Carnations are hardy flowers native to the Mediterranean which have been cultivated for over two thousand years. There are numerous carnation cultivars in regular production all over the world, from diminutive spray carnations used in bouquets to large single flowers worn in the buttonhole. The carnation is one of the most widely recognized flowers in the world. Many people associate carnations with love and affection, and they may be exchanged on holidays dedicated to these sentiments. Carnations may be commonly used as filler in bouquets, but they really are rather lovely flowers, even if they are common.
People have been growing carnations in the Mediterranean since Roman times, and a number of meanings have been associated with the carnation or “Jove's Flower” over time. These flowers have five petals, and they may have single or double blooms which vary in color from white to pink. Special cultivars in shades like red, orange, and dark purple have also been produced, along with variegated blooms. The petals typically have ragged edges, and carnations have a distinctive slightly spicy smell which some people find very pleasant.
Carnations like to be in full sun, with well-drained neutral to alkaline soil. They appreciate regular fertilization during the growing season, and they should be routinely deadheaded to promote the production of more flowers. In addition to snipping away spent blooms, gardeners should also trim away dead foliage. The plants can be propagated from seeds, starts, or suckers which branch off from mature plants. A carnation plant will die off in the winter in cool climates, and it should be mulched to protect the roots from damage.
Gardeners in USDA zones three through nine can successfully grow carnations. In especially warm climates, it may be beneficial to provide some afternoon shade to prevent damage to the plants, and carnations should also be well watered during periods of dryness. They can be grown as borders, in clusters of ornamental plants, and in almost any other way a gardener might desire, and they make excellent, long-lasting cut flowers. White carnations can be dyed with the use of colored water to create an array of hues.
A number of close relatives to the carnation are grown in the garden, including Sweet William, a fellow member of the Dianthus genus. These plants can be paired with carnations for more visual interest. Carnations also go well with peonies and dahlias, and they take readily to shaping and pruning.