The Great North Carnation Society

Affiliated to the BNCS

Growing Pinks, Border Carnations and Perpetual Flowering Carnations

Border Carnations - Cuttings or Layers?

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.