Learn About Carnations

How to Sow

Carnations may be grown from seed sown early indoors and transplanted outside after frost, or sown directly in the garden in summer, or planted as a potted plant.

Sowing Seed Indoors:

  • Sow carnation seeds indoors 8 weeks before last frost in order to flower the same year.
  • Sow 1/8 inch deep in seed-starting formula.
  • Keep the soil moist at 60-70 degrees F
  • Seedlings emerge in 14-21 days
  • As soon as seedlings emerge, provide plenty of light on a sunny windowsill or grow seedlings 3-4 inches beneath fluorescent plant lights turned on 16 hours per day, off for 8 hours at night. Raise the lights as the plants grow taller. Incandescent bulbs will not work for this process because they will get too hot. Most plants require a dark period to grow, do not leave lights on for 24 hours.
  • Seedlings do not need much fertilizer, feed when they are 3-4 weeks old using a starter solution (half strength of a complete indoor houseplant food) according to manufacturer’s directions.
  • Before planting in the garden, seedling plants need to be “hardened off”. Accustom young plants to outdoor conditions by moving them to a sheltered place outside for a week. Be sure to protect them from wind and hot sun at first. If frost threatens at night, cover or bring containers indoors, then take them out again in the morning.  This hardening off process toughens the plant’s cell structure and reduces transplant shock and scalding.

Transplanting in the Garden:

  • Transplant seedlings to the garden after all danger of frost. Select a location in full sun with loose, well-drained soil.
  • Prepare the bed by turning the soil under to a depth of 6-12, inches removing any debris, and lightly raking as level as possible.
  • The addition of organic matter (leaf mold, compost, well-rotted manure) benefits all gardens and is essential in recently constructed neighborhoods.
  • Plant on a cloudy day or in late afternoon to reduce transplant shock.
  • Dig a hole for each plant, approximately 12 inches apart large enough to amply accommodate the root ball.
  • Unpot the plant and gently loosen the root ball with your hands to encourage good root growth.
  • Place the top of the root ball even with the level of the surrounding soil. Fill with soil to the top of the root ball. Press soil down firmly with your hand.
  • Thoroughly water and apply a light mulch layer on top of the soil (1-2 inches) to conserve water and reduce weeds.

Sowing Directly in the Garden:

  • Direct sow in midsummer to flower the following year. Select a location in full sun with loose, well-drained soil.
  • Remove weeds and work organic matter into the top 6-8 inches of soil; then level and smooth.
  • Sow thinly ¼ inch deep.
  • Keep moist.
  • Seedlings will emerge in 14-21 days depending on soil and weather conditions.

How to Grow

How to Grow

  • Keep weeds under control during the growing season. Weeds compete with plants for water, space and nutrients, so control them by either cultivating often or use a mulch to prevent their germination.
  • Mulches also help retain soil moisture and maintain even soil temperatures. For perennials, an organic mulch of aged bark or shredded leaves lends a natural look to the bed and will improve the soil as it breaks down in time.  Always keep mulches off a plant’s stems to prevent possible rot.
  • Careful watering is essential in getting perennials off to a good start. Water thoroughly at least once a week to help new roots grow down deeply. Soil should be damp at about 1 inch below the soil surface. You can check this by sticking your finger in the soil. Water early in the morning to give all leaves enough time to dry.  One inch of rain or watering per week is recommended for most perennial plants. You can check to see if you need to add water by using a rain gauge.
  • Until plants become established, some protection from extreme winds and direct, hot sunlight may be necessary.  Good air movement is also important.
  • After new growth appears, a light fertilizer may be applied. Keep granular fertilizers away from the plant crown and foliage to avoid burn injury. Use low rates of a slow release fertilizer such as Garden-tone, as higher rates may encourage root rots.
  • Deadhead spent flowers to prolong blooming.

Growing tips

Growing Tips

  • Carnations are perfect for long-lasting fresh cut flowers.
  • Grow carnations in beds and borders or containers.
  • Carnations prefer cooler conditions.

