what makes the difference?  Plants need somewhere to anchor their roots, in nature they “choose” their own compost by growing where they are best suited.  Plants will not grow well in areas that do not suit them so when we take them out of their natural environment we should endeavour to provide them with conditions that emulate their natural environment   Dianthus grow best in neutral to alkaline soils that are well drained, it stands to reason therefore that we should provide a compost that is free draining and neutral to alkaline.  Over many years growing good results have been obtained with many mixes, both proprietary and home made but mixes that contain an element of loam seem to give stronger plants with good colour and some degree of resilience to troubles.  A mixture of John Innes (25 litre) and peat base compost (75/80 litres) mixed one bag to one bag  with 15/20 litres added grit or coarse sand gives excellent results.  With environmental concerns over the use of peat companies have been developing peat reduced or peat free composts, these have met with varying degrees of success. As with all things there is no one size fits all, with this in mind  experiments have been made with compost for dianthus, made up with good quality sterilised loam, green compost and grit.  This mix has been prepared by Boughton Loam, a company which speciliases in Kettering loam products.  Along with Mike Graves, a champion chrysthanthemum grower, trial plants were grown in the mix alongside plants grown in the usual mix.  Apart from the different compost mix the plants were treated in exactly the same way.   With the experimental plants, carnations and chrysanthemums, there were no differences noted between peat based and non peat based grown plants other than on one variety of chrysanthemums plants, a variety noted for dropping its head in peat based mix which, in fact, stood bolt upright in the experimental mix.  A good root system was formed, the stems were strong and straight and, most importantly, the flowers were of good form and size.  This applied both to carnations and the chrysanthemums. Many wonderful mixes are recorded, use what suits your conditions best, just bear in mind the above basic requirements of Dianthus.


It was my most successful year ever, 2011 saw me achieve a long held ambition to win the coveted Banksian Medal. This I achieved at the Summer Show held at Towcester. It was my aim to build on this success. I had good stock with a number of my own varieties achieving first, along with other established varieties.

My growing conditions were favourable; I felt my compost mix was spot on – what could go wrong!!!

My mix for 2012 was sterilised medium – from my old compost – rejuvenated with additional fertilisers. So I thought I would repeat this regime for 2012.  Cuttings and or layers were taken from my stock plants into 12 compartmental cell trays and rooted in the propagator. When they were well rooted I started to prepare my compost. Barrie Gamble kindly lent me his steriliser and I got to work setting up a production line – unsterilised compost through the steriliser into the mixer, get 2 or 3 mixings and pot up. Everything seemed to go well – I left the potted up plants in the greenhouse for 2-3 days then put them outside on my covered benches. As I was finishing the potting on I noticed that the plants were not progressing as well as they should. I was not too concerned at this stage as I always say it is what goes on at the root that is most important.  As time went on into mid March the plants had decidedly sick look about them. SOON checking, some had succumbed to stem rot but most just died. I have lost 80/90% of my plants. The only difference I can think of is that the ammonia gas given off when the compost is released from the steriliser coupled with using the compost too soon after sterilisation is the cause of my problems.  In my haste to get the plants potted on I feel I did not give enough time for all the noxious gases to evaporate and more importantly should have sterilised the soil away from the plants. For convenience I had stationed the steriliser next to my potting bench.

A salutary lesson – do not sterilise any mix near to plants and use the steriliser in a well ventilated space. Leave the sterilised medium for a t least a couple of weeks before you even contemplate using it.

I will have a few plants thanks to the kindness of Doug Cottam, Phil Cross and Barrie Gamble but not the volume I usually like to grow.


Plants not affected by the sterilisation

Plants that were affected by using the method as described above

Year Book2
Year Book3
Year Book