Name: carnation, border carnations, perpetual carnations (florist carnations), spray carnations, Malmaison carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus).
Foliage: narrow, grass-like, grey to blue-green leaves forming low tufts of foliage.
Climate: temperate climates.
Soil: will grow in most well-drained garden soils with the regular addition of lime.
Position: full sun is preferred; partial shade in very warm areas.
Flowering and fruiting: copious colourful double flowers with a sweet yet spicy clove scent, either held singularly or in sprays on wiry upright stems.
Feeding: when initially planting, use a controlled-release fertiliser. Apply a liquid fertiliser high in potash every 4–8 weeks to promote further flowering.
Watering: regular watering, at least 2–3 times a week during warm summer weather.
Carnations are loosely tufting perennials or annuals, with the perennial forms being the most popular in gardens and the cut flower industry. The flowers of the wild species come in shades of purple-pink, pink and white. Extensive hybridising has resulted in further colours including red, yellow, green and bi-colour. Carnations flower from late spring until autumn and grow between 50 to 90cm tall depending upon the variety. There are several groups including the border carnations, perpetual carnations or florist carnations, spray carnations and Malmaison carnations.
Carnations are part the genus Dianthus, which includes around 300 species originating in Europe, Asia, North Africa and even one species from Artic North America. Well-known species of Dianthus include the carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus), pinks (Dianthus plumarius) and sweet William (Dianthus barbatus). Many pinks have a contrasting centre or eye, and fringed or pinked petals. There are also smaller spray or miniature carnations with multiple flowers per stem. Perpetual flowering carnations arose through the crossing of Dianthus caryophyllus with Dianthus plumarius. Growing taller (to around 1m), they bloom almost continually, usually with one large flower per stem, and are typically grown commercially in greenhouses. They are used extensively in the cut flower floristry trade.
Carnations are found widely throughout the Mediterranean region, where there are hot dry summers and mild wet winters. Their extensive history in this region has seen them used as the national flower of Spain, Slovenia and Monaco, and as a means to symbolise love, distinction, socialism, and revolution and to celebrate special occasions such as Mother’s Day, weddings and anniversaries.
Carnations can be grown for cut flowers or used in borders, rockeries, cottage gardens, pots and containers or edging pathways or garden beds.
Carnations are best grown in full sun in cool temperate climates, or in full sun to light shade in warm-temperate climate gardens. Most will take light frosts during winter.
Carnations prefer fertile, well-drained garden soils. They grow best in alkaline conditions with a pH just above 7.0. Apply regular annual top dressings of dolomite lime, as this helps to keep the centre of the clumps from dying out. To improve growth and drainage, work in some aged cow manure or compost before planting. Wet or waterlogged soils are detrimental, and will often kill the plant.
Use a premium standard potting mix when planting in pots or containers, and water at least twice a week during late spring and summer. Apply a sprinkling of dolomite lime around the plants each spring, or every time they are re-potted.
Apply a controlled-release organic fertiliser around the plant roots when planting carnations. Liquid feed every 4–8 weeks from late spring onwards using a fertiliser high in potash for flowering plants.
Do not over-fertilise the smaller pinks, as this can be harmful to their health. Only use an organic controlled-release fertiliser in spring, and again after the first flush of flowers.
The frequent cutting of carnation blooms for display in vases will keep the plant tidy and encourage further flowering. Remove flowering stems once the flowers have faded at the base, for both carnations and pinks. Straggly plants can also be lightly trimmed to tidy them up
Carnations can be troubled by a number of pests, including aphids, thrips and caterpillars, which can be easily controlled with a safe insecticide. Iron chelate-based snail pellets are effective in their control of snails and slugs, and are the safest to use in the home garden.
Viruses sometimes attack carnations, and can be difficult to control. Occasionally the virus does not affect the vigour of the plant, but in most cases the best control is to discard and destroy any infected plants. Always purchase virus-free stock.
Most Dianthus cultivars are short-lived, so regular propagation of your plants is advisable to maintain stocking levels. Provide plenty of air circulation around the clumps.
Chrysanthemum: colourful perennial with lobed foliage and masses of intricate, daisy-like flowers in all types of shapes and sizes.
Dahlia: vibrant autumn flowering perennial for mixed herbaceous borders or growing in pots, with hot-coloured flowers and interesting foliage.
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