A Guide to Growing Carnation Flowers

Carnation flowers, known for their vibrant colors and delicate petals, have a rich history spanning over two thousand years. Mentioned in ancient Greek texts, these blooms, also known as Dianthus, are believed to have originated in the Mediterranean region. The name Dianthus means “divine flower” in Greek, while “carnation,” derived from Latin, signifies “crown” or “garland,” reflecting their regal beauty.

Traditionally, carnations symbolize captivation, distinction, and love, especially motherly love. In Christian legend, these flowers are linked to the tears of the Virgin Mary, highlighting their strong connection to maternal affection. Their ruffled edges and clove-like scent make them a favorite among gardeners and florists alike.

Growing carnations in your garden can be both enjoyable and fulfilling. Not only do they serve ornamental purposes, but they also have medicinal and culinary uses. This guide will walk you through the essential steps of growing and caring for carnations, ensuring your garden bursts with these lovely blooms year after year. Whether you’re looking to add a splash of color to your garden or seeking flowers for bouquets and arrangements, carnations are a perfect choice.

Carnation flowers
Carnation flowers
Botanical Name Dianthus caryophyllus
Common name Carnation, pinks
Family Caryophyllaceae
Plant Type Perennial
Height 6-24 in. tall, 10-14 in. wide
Sunlight Full sun
Soil Well-draining soil
Flower Color White, pink, red
Flowering Season Spring
Habitat Europe



From Seeds

Start seeds indoors 12-14 weeks before the last frost for first-year blooms. For outdoor sowing, plant in April or May, but expect flowers in the second year.

Fill trays with well-draining potting mix. Sprinkle seeds, cover lightly, and water gently. Cover with a cloche or plastic bag to create a greenhouse effect. Transplant seedlings after the last frost when they have 2-3 sets of leaves. Sow seeds one-eighth inch deep after the last frost.

Keep the soil lightly moist but not waterlogged. Thin the plants to 10 inches apart when they reach 4-6 inches tall. Carnations thrive in temperatures between 60-70°F (15-21°C). Ensure even moisture in the soil, avoiding overwatering.

Propagation from seeds
Propagation from seeds


Stem Cuttings

Take four- to six-inch cuttings from non-flowering stems in the cool mornings of summer. Cut just below a set of leaf nodes with a clean, sharp knife. Remove the bottom leaves and optionally dip in rooting hormone.

Fill pots or a seed tray with fine-textured potting mix. Insert the cuttings into the soil up to the first set of leaves. Water thoroughly and cover with a cloche or plastic bag.

Place in a sunny spot, keeping the soil slightly moist. Roots should form in three to four weeks. Once rooted and new leaves appear, transplant to individual pots and place in a warm, protected garden spot.

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Propagation from stem cuttings
Propagation from stem cuttings


Root Division

Perform root division in early autumn. Carefully dig up the entire clump, inserting your spade a few inches away from the plant’s perimeter to avoid damaging the roots.

Use your fingers or clean, sterile garden shears to pull or cut the plant into smaller sections. Ensure each section has several healthy shoots and roots attached.

Discard the middle, older sections, and any parts with rotting or soft roots. Plant the divisions into prepared locations. Make sure the roots are just below the surface, while keeping the crown and stems above the soil line to prevent crown and root rot.

Water well and place in a sunny spot. Dividing every two to three years will keep your carnations healthy and vigorous.

Propagation from root division
Propagation from root division


Growing Carnation Flowers (From Seeds)


Carnations come in several varieties, each with unique features:

  • Large-Flowered Carnations (Standard Carnations): Known for their large, single blooms, popular for floral arrangements and bouquets.
  • Dwarf-Flowered Carnations: Compact plants producing smaller blooms, ideal for garden borders and container gardening.
  • Spray or Miniature Carnations: Produce multiple smaller flowers on each stem, perfect for adding a touch of color to mixed floral displays.

Choose a sunny spot for planting carnations, as they thrive in full sunlight. Ensure the site has good air circulation to prevent fungal diseases.

Carnations prefer well-draining, fertile soil. Prepare the soil by tilling it and incorporating organic matter such as compost or well-rotted manure to enhance fertility and drainage.

Start with high-quality seeds from a reputable source. Soak the seeds in water overnight, then place them on a damp paper towel, cover with another damp towel, and keep them in a warm spot.


Growing Carnation Seeds

Begin indoors about six to eight weeks before the last frost date.

Use potting soil in small containers or seed trays. Sprinkle the seeds evenly over the surface and cover them lightly with soil, approximately 1/8 inch deep. Keep the soil moist using a mist sprayer.

Cover the container loosely with plastic to create a greenhouse effect, maintaining humidity and warmth. Place the container in a sunny window. Seedlings should germinate within three days.

