The carnation's Latin name Dianthus comes from the Greek words for god and flower. Carnations are perennial flowers and come in shades ranging from white to dark pink. They thrive in containers both indoors and out as well as planted in the garden bed. They bloom from spring until fall, dying back after the first hard frost in autumn. They prefer full sun in well-drained soil for greatest blooms and plant health. They reproduce via seeds, cuttings or divisions.
A single carnation plant has both male and female reproductive organs, allowing them to self-pollinate and form seeds. The male organ, or stamen, is covered in pollen. Insects and sometimes birds pick up this pollen and transfer it to the female part of the flower called the pistil in the course of feeding. Carnations require pollinators with long proboscises as their flowers are deep, making access to the pistil difficult for smaller insects. After successful pollination is achieved, the flower begins to die off and the seed head matures.
Grown in containers indoors, carnation seeds are started in early spring six weeks before the final frost date. Outdoors they are started in late spring or early summer after all danger of frost is past. Carnation seeds require moisture and heat in order to germinate, and the emerging seedlings require light as well. Well-drained garden beds are best; otherwise, the seeds will rot in overly soggy soil. Bottom heat from a seedling heat mat speeds indoor germination. Covering pots or beds in plastic preserves both the heat and the moisture. Carnations germinate in 14 to 21 days when conditions are right.
Pollination isn't necessary when reproducing carnations via cuttings. Most commercial carnation growers propagate with cuttings as the new plant is a clone of the parent plant the cutting came from. The small side shoots that form around the main stem are called suckers. When removed before the carnation during fall or winter, the suckers have the ability to grow into a new plant. They are rooted in potting soil and kept moist. Adding a rooting compound, sold at nurseries, to the soil encourages growth of roots and leaves.
Dividing mature carnations plants every one to three years is another way to reproduce the plant without it being pollinated. Dig up the whole carnation plant, including the entire root ball, in order to divide. Work the roots apart gently, either using your fingers or a garden spade to separate them depending on how tightly they are wound together. Plants are divided roughly in half, though older plants may be divided into three or four divisions depending on size. Both plants from the division are then replanted as two new plants.