Among the most popular and carefree of garden plants, carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) also feature heavily in floral arrangements. Carnations flourish in gardens and greenhouses around the world. Hundreds of varieties exist, making them popular hobby plants as well as profitable florists' flowers. Fortunately, they grow well in the average home garden.
A high-demand florists' flower, carnations in various colors are sold for Mother's Day, Valentine's Day and St. Patrick's Day. Florists also frequently include them in mixed bouquets and corsages. Growers around the world cultivate them both in greenhouses and on carnation farms. The cut flowers last up to two weeks, adding to their usefulness in floral arrangements. Because of their spicy, clove-like odor, many carnation varieties are grown for use in the fragrance industry.
Two main groups of carnations exist, largely developed for their usefulness in floral arrangements. The larger, standard variety will grow 18 to 24 inches tall on a single stem, while "mini-carnations," also known as "spray carnations," are shorter plants bearing smaller blooms. Mini-carnations suffer less from diseases in humid climates than do standard varieties. do. According to the Michigan State University Extension, the most common carnation colors are pink, salmon, white, yellow and red.
According to longtime grower Fred Greene (profitfrog.com), the traditional method of carnation growing involves starting new carnation plants from cuttings of a mature carnation plant. Seed companies offer only a fraction of the 500 available varieties, and true enthusiasts, including Greene, say only cuttings result in true prize carnations. During flowering season, Greene instructs gardeners to cut a 4-inch section of a side-shoot from the main stem, using a sharp razor or knife. Remove leaves near the cut end and dip the end into rooting hormone powder. Place the cutting 1 inch deep in a sand-filled pot. Soak the entire pot in a shallow bucket or tray (keeping the soil above the water), remove the soaked pots, and place them in a shaded outdoor area for up to six weeks, until the plants show healthy growth. Transfer them to pots filled with sterile potting soil and overwinter them in a greenhouse or cold frame. Transfer the carnation plants to the garden the following year.
Plant carnation plants where they will receive plenty of sunshine. Give them well-tilled, alkaline soil, but don't overdo the manure; excess nitrogen leads to plenty of foliage and not enough flowering. Space the plants 1 foot apart, and keep them well watered. As plants grow, pinch off early blooms to encourage spreading growth, which will lead to more flowers later. During blooming season, remove older flowers promptly; this practice also boosts flower production. The plants overwinter well, as far as zone 6. If you live farther north, then consider either growing carnations as annuals or trying other members of the Dianthus family.
The Name Game
Carnations are members of the Dianthus family. The smaller varieties of Dianthus also are called "cottage pinks" or "clove pinks." The "pink" refers not to their colors---which include pink, red and white---but to their ruffled edges, which look as if they've been cut with pinking scissors. The botanical name Dianthus means "the flower of Jove"; in Greek, "dios" means divine and "anthos" means flower, according to calyxflowers.com.