Carnations: Complete Guide to Growing and Types

Pink carnations

Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) are also called clove pinks because of their deliciously spicy clove-like fragrance. They are one of the all-time most popular cut flowers, long used for bouquets and corsages, and are easy to grow at home.

Growing Carnations

Carnations need at least four to six hours of direct sun each day and well-drained soil. They are herbaceous perennials with low, bluish-green foliage and flower stalks that extend 12 to 18 inches above the leaves. Carnations come in almost every color of the rainbow and are primarily used in masses as a bedding plant, as potted specimens, or as edging along a path or in front of a taller perennial border.

Planting

Often grown from seed, carnations are typically started indoors in early spring. They germinate readily, though a source of bottom heat will speed up the process. When the seedlings are four to five inches tall, they're ready to put into pots or into a well-prepared bed.

Care

Carnations should be watered and fertilized regularly for best flower production. Water once per week if there has not been rain and fertilize monthly with a diluted all-purpose fertilizer. The foliage is so low to the ground that it's best to avoid mulching, which can lead to leaf infections in carnations.

Remove spent flowers periodically to encourage repeat blooming and cut the stalks down to the height of the basal leaves once they have finished flowering for the year. Tall varieties with large flowers typically need staking to prevent them from flopping over in the wind.

Pests and Disease

Carnations are susceptible to long list of diseases, most of which appear as some form of discoloration or deformation of the leaves. They are hard to treat without the use of harsh fungicides, making prevention the best form of treatment available to home growers.

  • To start with, look for disease-resistant varieties - this information is usually found on the seed package or nursery label.
  • Take steps to ensure good air circulation. Crowded plants are much more susceptible, making it important to thin out beds of carnations every two to three years.
  • Also, water in the morning so the plant has the chance to dry out during the day and use a soaker or drip system to prevent wetting the foliage.

Different Types

There are hundreds of types of carnations available, but here is sampling of the main ones:

  • Chabaud carnations are French heirloom flowers, a classic both in gardens and in bouquets. They're extra large with ruffly flowers on extra long stems up to 24 inches; they come in many colors.
    • 'Benigna' has ruffled white petals outlined in deep pink. It's one of the most fragrant carnations you can grow, and lasts a long time in a vase as a cut flower.
    • 'Chabaud Orange' has full double blossoms with a unique cream and orange bicolored look that's reminiscent of a sunset.
    • 'Avranchin' is a bicolored red and cream carnation with double, ruffled blossoms.
Chabaud carnations
  • Dwarf varieties produce compact plants with several flowers on each stalk; these are often in basic colors like white and red and are some of the best varieties for border plantings.
    • 'Vienna' is often sold as a mix of colors, including pink, salmon, rose, and violet that grow to a maximum height of ten to twelve inches.
    • 'Superstar' produces bright red, ruffled flowers on stems that grow about eight inches tall.'
    • Many seed sellers offer "dwarf carnation mixes" which include a range of colors in dwarf-sized plants.
Flora Dwarf Carnations
  • Spray types are extra small, featuring stems with numerous miniature carnation flowers; they come in many colors and are good for corsages.
    • 'Elegance' blooms in white with pink petal edges and has five to six delicate little flowers on each stem.
    • 'Tibet' has tiny pure white blossoms.
    • 'Exquisite' blooms are white with vibrant violet-edged petals.
pink spray carnations

Symbolism and Historical Uses

The amount of symbolism that has been attached to carnations over time is numerous:

  • They are part of Biblical lore as the flowers that grew from Mary's tears at the crucifixion of Jesus.
  • The founder of Mother's Day chose carnations as a symbol for the holiday, a tradition which continues to this day.
  • In general, carnations are given as a sign of love and infatuation.
  • Depending on the color, many other sentiments are associated with carnations - luck (white), red (admiration), and yellow (disappointment).

Crazy About Carnations

Carnation enthusiasts have formed organizations all over the world to share seed and growing information on the hundreds of specialized varieties. Even if you're a novice, these groups are a great source of information on the best growing practices.

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Carnations: Complete Guide to Growing and Types