Carnation Flowers

Learn about these classic flower bouquet favorites.
The Possibilities Are Endless

The Possibilities Are Endless

Photo by: Photo by Ben Rollins

Photo by Ben Rollins

Carnations last a long time--often up to 14 days--in vases and bouquets.

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Uncover some interesting details and easy-grows-it tips for raising carnation flowers. These familiar floral faces are a common addition to commercial bouquets because they last so long in the vase—up to 14 days, and frequently longer. Commercially the majority of carnations are grown in Colombia, Spain and Israel. These pretty blooms can be harvested while in a tight bud stage, shipped worldwide and reliably open in a vase.

The first carnations came to the United States in 1852 as part of a French flower shipment. The flowers’ spicy clove scent and long-lasting blooms quickly earned carnation a devoted following. At one point, carnations went by the name of clove gilly flowers in reference to the blossoms’ strong clove scent.

During the Victorian Era, the language of flowers blossomed, and carnations earned a host of different meanings, based on petal color. The carnation flower itself represented love, distinction and fascination and was sometimes said to symbolize a woman’s love. Red carnations mean deep love and admiration, while white ones refer to pure love. During the early 21st Century white carnations became the official flower of Mother’s Day and took on the meaning of a mother’s love. A yellow carnation is a sign of rejection or disappointment, while a pink carnation shows gratitude.

Commercially, carnation flowers are sold as standards or sprays. Standards are a large single flower at the end of a single stem. These are the type of carnation flower used most often for boutonierres or corsages. Spray carnations are smaller flowers, and usually there are several small blooms on one single stem. Also called miniature carnations, spray carnations last even longer in the vase when you replace the water with commercial floral preservative, available in those little packets you get at the florist.

Growing carnations in the garden can be tricky. The florist carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus), which is the one most people recognize, requires consistent staking efforts to help hold stems upright under the weight of flowers, especially the standard carnation types. Border carnations (Dianthus x allwoodii) don’t grow as tall as the florist types, but they yield nice size flowers that make wonderful additions to garden bouquets. They also look great in planting beds with their colorful blooms. 

When growing carnations, pick blooms when they’re half open. The best time of day to pick is in the morning, after the dew has dried, or in the early evening. After picking, recut stems underwater and place them into cool water overnight. This is called conditioning the flowers. During this time, the stems will take up water and become fully hydrated.

The next morning, arrange your carnations as you desire in the vase. If you’re re-cutting stems, do so underwater. Use commercial flower preservative in the vase, which helps to prolong flower life.

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