Growing Carnations Takes Little Effort
The fact that growing carnations is really very easy makes it seem strange that more flower gardens don't include them. Stranger still, carnations are on the short list of almost everyone's favorite flowers. They are ideal as cut flowers, in bouquets and corsages, and have a wonderful spicy fragrance. If grown properly, carnation plants will continue to provide blooms for most if not all the summer and fall growing season.
If you are thinking about growing carnations, you have a variety of types to choose from. Carnations are sometimes called "Pinks" and also referred to as "Dianthus". The latter name can lead to some confusion as there are several hundred species making up the Dianthus family and not all of them are carnations. The Sweet William for example is another member of the Dianthus family. One species, Dianthus caryophillus, is the long stemmed carnation found in florist shops. There are actually two types of the caryophillus species, the aforementioned florist's variety and a border type. Florist's carnations are generally grown under careful conditions in a greenhouse, but with proper attention you can also grow single blossoms on long straight stems.
Growing Carnations - Carnations can be grown as annuals, biennials, or perennials. They do well in USDA zones 4 and above, but may not survive an unusually cold or harsh winter. Growing carnations from seed is relatively easy. Seeds can be sown outdoors in mid spring or sown indoors earlier. Either way, seeds are planted 1/4" deep in well-drained, fertile soil, and later thinned out such that the individual plants are about a foot apart. If you want your carnations to do well they should be planted where they will get a few hours of full sun. If planted in filtered sunlight they may not produce as many blooms, and if planted in the shade the plants will become very leggy with weak stems, not what you want in a carnation. Mixing lots of compost into the flower bed before planting seeds or seedlings is always a good idea.
Carnation plants should be watered often enough to keep the soil moist and periodically given a dressing of fertilizer. Carnations do not like to be mulched however, so don't mulch the plants hoping to help them retain moisture as the crowns can easily rot. A dressing of manure or peat as the plant is growing is usually beneficial in helping produce quality blooms. Just don't cover the crowns of the plants.
Although most gardeners seem to prefer growing carnations from seeds, they are also easy to propagate and grow from cuttings. This is the best way to go if you have a hybrid plant that you particularly like and wish to keep it in your garden. You cannot rely on seeds from hybrid plants as they either will not germinate, or if they do, may give you a plant with characteristics different than what you were looking for.
Deadhead And Pinch - If you are an experienced hand at growing flowers, you know the importance of dead heading spent blooms, especially where perennials are concerned. It is important to deadhead carnations also if you want the plant to continue producing blooms. Also disbudding and pinching play a role in developing a plant that will produce a number of single-stem flowers. If there are multiple blossoms on a stem, simply pinch off all but the central blossom and you'll get your attractive single carnation.
Green Carnations? - The color most associated with the carnation is pink, however in growing carnations there are several colors to choose from. Some give special meanings to the different colors if the flowers are given as a gift, not unlike roses. Besides pink, carnations come in shades of red, white, purple and yellow. There are also striped varieties, and the Irish claim there are green carnations. At least some occasionally turn up on St. Patrick's Day.