Common Pests and Problems

Common Disease Problems

Alternaria Leaf Spot: Small, round reddish brown spots with white to gray centers form on the upper surface of the leaves and along the midrib. The lesions may encircle the stems and cause wilt. This disease is worse in warm, wet or very humid weather. Burpee Recommends: Avoid getting water on the foliage. Remove infected plant parts and do not work around wet plants. Provide plenty of air circulation. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.

Bacterial Slow Wilt or Stunt: This causes wilting, twisting, curling and stunting of the lower leaves followed by death of the lower leaves. Stunted plants have narrow, yellow green leaves. Burpee Recommends: Remove and destroy infected plants.

Botrytis: This fungus causes a grey mold on flowers, leaves, stems and buds. It thrives in cool wet weather conditions.  Burpee Recommends: Remove affected plant parts, avoid watering at night and getting water on the plant when watering, make sure plants have good air circulation. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.

Downy Mildew: This fungus causes whitish grey patches on the undersides and eventually both sides of the leaves. Burpee Recommends: Rotate crops with plants in a different family. Avoid overhead watering. Provide adequate air circulation, do not overcrowd plants. Do not work around plants when they are wet.

Powdery Mildew: This fungus disease occurs on the top of the leaves in humid weather conditions. The leaves appear to have a whitish or greyish surface and may curl. Burpee Recommends: Avoid powdery mildew by providing good air circulation for the plants by good spacing and pruning. Contact your Cooperative Extension Service for fungicide recommendations.

Common Pest and Cultural Problems

Aphids: Greenish, red, black or peach colored sucking insects can spread disease as they feed on the undersides of leaves. They leave a sticky residue on foliage that attracts ants. Burpee Recommends: Introduce or attract natural predators into your garden such as lady beetles and wasps who feed on aphids. You can also wash them off with a strong spray, or use an insecticidal soap.

Cabbage Looper: These worms are green with a white stripe on either side, about 1-1.5 inches long. Burpee Recommends: Hand pick. Floating row covers can help prevent their laying eggs on the plants.

Cyclamen Mite: These mites damage plants by sucking juice from stems and leaves. They multiply rapidity in hot, dry weather. They can only be seen using a magnifying glass. Plants will look distorted and stunted, and may not bloom. Flowers will be distorted, streaked and blotched. Leaves can become cupped, curled, dwarfed and thickened. Burpee Recommends: Discard plants that are severely infested. Avoid working with infested plants. Keep plants watered in dry weather. For heavy infestations consult your Cooperative Extension Service for insecticide recommendations.

Spider Mites: These tiny spider-like pests are about the size of a grain of pepper. They may be red, black, brown or yellow. They suck on the plant juices removing chlorophyll and injecting toxins which cause white dots on the foliage. There is often webbing visible on the plant. They cause the foliage to turn yellow and become dry and stippled. They multiply quickly and thrive in dry conditions. Burpee Recommends: Spider mites may be controlled with a forceful spray every other day. Try hot pepper wax or insecticidal soap. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for miticide recommendations.

Thrips: Thrips are tiny needle-thin insects that are black or straw colored. They suck the juices of plants and attack flower petals, leaves and stems. The plant will have a stippling, discolored flecking or silvering of the leaf surface. Thrips can spread many diseases from plant to plant. Burpee Recommends: Many thrips may be repelled by sheets of aluminum foil spread between rows of plants. Remove weeds from the bed and remove debris from the bed after frost. Check with your Cooperative Extension Service for pest controls.


Carnation FAQs

What’s the difference between a carnation and Dianthus? Carnation is a common name for a kind of dianthus. They are also called, “pinks”, because of the notched petals that look like they were cut with pinking shears.

Can I grow carnations in containers? Yes, they are perfect for containers.

How can I keep my carnations blooming? Constantly deadhead them and your carnations should bloom for a long time.

How can I change the color of my cut carnations? If you add food color to the water in a vase white carnations can change color.

How can I grow those super tall carnations you buy from the florist? These carnations are produced in the floral trade and are not suitable for gardens. Try the garden varieties to get color in your garden as well as cut flowers for your house!

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