In cultural hints the proper place to begin is with the cutting. Let me repeat that the plants from which you take the cuttings have not been forced. They have been subjected to a lower temperature than that in which they would flower in their native habitat. So the plant is not exhausted and there is no need of having any plants in a cold-frame to propagate from. No better material can be had than that from your flowering plants. And the earlier you take the cutting, say in October, the less can it be said the plants have been forced.
Much has been said of late in advocacy of early propagation, say in November and December, and in these days of early planting there is much in its favor. If by New Year's or the middle of January you have the young plants rooted in pots they could be removed to a cool house at a night temperature of 40 degrees. This would give them a partial rest of two or three months and they would be in good order to grow vigorously when warmer weather came. Where large quantities are needed you cannot raise all you need in one batch, or three or four, and propagation will be carried on into April, but what you can take out of the sand before New Year's will make excellent stock and this slight rest will be a benefit to them. Although we don't truly force our carnations by reversing their season of flowering, we keep up a perpetual active growth. Thirty years ago we considered bottom heat a necessity for rooting carnations. Then later we were converted to the theory that the sand should not be warmed at all. Now we believe that if the atmosphere is kept as near 50 degrees as possible and the sand at from 55 to 60 degrees we have the ideal conditions. That mild heat of the sand cannot injure the cuttings and it will hasten their rooting by several days.
Avoid a direct draught either from a door or ventilator. Carnations want the light and little shading is needed during December, January and February. When the sun gets high enough to wilt the cuttings we tack cheese cloth up to the glass. That is far better than laying on and taking off newspapers. The cloth is heavy enough to shed the rays of the sun at any time and is far enough above the cuttings to give them sufficient light at all times.
For the cutting bed three inches of coarse, clean river or lake sand is sufficient. As a consolation to those who do not have lake sand near them I will say that for the past ten years I have propagated in bank sand containing even some loam in fine particles, and I have not lost on an average ten per cent of the cuttings, and in free rooting varieties like Lawson scarcely that. There is little danger of the troublesome fungus among your carnation cuttings, because the temperature should not be high enough for its vegetation. But as a preventive and for another reason we always water the sand with the ammoniacal solution before each batch of cuttings is put in.
We have also rooted carnation cuttings very successfully in sifted coke and hard coal ashes. They will root about as quickly in ashes as in sand and 1 see no reason why ashes are not more often used where sand is not easily procured.
Watering is a matter of pure sense and judgment. If the glass is covered with snow or the weather is dull and sunless we water every three or four days. If the weather is bright and sunny, allowing plenty of ventilation, then every second day. And if you have occasion to propagate late in March the cuttings will take water every day.
A Funeral Bunch of Carnations.
In the early days of carnation growing, before flowers were picked with long stems, we used for cuttings mostly the young growths from the bottom, those that would grow up and produce flowers, and they made good vigorous plants. Those cuttings nowadays seem to run up to flower and are not what we want for making a stout free growing plant. The propagator of large quantities, or those wishing to raise the largest possible number of a new variety, may take every green shoot that will make a plant or root. But that is not the way to perpetuate your plants for the best results. Cuttings should be taken only from the healthiest plants, and it will pay to also choose from the plants bearing the largest and most perfect flowers, for like begets like. The offshoots from the flowering stem make fine cuttings (these are the cuttings uniformly taken by good growers for their stock), but they should be taken not too low down, where they are hard and woody, nor too near the flower, where they are small and spindling. The size of the cutting is not material; it is its proper age or firmness that is of consequence.
Some growers just tear off the cuttings and put them in the sand as they are pulled off. I prefer to cut the smallest possible piece off the bottom. As to trimming the leaves, generally the two lower ones are best removed. Shearing off the tops of the leaves does not hurt the cuttings, nor does it help them to root; it is done merely to allow you to get more cuttings into the same surface of sand. The distance apart to place the cuttings in the sand is merely a question of variety. Some need more room than others, but the cuttings should be at least one inch into the sand in straight rows, and the man that cannot draw with an old knife a perfectly straight line across three or four feet of propagating bed without the aid of a straight edge should be sent back to washing pots.
In a temperature of 50 degrees at night the cuttings will root in five weeks, but varieties differ considerably in this respect. Some cuttings (of roses for instance) are best potted up as soon as the roots have started out a fourth of an inch, but a carnation I would rather have roots an inch long. Some plant from the cutting beds into flats or on benches in three or four inches of soil, giving them room enough to remain till planting out time. Some pot them first into 2-inch, or perhaps 2 1/2-inch pots and later shift them into 3-inch pots. If early propagated an excellent plan is to pot into 2-inch and in six or seven weeks, or as soon as the roots are crowded, to plant them out in four inches of soil. This way they lift with a fine ball of roots and should be strong plants with several breaks from the bottom.
After the first week from the sand they will be well rooted in the pots or flats and should be given full sunlight and plenty of air. As planting out time approaches you will have stopped firing in the houses, so a good light exposure there will do as well for the plants as anywhere, but if crowded for room a coldframe is quite as good a place and even better as you can remove the sash entirely on mild days and thus prepare in the best way for planting in the field. We always like to have the plants early enough to have pinched or stopped them once before planting out time.