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How to Care for Carnations

Lockridge is an avid reader who enjoys learning about beautiful garden plants. Among other things, she has worked with a florist.

Carnation plant care is fairly easy. Learn how to grow and care for carnations in your garden, whether you start them from cuttings or seeds.

Carnation plant care is fairly easy. Learn how to grow and care for carnations in your garden, whether you start them from cuttings or seeds.

Growing Carnations in Your Garden

Carnations are beautiful, brightly colored flowers that you either can grow from seed or cuttings. According to FTD, a premier floral retailer, carnations are the traditional Mother's Day flower. Gardners enjoy this plant in their garden because of their variety of colors and fragrant aroma, and their ease of growing. Like other flowers, each color of the carnation evokes a different sentiment:

  • Pink carnations represent gratitude.
  • Red carnations represent admiration.
  • White carnations are traditionally worn or given as gifts in remembrance of mothers who have passed away.

Are Carnations Annuals or Perennials?

Although carnations can be grown as perennials, they are traditionally treated as annuals. When properly cared for, carnations can grow vigorously year to year. According to Organic Gardening, dwarf varieties of carnations will grow from 9 to 12 inches tall, whereas taller varieties will reach up to 18 to 24 inches.

How to Replant a Potted Carnation

  1. Select a location where the plants will receive full sun to partial shade.
  2. Prepare the soil by adding 2 to 3 inches of compost (or an organic matter) to the top 8 inches of soil. Carnations prefer well-draining soil that is neutral or slightly alkaline.
  3. Dig a hole deep enough to accommodate the root ball. Space plants about 1 foot apart to ensure adequate air circulation.
  4. Loosen the potting soil, and plant the carnations in the holes. Once transplanted, spread a thin, loose layer mulch or organic material around the base of the plant. Avoid direct contact between the plant and the soil additive.
  5. Water the plant thoroughly on the day of planting. Provide at least 1 inch of water per week, but avoid getting the flower petals or foliage wet. Wet foliage may encourage fungal leaf spots.
  6. Support your growing carnation plant with a stake positioned near the base of the plant to discourage stem breakage. Loosely tie plant stems to the stake with a piece of twine or fabric strip.
  7. Cut spent blooms above the node or stem junction. Removing dead flowers often encourages new growth.
  8. At the end of the season, cut stems back to 1 to 2 inches above the ground.
Red carnations signify admiration.

Red carnations signify admiration.

How to Grow From a Cutting

  1. Cut a thick stem from a carnation (leaving at least 2 to 3 leaf nodes) using sharp, sterilized shears. Keep track of which end of the stem was originally pointed downward.
  2. Strip leaves from the stem tips.
  3. Place the cutting in a container with coarse sand. Ensure you place the stem so it is oriented as before, placing the downward part of the stem in the sand.
  4. Moisten the sand thoroughly.
  5. Push the stem about 1/3 to 1/2 of the depth into the sand.
  6. Locate the container in a location within bright, indirect sunlight. Moisten the sand daily with a water bottle.
  7. Remove the plant about one month after blooming by gently using a trowel to loosen the plant from the sand. Relocate it to the garden or a pot with potting soil.

How to Grow From Seed

  1. Sow seeds about 1/8 inch deep in well-draining potting mix.
  2. Space seeds about 12 inches apart.
  3. Apply soil firmly over seeds, and moisten well.
  4. Store the growing seeds in an area between 41 to 59 degrees F that will receive full sun in the daytime.
  5. Expect germination in about 2 to 3 weeks.

How to Prune Carnations

Prune carnations to promote the overall health of the plant. You'll need to prune carnations twice a year—once in the summer to remove spent flowers, and once at the end of the growing season—cutting the plant almost down to the ground or the "basal growth" area. Always work with sterilized clippers to ensure you don't spread disease around your garden.

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Summer Pruning

  1. Inspect the plant for dead or withering buds.
  2. Cut just above the leaf node of any dead areas on the plant. Avoid cutting portions of the stem already displaying new growth. (Keep at least three nodes on each stem, or it may not bloom again).
  3. Expect more blooms in a few weeks.

Periodically inspect the plant and deadhead spent blooms by hand. Deadheading will allow the plant to force more energy into other blooming buds and will keep the cycle of new blooms continuous.

Keep your carnation plant trim and tidy by pruning back leggy plants. Blooms spaced closer together may actually give your plant a larger look and make it appear that you have more blooms.

Helpful Tips

  • Fertilize carnations every six to eight weeks with a fertilizer specifically for flowering plants.
  • Ensure that your carnation plants have adequate space between plants, as this increases air circulation, and decreases the likelihood of mold growth. If you notice yellow or discolored leaves forming, check for adequate soil drainage.
  • Protecting carnations from frost encourages growth the next year. Either install a hoop greenhouse or dig up the plant and bring it inside for the cold winter.
Pink carnations signify gratitude.

Pink carnations signify gratitude.

Helpful Resources

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: How do I trim 4 feet tall carnations?

Answer: Only trim about 1/4 of the total stems. Cutting off too much at one time could stress the plant. Don't cut all the stems off at the same point or it will look like you gave the plant a "flat top", instead vary the height, cutting back stems 1/4 to 1/2 inch above a lateral bud on the stem.

Question: Is it true that the more you cut carnations, the more they produce?

Answer: Yes, cutting back dead blooms (or pruning the plant) encourages new growth. You should prune carnations once in the summer and then again more severely after the growing season.

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