Allow seedlings to grow until they are 4-5 inches tall. Harden them off by gradually exposing them to outdoor conditions over a week. Transplant seedlings outside once they they have two or three leaves and the danger of frost has passed, typically in late spring.

Choose a sunny spot with well-draining soil. Dig holes deep enough to accommodate the root ball of each seedling, ensuring the roots are just below the surface but the crown remains above soil level. Space the plants about 10 inches apart.

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Tips: Marigolds and lavender are great companions for carnations, repelling pests and adding complementary colors and fragrances.

Growing carnation flowers
Growing carnation flowers


Care for Carnation Flowers

Main requirements for growing carnation flowers:

  • Keep soil moist but not waterlogged.
  • Provide full sunlight.
  • Remove spent blooms and cut back by half in late summer.
  • Use natural mulch, avoid dyed products.
  • Ideal for USDA zones 7 to 10.



Carnations thrive with 4 to 6 hours of direct sunlight daily. While they do best in full sun, some partial shade is beneficial, especially in hot climates. Morning sun is ideal to keep colors vibrant and prevent petal fading.



Well-draining, fertile soil with a pH between 6.0 and 7.0 is ideal. Proper drainage prevents root rot. Amend acidic soil with lime to create an alkaline environment, enhancing calcium, magnesium, and sodium levels.



Monitor outdoor carnations to keep the soil moist, especially if rainfall is below 1 inch weekly. Water them once or twice a week if the top 3 inches are dry, using a light mist or 1 inch of water.

Hand watering prevents petal damage and rot, with early morning or evening being the best times to water.


Temperature and Humidity

Carnations thrive in moderate temperatures, ideally between 50°F and 80°F (10°C to 27°C), suitable for hardiness zones 7 to 10.

They prefer moderate humidity and good air circulation to prevent powdery mildew. Ensure proper spacing and ventilation. Occasionally spritz with cool water in very hot weather.



Regularly remove faded flowers to encourage continuous blooming. Trim spent stems and foliage to maintain a tidy appearance.

For extensive pruning, cut back plants in early spring to about one-third of their height at a 45-degree angle. This promotes robust growth and vigor.



Apply a balanced, slow-release fertilizer with a 10-10-10 N-P-K ratio in early spring. Moderate feeding throughout the growing season ensures sturdy stems and vibrant blooms without excessive foliage growth.



Cut carnations down to a few inches from the ground in late fall. Add a layer of mulch around the base to protect roots from extreme temperatures, and cover with a breathable fabric during particularly cold nights.

Care for carnation flowers
Care for carnation flowers


Pests and Diseases

Aphids and spider mites are common pests that can harm carnations. Aphids suck sap from leaves and stems, while spider mites cause speckled leaves and webbing. Control with insecticidal soap, neem oil, or miticides.

Pests and Diseases
Pests and Diseases

Additionally, fusarium wilt causes yellowing and wilting; prevent it with well-draining soil and proper watering. Rust appears as orange spots on leaves; treat with fungicides and remove affected leaves.

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Regular monitoring and good cultural practices help keep these diseases at bay.


Common Problems

Yellowing Leaves

Yellow leaves often indicate overwatering or nutrient deficiencies. To solve this, ensure proper drainage and fertilize appropriately.


Brown Blooms or Leaves

This problem may result from fungal infections or excessive sun exposure; use fungicides and provide partial shade.


Holes in buds

Holes in buds are typically caused by insects like caterpillars or beetles; control with insecticides or hand-pick the pests.



This can occur due to root rot from poor drainage or insufficient watering; improve soil drainage and water consistently.



Fresh Carnation Flowers

Harvest in the early morning when blooms are vibrant and hydrated. Pick flowers that are half to fully open. Use sharp scissors or pruners to cut stems 12-18 inches long.

Store in a cool environment, ideally at 33-35°F (0.5-1.5°C). Freshly harvested carnations are perfect for floral arrangements, bouquets, and corsages.

Harvest fresh carnation flowers
Harvest fresh carnation flowers


Dried Carnation Seeds

Harvest in late summer when seed pods are dry and brown. Use seed collecting trays or envelopes to gather the seeds. Ensure seeds are cleaned and thoroughly dried before storing them in a cool, dry place.

Collect dried carnation seeds
Collect dried carnation seeds



To preserve carnation flowers by drying, hang them upside down in a dark, dry, and well-ventilated area for 2-3 weeks. Once dried, store in a cool, dry place away from sunlight. Dried carnations can be used to create art, pictures, and unique gifts.


Growing carnation flowers is a rewarding endeavor that, with proper care and attention, results in vibrant, fragrant blooms that enhance any garden or floral arrangement.

A Guide to Growing Carnation Flowers
A Guide to Growing Carnation Flowers

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