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Dianthus gratianopolitanus (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)
Dianthus gratianopolitanus (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)

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Zones A2, A3, 1-24, 28-45, H1
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Dianthus caryophyllus

Carnation, Clove Pink


This genus is made up of more than 300 species and an extremely large number of hybrids. Most kinds form attractive evergreen mats or tufts of grasslike green, gray-green, blue-green, or gray-blue leaves. Single, semidouble, or double flowers come in white and shades of pink, rose, red, yellow, and orange. Many have a rich, spicy fragrance. The main bloom period for most is spring into early summer, but some kinds rebloom later in the season or keep going into fall if faded flowers are removed.

Among dianthus are favorites such as cottage pink and sweet William, highly prized cut flowers such as carnation (clove pink), and rock garden miniatures. There are hundreds of varieties and hybrids available, including some local favorites.

All kinds of dianthus thrive in light, fast-draining soil. Carnations, sweet William, and cottage pinks need fairly rich soil. Rock garden or alpine types require a gritty growing medium, with added lime if soil is acid. Avoid overwatering. Sow seeds of annual kinds in flats or directly in the garden. Propagate perennial kinds by cuttings made from tips of growing shoots, by division or layering, or from seed. Carnation and sweet William are subject to rust and fusarium wilt. 

Dianthus caryophyllus (photo courtesy of Proven Winners)
Dianthus caryophyllus (photo courtesy of Proven Winners)

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Dianthus caryophyllus

This perennial is a highly bred Mediterranean species. Two distinct categories exist: florists’ and border types. Both have double flowers, bluish green leaves, and branching, leafy stems that often become woody at base.

Border carnations are bushier and more compact (12–14 in. high and wide) than florists’ type. Fragrant, 2–2 1/2-in.-wide flowers are borne in profusion. Effective as shrub border edgings, in borders of mixed flowers, and also in containers. Hybrid carnations grown from seed are usually treated as annuals but often live over. ‘Juliet’ makes compact, foot-tall clumps and bears 2 1/2-in. scarlet flowers over a long season; ‘Luminette’, 2 ft. tall, is similar. Pixie Delight strain is also similar but includes full range of carnation colors. Knight series has strong stems, blooms in 5 months from seed. Bambino strain is a little slower to bloom. There is also a strain called simply Hanging Mixed, with pink- or red-flowered plants that sprawl or hang from pot or window box. Newer varieties include bright red ‘Cinnamon Red Hots’, to 1 ft. tall; rose pink ‘Pinkie’, reaching 6 in. high; and foot-tall ‘Velvet ’n Lace’, with frilly dark red flowers edged in white.

Florists’ carnations are grown commercially in greenhouses, outdoors in gardens in mild-winter areas, including higher-elevation gardens in Hawaii. Greenhouse-grown plants reach 4 ft., have fragrant flowers 3 in. wide in many colors—white, shades of pink and red, orange, purple, yellow; some are variegated. For large flowers, leave only terminal bloom on each stem, pinching out all other buds down to fifth joint, below which new flowering stems will develop. Stake to prevent sprawling. Start with strong cuttings taken from the most vigorous plants of selected named varieties. Sturdy plants conceal supports, look quite tidy.

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