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Carnations are pretty, colorful flowers, that are popular around the world for their meaning and symbolism. They’re known as the ‘Mother’s Day’ flower as they’re traditionally given on the day to symbolize affection and gratitude. Carnations are also used in floral decorations, beauty products, and even in the culinary world!
If you’re interested in growing carnations but you’re not sure how to go about it, then you’ve come to the right place! In this article, we’ll show you how to grow and take care of carnations the right way. Let’s go ahead and get started.
The History of Carnations
Carnations were given the scientific name ‘Dianthus’, by the Greek botanist Theophrastus. In various sources, this name roughly translates to ‘flower of the gods’ or ‘the flower of love’. Some scholars believe that the name “Carnation” is derived from the word coronation; Because this flower was one of the flowers used in the coronation of Greek kings. It’s one of the oldest cultivated flowers in the world and has been revered since ancient times. It was and still continues to be popular mostly for its delicate, ruffled look, long blooming period, and clove-like fragrance.
The history of the carnation flower dates back to ancient Rome and Greece when it was commonly used in art and decorations. There are many stories surrounding this flower and in Christian beliefs, it was the first flower to bloom on earth when Jesus carried the cross and the Virgin Mary wept for him.
During these early times, carnations were typically found in peach and pale pink shades. However, over the years, they’ve become available in a wide range of colors including yellow, red, white, green, and purple.
Carnations made their way to the U.S.A. back in 1852, where they quickly gained popularity and to this day, they remain one of the most popular flowers for various occasions. It may be surprising to know that in many parts of the world these dainty flowers are more sought after than any other flower, even roses!
The ‘Mother’s Day Flower’
In 1907, Anna Jarvis, the founder of Mother’s Day, had 500 white carnation flowers delivered to the church where her late mother had taught Sunday school. Anna made a request that every mother in the congregation take a carnation when they came to church. The reason Anna chose the flower was because carnations were believed to ‘typify some of the virtues of motherhood’. The whiteness symbolized purity, faithfulness, its long-lasting qualities, its fragrance, love, charity, and beauty.
It became a tradition and every year the church continued to give out carnations to the mothers who attended the Mother’s Day service. This practice began to spread rapidly throughout the country and communities and churches began incorporating the flower into their Mother’s Day services. In the mid-1940s, the flower was named the official Mother’s Day flower.
How to Plant Carnations
Carnations are fairly easy to care for as they require minimal maintenance. They grow well in both pots and outdoor gardens. If you’re considering growing your own carnations, you’ll first need to decide on two things: whether you’re growing them in pots or in the ground, and whether you’re going to use seeds or cuttings.
Growing Carnations from Seeds
Carnations can be grown from seeds indoors and then transplanted outside after the frost has passed or you can sow them directly in your garden during the summer. If you’re sowing the seeds indoors, do so at least 8 weeks before the last frost so that the plants will flower in the same year. Here’s what to do:
- Sow the seeds 1/8 inches deep in the growing medium. Make sure the soil is moist and at 60 – 70 degrees F (15 to 21 oC).
- The seedlings will begin to emerge in around 14 to 21 days. When this happens, place them in a spot where they will get lots of light, like a sunny windowsill. If you don’t have such a place, you can place them under fluorescent plant lights for 16 hours a day and turn the lights off for around 8 hours at night. Do not use incandescent bulbs as they will get too hot and burn the plants and don’t forget: the plants required a dark period of time to grow well so don’t leave the lights on 24 hours a day.
- After about 4 weeks, fertilizer the seedlings with a starter solution. Unlike complete houseplant food, starter solutions have less strength that’s just right for seedlings.
- From here, you can transplant the carnations to pots or in your garden outdoors. If you’re planting outdoors, keep the plants in a sheltered place away from sun and wind for about a week to help them adapt to the outdoor environment. Use a cover or bring them indoors to protect them from the frost and then take them out again in the morning. This process helps the plants to toughen up and adjust to their new environment.
If you’re planting the seeds directly in the garden, the best time to do so would be in midsummer so that the plants will start flowering the following year.
- Choose a spot in your garden that’s exposed to full sun and with loose, well-drained soil.
- Clean the area well, removing big stones and weeds. To improve the quality of the soil, work some compost into the top 8 inches of the soil and then smooth it all out.
- Sow the seeds ¼ inches deep and water the soil well. The soil should always be kept moist, but not wet.
- You’ll start to see the seedlings emerging in around 14 to 21 days, depending on the quality of the soil and the weather.
Growing Carnations from Cuttings
Carnations are easy to propagate from cuttings or ‘pipings’. The best time to take cuttings is during the summer since the plant cells can divide more quickly and promote the growth of the roots.
- Take your cuttings first thing in the morning as the plants can wilt during the day. Use a sharp knife or gardening shears and snip the tops of the healthy shoots. Make sure to choose shoots that don’t have any flowers on them. Now, pinch off the leaves from the bottom.
- Using a sharp knife, trim the cutting just below the node, the point where a pair of leaves are attached to the stem. Make a tiny cut (about 2mm) in the base of the stem and remove the pair of leaves at the very bottom. The cuttings should be at least 4 to 6 inches long.
- Now that you’ve got your cuttings, fill a container with multi-purpose compost. Plant the cuttings around 10mm deep, making sure to space them evenly so that the leaves won’t touch each other.
- Water the compost well and cover up the pot with a plastic bag. Place it on a windowsill and leave it to root. After a couple of weeks, you’ll see the cuttings growing well. Now, it’s time to start planting each one individually.
- Don’t forget to uncover your cuttings every two or three days to give them fresh air and reduce the risks of a fungal infection. When you notice new leaves growing, remove the cover permanently.
