The preferred method for growing carnations is consistent even though they come in several varieties with varying shapes, sizes and colors. Regardless of which variety you choose, their beauty and fragrant aroma will be a welcome addition to your garden and cutting arrangements…
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To start carnations from seed outdoors, wait until all danger of frost has passed then scatter the seeds over moist, nutrient-rich, well-drained soil or organic seed-starting mix. If you’re using a container, be sure that it has holes in the bottom for drainage. Cover the seeds with a thin layer of soil or potting mix, then water lightly.
You can also start seeds indoors in mid- to late-winter. When taking this route, place the container with the sown seeds inside a sealed clear plastic bag (such as a re-sealable freezer bag or supermarket produce bag sealed with a twist tie). After several of the seedlings have emerged, take off the bag and place the plant in direct sun.
If you start your carnation seeds indoors, transplant outdoors after all danger of frost has passed and when they reach a height of about five inches (12.7 cm). If you transplant into a container, opt for a nutrient-rich organic potting soil (unless your garden soil is perfect).
Whichever way you start your seeds, keep them and the young plant consistently moist with about one minute of light watering three or four times per day.
Starting in the second year (for perennial varieties), new carnations can be propagated by division or from cuttings.
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After the plants begin to grow, change your watering schedule to five minutes, two times per week, then reduce to one inch of water once per week after the side shoots have some length.
As your carnations bloom flower, thin out your weaker carnation plants so that only the stronger, healthier plants remain. You may also want to remove all but the two strongest shoots from each plant (that sprout from the main stem) for bigger flowers.
To maintain strong growth, pinch the remaining plants about a month after planting, being sure to leave five pairs of leaves (10 total leaves) below the pinch. Continue to pinch shoots that sprout from the main stem using the same 5-leaf-pair guideline (pinch the growth of new shoots leaving 5 leaf pairs intact below the pinch). For even larger (and fewer) flowers, pinch off all flowers except those growing from the center bud.
If you want your carnation stems to be straight, you’ll need to add plant supports as the blooms’ weight will become too much for the stem to handle. Thread the main stem and each shoot through the supports as necessary.
When winter arrives, cut the plants back to a few inches (8 cm) above ground and apply a healthy layer of mulch to help the plant survive the winter.
The following spring, continue with standard flower care and maintenance, including watering, deadheading, fertilizing, mulching and weeding as necessary.
When you’re ready to harvest your flowers, use a good pair of garden shears to cut your carnation stems in a location that leaves at least three nodes (place on the stem where leaf emerges) intact. Any shorter and the shoot won’t produce any more flowers.
Carnations are a very pest and disease-resistant plant so you shouldn’t have too many problems, especially if you keep your plants healthy with the recommendations above. If you do have problems, following are the most common (see Organic Garden Pest Control for information about how to prevent and address pests and diseases).
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