Carnations (Dianthus) form a plant genus within the family of the carnations (Caryophyllaceae). The up to 600 carnation-types occur in the restrained areas of the northern hemisphere, above all in Eurasia. They often grow in difficult locations that are no longer colonizable by most other plant species, for example on poor, dry sandy soils or on the humid to stagnant water edge. Land or garden carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus) originate from the Mediterranean region and have been cultivated as ornamental plants since ancient times. Further widespread types are the heathen-carnations (Dianthus deltoides), the Bartnelken (Dianthus barbatus) and the feather-carnations (Dianthus plumarius). In total there are over 27,000 registered carnation varieties. Most garden carnations flower throughout the summer from the end of May or June. In contrast, the annual summer carnations (Dianthus chinensis) do not survive the winter, but bloom abundantly into autumn.
Since the 15th century, white carnations have been a sign of love and marriage. Red carnations, on the other hand, served as a symbol of the socialist workers’ movement and were worn on lapels at party congresses in the GDR, for example. The botanical generic name Dianthus means “Zeus flower” or “divine flower” and comes from the ancient Greek: Dios stands for “God” or “Zeus”, anthos for “flower” or “blossom”. There are also numerous German trivial names, for example Flädden (Eifel), Nägele (Swabia, Franconia) and Negelke (Pomerania).
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Appearance and growth
The persevering, rarely one- or two-year-old herbaceous carnations usually grow horstig-upright or form flat cushions. Their simple or branched stems are angular or round. The opposite stem leaves are simple, the narrow blade lanceolate to ovate. The flowers stand individually or together in terminal inflorescences. The green to dry bracts are present in pairs or are completely absent. The five green to reddish sepals are tube-like at their base. The petals are usually toothed, notched or slashed. The colours of the petals range from white to pink, red and purple. However, there are also patterned, multicoloured as well as filled or unfilled variants. Some species and varieties exude a pleasant fragrance.
Location and soil
Lots of sun, loose soil that is not too rich in nutrients and no moisture – these location requirements can be read on the plant label of most carnation species. With such conditions, the popular romantic summer flowering plants are ideal for pots, boxes or other pretty planters on terraces and balconies.
The ideal planting time for carnations is in spring. When planting carnations in the bed, keep a distance of 20 to 30 centimeters, depending on the species and variety. On a square metre there are on average between 10 and 18 plants. All information on the correct planting distance can also be found on the planting label.
Carnations do not need much water. Due to the grass-like leaves, only little moisture evaporates, as they are additionally coated with a wax layer. Fertilization is also not absolutely necessary. Withered flower stems should be removed regularly to make room for new flowers.
Most types of carnations are difficult to share. As a rule, they do not form runners, but only have a central and little branched, deep-going main root. also in pot-culture, carnations need only little care. Jürgen Peters, expert at the perennial nursery “Allerlei Seltenes” in Uetersen, can recommend most species for planting in pots: “Permeable soil is important, it is best to mix 20 to 30 percent of garden soil with coarse sand. Fertilizer is only used sparingly, fertilizer sticks for summer flowers, for example, are suitable.” Perennial carnations in a plant container are hardy in winter at a protected location with little rainfall.
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Almost all perennial carnations show good winter hardiness, as long as the soil is permeable enough and does not wet in winter. Rock garden species occasionally suffer from frostbite because they lack snow cover as a natural winter protection. You should protect these species with a fleece cover in winter.
Garden or land carnations are cultivated in numerous varieties and are mainly in demand as cut flowers. The bearded carnation, an old farmer’s garden plant, serves as a mostly short-lived bedding and balcony plant. In addition to young plants, seed mixtures are also available on the market. The Pentecostal carnations (Dianthus gratianopolitanus) and the English garden carnations (Dianthus hybrids) descending from them are among the best aromatic plants in the assortment. They can be well cultivated in a pot or flower box on the balcony, but are also suitable for full sunny places in the bed or rock garden. The popular bearded carnations are often only two years old, but sow themselves at suitable locations. In addition, there are a number of cushion-forming or horticulturally growing species that are preferably used as vegetation for dry walls, rock gardens or heather gardens, for example feather carnations, carthusian carnations (Dianthus carthusianorum) and heather carnations.
In order to make the versatile abundance of carnations even more effective, carnations are often accompanied by other plants that share a preference for sunny and dry places with less flower decoration, but with a varied leaf green and compact or loose growth as desired: Herbs! The combination not only cuts a fine figure in the pot – with their preference for permeable, rather dry soils, carnations and herbs also feel at home in gravel beds or rock gardens. Stone carnations are particularly at home on stony embankments, but also varieties of the permanently flowering summer carnations provide colour between stones and grey gravel. In gardener jargon known as “edge carnation” are the fragrant carnations (for example Dianthus plumarius), which are popular bordering plants in rock gardens or beds and form the fragrant frame.
Especially popular for pots are scented carnations, especially the spring carnations. They beguile near the seat with a sweet-fresh aroma that blends with spicy herbs to create a very remarkable potpourri of fragrance. Thyme, rosemary, lavender, basil, sage or mint are aromatic partners in the plant container. Small combinations with only one type of cloves and one or two herbs are beautiful. By the way, the ensemble won’t hold it against you if you occasionally harvest for the herb kitchen or cut a bunch of cloves for the vase.
Important species and varieties
Anyone who wants to buy carnations is spoilt for choice: the assortment is enormous. Thanks to intensive breeding in England, carnation varieties in all imaginable colour variations have recently come to us, which ensure a good mood in the planters. They managed to transform the “grandmother flowers”, which were considered somewhat old-fashioned, into trendy plants. So there are no limits for creative plant combinations – land carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus), Pentecostal carnations (Dianthus gratianopolitanus), heather carnations (Dianthus deltoides), feather carnations (Dianthus plumarius) and other species and varieties offer attractive, often multi-coloured flowers. Except for pure blue, there’s anything your heart desires. The petals also vary from round to notched to frayed margins. So the decision depends purely on your own taste and the type of cultivation you want.
Most cloves are best propagated by cuttings. In early summer, they are taken from as flowerless shoots as possible and placed in sandy breeding soil. Sowing is particularly recommended for short-lived species such as bearded carnations and heather carnations.
Diseases and pests
The greatest dangers are posed by aphids and snails. If the location in the garden is too damp or too shady, carnations are susceptible to fungal diseases.
I am Don Burke, one of the authors at My Garden Guide. I am a horticulturist that cultivates, grows, and cares for plants, ranging from shrubs and fruits to flowers. I do it in my own garden and in my nursery. I show you how to take care of your garden and how to perform garden landscaping in an easy way, step by step.I am originally from Sydney and I wrote in local magazines. Later on, I have decided, more than two decades ago, to create my own blog. My area of specialization is related to orchid care, succulent care, and the study of the substrate and the soil. Therefore, you will see many articles dedicated to these disciplines. I also provide advice about how to improve the landscape design of your garden.