How to Grow Carnations

Pink carnation flowers in between leaves and buds from above

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

In This Article

Carnations, known as dianthus (Dianthus caryophyllus), are a perennial grown widely for use as cut flowers. Who among us hasn't been gifted with a carnation corsage, boutonniere, or bouquet? Carnations are a variety of dianthus, also known as pinks, because their natural color range includes many shades of pink, white, coral, and red. White carnations are frequently dyed various colors for holidays (like green for Saint Patrick's Day or pastel colors for Easter). True carnations have a ruffly appearance that holds its own in flower arrangements, and they have a distinctive, spicy, faintly clove-like scent loved by many.

The dianthus has been widely cultivated for more than two thousand years, based on its mention in ancient Greek texts. Pinning down its native locale is difficult, but some botanists theorize it originated somewhere in the Mediterranean. Dianthus translates from the Greek for "divine flower," while "carnation" is a Latin word meaning "crown" or "garland."

Botanical Name Dianthus caryophyllus
Common Name  Carnation, pinks
Plant Type  Flowering perennial
Mature Size  12-18 inches
Sun Exposure  Full sun to partial shade
Soil Type  Alkaline, fertile, well drained
Soil pH  7-8
Bloom Time  late spring; reblooms
Flower Color  white, pink, red 
Hardiness Zones   USDA 7-10
Native Areas   Italy, Spain, Greece, Croatia

Carnation Care

Dianthus are fairly easy to grow and care for. Dianthus carophyllus does best in USDA hardiness Zones 7 to 10, so it is not quite as cold hardy as other dianthus varieties. Although dianthus are sometimes known as a short-lived perennial, if they have the right conditions, you can expect years of beauty and fragrance from them. They're a beautiful choice for the cottage garden with their vibrant colors and easy seasonal care. Deadheading them after first bloom helps insure re-blooming later in the season. They do best without mulch, but if you do mulch use a natural mulch instead of dyed mulches. Carnations, like all dianthus, are deer resistant, but rabbits may enjoy nibbling on the leaves.

Purple and white tipped carnation flowers surrounded by buds and leaves

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Red carnation flowers clustered together closeup

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Pink carnation flowers on long stems

The Spruce / Evgeniya Vlasova

Soil

Carnations require excellent drainage and an alkaline soil, also referred to as "sweet" soil. Alkaline soil tends to have slightly higher concentrations of calcium, magnesium, and sodium. If your soil tends to be acidic, adding a bit of lime when planting carnations will get them off to a good start.

Light

Although they do best in full sun, carnations are fine with some partial shade. Too much bright afternoon sun might cause the petals of brightly colored carnations to fade. Plant your carnations where they'll get morning sun rather than afternoon sun, if possible, to keep the flowers looking fresh and the colors bright.

Water

Dianthus carophyllus are relatively drought tolerant but they need regular water in spring when their flower buds are forming. During dry spells in summer they may need an extra drink of water. Water at the base of the plant. However, be careful not to over water, or the leaves may yellow and the flower petals may droop or fall off.

Temperature and Humidity

Carnations like a warm environment, but will wilt in extreme heat. They do best in low humidity. However, an occasional light spritz of cool water during very hot weather may help cool them down a bit.


In cats, carnation leaves can be a source of mild toxicity if ingested, causing vomiting and/or diarrhea. Depending on how much of the plant your cat has ingested, they may vomit more than once. Symptoms following vomiting may include mild dehydration or loss of appetite; these should resolve within a few hours. Make sure there is fresh water available. Carnations also contain compounds that can cause mild skin irritation, which may cause redness or swelling around the mouth area if your cat eats them. If more serious symptoms are present, or your cat is not on the mend after 8 hours, consult your veterinarian. In dogs, poisoning from carnations presents as dermatitis and digestive problems.

Carnation Varieties

There are three basic types of carnation available to the home grower: large-flowered carnations (also known as standard carnations), dwarf-flowered carnations, and spray or miniature carnations. The following cultivars are a very small sample of the thousands of varieties available.

White carnation with bright magenta edges
Chabaud carnations come in a variety of colors; "Benigna" is white edged with magenta

PV / Flickr / CC BY 2.0

  • Chabaud carnations: these large standard carnations come in a variety of cultivars including "Jeanne Dionis" (white), "Benigna" (picotee white edged with magenta), "Aurora" (range of medium to dark pink), "Orange Sherbet" (warm, deep coral), and "La France" (classic pale pink)
Bright red carnation with green buds
"Rony" carnations are a deep scarlet red

Longsheds / Flickr/ CC BY 2.0

  • Spray carnation cultivars include "Elegance" (white edged pink), "Exquisite" (white edged purple), and "Rony" (scarlet red).
  • Some excellent smaller varieties with full double-petaled flowers include "Appleblossom Burst" (shades of pink with deep red centers), "Double Bubble" (bright bubble gum pink), "Grace Bay" (founded cream flower heads edged in magenta) and "Rosy Cheeks" (medium pink with orange centers).

How to Grow Carnations from Seed

If you want to plant carnations from seed, be sure to select cultivars suitable for your growing zone. You can start them indoors in a sunny window, six to eight weeks before the last frost date for your area. Plant them in potting soil, sprinkling seeds over the surface, and covering very lightly with soil. Keep them moist with a mist sprayer, and wrap the planting container loosely with plastic to create a greenhouse effect. Seedlings should germinate within three days. Once they form two or three leaves, put them in their own containers, and let them get at least four to five inches tall before transplanting outside, once frost danger has passed. You may also sow carnations outdoors after frost season has ended, but it's unlikely they will bloom that first year. Do this only if your growing zone is at least USDA 6, to be sure they will survive the winter as a perennial.