Carnations, scientifically referred to as Dianthus caryophyllus, encompass a significance beyond their decorative appeal. Their rich cultural history spans various civilizations, symbolizing emotions ranging from love and fascination to distinction and gratitude. While these blooms are often associated with special occasions like Mother's Day and weddings, they are equally suited to grace your everyday garden with their captivating presence.
Whether you're a seasoned gardener or a novice with a green thumb, learning the nuances of cultivating carnations can be rewarding. From understanding their growth requirements to mastering propagation techniques, the world of carnation cultivation is as diverse as the colors these flowers come in. With its delicate petals and captivating array of colors, the carnation has held a cherished place in gardens and bouquets for centuries.
Below, we'll outline everything you'll need to know to grow rows of bright carnation flowers in your garden or flower bed.
Full sun to partial shade
Well-drained, fertile soil
USDA zones 5-9
What Are Carnations?
Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) is a sturdy perennial flower with strong, sturdy stems that last well after being cut. A double layer of ruffled petals can be grown in various colors with a spicy, slightly clove-like scent. While blooms typically don't appear the first year after carnations are planted, gardeners can expect to see flowers in late spring during subsequent years.
The many different colors of carnation flowers have come to take on various meanings over time. Carnations, in general, are a symbol of distinction and pure love, which is why they are typically featured in bouquets for weddings, Mother's Day, a celebration of a new baby, or other special occasions. Here are the different meanings of each of the individual colors!
Pink Carnations - Pink carnations have many hues, ranging from deep clove pink to pastel pink. They stand for gratitude and a mother's love.
Green Carnations - Green carnations are faintly-colored and symbolize both health and good fortune. They are often seen around St. Patrick's Day!
White Carnations - Opt for white carnations to signify purity and good luck. If your white carnations are striped or variegated with another color, this commonly stands for regret over feelings that aren't reciprocated.
Red Carnations - Both deep and light red carnations stand for admiration, deep affection, and romantic love, similar to red roses.
Yellow Carnations - Yellow is the carnation color for friendship and happiness.
Blue Carnations - The baby blue hues of these carnation flowers represent peace and tranquility.
Carnation Care Requirements
Carnation flowers generally bloom their best if planted in full-sun locations, but they will grow fine in areas of partial shade if that is all you have to spare. A full sun area constitutes any location that receives at least 6 hours of direct sunlight. However, keep in mind that harsh afternoon sun can fade the flowers. For bright and fresh petals, try to place your carnations so that they receive mostly morning sun.
Carnations are rather tolerant to drought, but they will need regular watering during the spring as the flower buds are forming. They also might need extra water if the summer is particularly dry. When you go to water your carnation flower bed, be sure to aim the water at the base of the plant and not to over soak the ground. Overwatering carnations can cause the leaves to turn yellow and the flower heads to drop off.
Some species of Dianthus are known for their cold hardiness, but this isn't the case with carnations! They grow perennially in USDA Hardiness Zones 5 through 9. The winters in colder zones have a chance of killing off the flowers. Since they really only bloom in their second year and later, planting carnations in those zones brings the risk of never enjoying much of a harvest.
Carnations do best in environments with low humidity. They will grow in areas with high humidity but tend not to bloom as prolifically.
While carnations aren't too picky about their sunlight or watering needs, they are particular about their soil requirements. This flower requires soil with excellent drainage and an alkaline pH balance. Alkaline soils tend to have high amounts of calcium, magnesium, and sodium nutrients, which carnations need. If your soil is more acidic, you can amend it by working lime into it before planting the carnation flowers.
A small amount of slow-release fertilizer can provide a welcome boost to newly-planted flowers. Avoid using quick-release fertilizers, which will burn the roots of the plant. Begin fertilizing your carnations when they start actively growing in the spring. As a general rule, a frequency of every 4-6 weeks during the growth period is typically satisfactory. However, always refer to the specific recommendations of your fertilizer, as formulations can vary.
How To Plant Carnations In The Garden
If you will grow your carnations from seed, start them indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last frost date for your growing zone. While you can definitely direct sow them outdoors after the frost risk has passed, you will not enjoy any blooms in their first year.
Sprinkle carnation seeds over a tray filled with potting soil, and cover them slightly with a dusting of more soil. Keep the tray moist, using a mist sprayer and wrapping the tray loosely in plastic wrap to increase humidity. Germination will take place in 3 days! Once each seedling gets a couple of leaves, separate them into their own small containers. After each seedling reaches 4 to 5 inches in height, it can be transplanted outside.
Alternatively, you can plant carnation seedlings purchased at a nursery or greenhouse and plant them directly into your garden.
Common Problems When Growing Carnation Flowers
Many pests can cause problems to carnations, including aphids, spider mites, and cutworms. Aphids and spider mites can be managed using neem oil or an insecticidal soap. Cutworms will require manual removal.
Disease and Fungal Infections
Carnations can be vulnerable to illnesses like powdery mildew, rust, and crown rot. These can cause discoloration, deformities, and weakening of the plants. Maintain appropriate spacing between plants to facilitate effective air circulation. Refrain from using overhead watering to prevent moisture accumulation on the foliage, which can foster fungal development. Opt for disease-resistant cultivars whenever feasible. Eliminate and dispose of infected plant sections, and contemplate the application of fungicides as a preemptive strategy.
If your carnations aren't producing as many flowers as expected, it might be due to insufficient sunlight, improper nutrition, or incorrect pruning. Guarantee a minimum of 6 hours of direct sunlight for your carnations each day. Employ a well-balanced fertilizer designed for flowering plants, adhering to the suggested feeding timetable. Trim withered flowers to stimulate ongoing blossoming and deter seed formation, which could redirect energy from flower production.
When leaves turn yellow, it could indicate nutrient insufficiencies, excessive watering, or inadequate drainage. Analyze your soil's pH and nutrient content through testing. Make necessary corrections using suitable fertilizers to supply the required nutrients. Allow the uppermost inch of soil to dry between waterings, and guarantee effective drainage to avert root rot.
If your carnations are not growing as vigorously as they should, it might be due to compacted soil, poor drainage, or inadequate spacing. Prepare the planting site by loosening the soil to ensure good drainage. Space plants, according to their mature size, prevent overcrowding. Mulch around the plants to maintain soil moisture and temperature.
Are Carnations Toxic to Pets?
Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) are generally considered non-toxic to humans and pets, making them a relatively safe choice for households with cats, dogs, and other animals. Nevertheless, it's essential to acknowledge that while carnations aren't recognized as highly toxic, being plant material, they could potentially lead to minor gastrointestinal discomfort if consumed in significant amounts.
If a pet were to nibble on a few carnation petals or leaves, it would unlikely cause significant harm. Nevertheless, it's a good practice to discourage pets from eating plants, as some individuals might have more sensitive reactions.