Propagating Carnations by Division
This is a great way to give new life to an old carnation plant. Carefully divide the segments of the plant, creating several little plants. You can do this by digging up the flowers and pulling the segments apart using a garden tool. However, tools can easily damage the plant so you can also use your hands to avoid this.
Replant the little segments that you’ve divided and water them well. To keep your carnation plants healthy, divide them every 2 to 3 years.
Maintaining and Caring for Your Carnations
As mentioned earlier, carnations aren’t very difficult to take care of. However, they do require a little effort in order to thrive at their best. Here are some important tips on how to care for and maintain your carnation plants:
If you live in a warm area, plant your carnations in a location that’s partially shaded. This would help protect the plant from getting scorched. If you’re growing the plants indoors, place them near a sunny windowsill. Carnations need about 4 to 6 hours of sunlight daily to grow.
Potted carnations tend to curve and grow in the direction of the light. To avoid your plant from becoming permanently bent over, rotate the pot or container daily so that it will receive sunlight from all sides equally.
It’s very important not to overwater or underwater carnations as it can impact the plant negatively. Make sure to give your carnations plenty of water about 2 to 3 times a week. If you notice the petals or the foliage turning yellow, it’s a clear sign that your carnations are suffering from overwatering.
The temperature requirements for carnations depend on the specific type of carnation you’ve chosen. However, these plants, in general, prefer cool air. The ideal temperature for carnations is 10 degrees Celcius (50 oF) at night and 18 to 22 degrees Celcius in the daytime (60 to 70oF).
Carnations love sandy soil with good drainage that’s slightly alkalized (pH 6.7 to 6.9). They cannot tolerate clay-like soil. However, if the quality of your soil is poor, there are ways you can improve it to suit your plants. To lighten the texture of heavy soils, try adding organic materials such as vermicompost, compost, coco peat, perlite, or well-rotted manure.
Fertilize your carnations once every 6 to 8 weeks with a water-soluble fertilizer. The ideal fertilizer should contain equal or higher quantities of nitrogen than phosphorus. Look for a fertilizer with a nitrogen-phosphorus-potassium ratio of 5-10-10, 15-15-15, or 5-10-5. If the plants don’t get enough nitrogen, their growth could be stunted, and the leaves will begin to thin.
Some common pests that can attack your carnations include the following:
- Aphids – A common pest that attacks all kinds of plants, the aphid has a small, soft body with long and slender mouths. They pierce leaves, stems, and other parts of plants, sucking out the fluids and draining the plant of its nutrition. You can get rid of aphids naturally by spraying them with water or using natural or organic sprays such as neem oil, essential oils, or soap-and-water mixtures. If it doesn’t work, you may have to use a store-bought insecticide instead.
- Acari – This includes mites and ticks. To rid your plants of acari, mix alcohol and water and spray the solution on the plant. Spray both sides of the leaves and then wipe them carefully using a paper towel.
- Thrips – These are tiny, slender insects with strangely asymmetrical mouths and fringed wings. If your carnations are affected by thrips, you can try using an insecticide or blue sticky pest traps. These are gridded, adhesive traps that have a color attractant to lure in the thrips. They then stick onto the adhesive part of the trap.
Carnations are prone to the following diseases:
- Carnation Rust – This disease attacks the foliage and stems of carnation plants. The leaves will begin to turn yellow and you’d notice the spores of the fungus growing under the leaves. These look brown and resemble rust which is how the disease got its name.
- Dianthus Leaf Spot – Caused by the Septoria dianthi fungus, this disease attacks the flowers, stems, and leaves of the plant. It can be easily identified by the irregularly shaped white to gray colored spots with red or violet edges. Affected plants typically look dried-up, wrinkled, and twisted.
- Carnation Blight – This disease also affects the leaves, stems, and flowers of the carnation plant, forming gray to white spots with black mold in the center.
- Gray Mold Disease – This disease typically attacks the flowers and is characterized by brown spots growing all over them.
- Fairy-ring Leaf Spot – This is a fungal disease characterized by ash-gray or brownish spots surrounded by a green halo with brownish mold on them. It can be seen on all parts of the plants and once the flowers get affected, they will no longer open or grow as well as they used to.
If your carnations are affected by these diseases, in most cases, the best thing to do is to gather the affected plants or parts of the plants and destroy them. The earlier you do this the less chance your plants have of getting affected. Clean thoroughly in between your plants to minimize the chances of the disease spreading. You can also try using sprays with cultural controls on your plants.
So there you have it! As you can see, growing and maintaining carnations isn’t as difficult as you might imagine. While you may find it intimidating if you’re a novice gardener, you’ll soon realize that all it takes is a bit of time and effort and you’ll soon have a gorgeous carnation garden.
Here are some of the most frequently asked questions about carnations:
- What do carnations symbolize? Carnations represent love, distinction, healing, strength, protection, and fascination. They’re also the official Mother’s Day flower. However, they also represent eternal grief and loyalty.
- Are carnations the flower of death? White carnations symbolize deep sorrow, sadness, respect, and death, which is why they’re known as a flower of mourning.
- Where do carnations grow best? Carnations grow best in USDA zones 5 or 6 to 9, depending on the variety of carnation.
- Do carnations come in purple? Yes, carnations do come in a large variety of purple colors.
- What country are carnations from? Carnations are native to the Mediterranean area.
- Do carnations grow back every year? Yes, if they’re grown in the right conditions, they will bloom every year.
- Why are my carnations falling over? If your carnations are falling over, it’s a sign that they’re dehydrated. You may want to water them more regularly.
- Are carnations edible? Carnation petals are edible and are often used as cake decorations, in desserts, or steeped in wine and candy.