3 Ways to Enjoy a Carnation Flower

Carnation and carnation bud side by side.
Carnation bud and flower – one to enjoy now, one for later.

January birthdays have a wonderful flower – the carnation!

It’s available year round from floral shops for any special occasion, but those born in January get to claim it as their own special flower.

For all of us the carnation brightens the house during cold months, adorns boutonnieres or corsages for weddings and is a floral symbol adopted by states and countries.

Economical too, a bouquet of carnations lasts in the house for almost two weeks. Then it’s time to buy another bunch of the spicy scented blooms.

The carnation is one of over 300 species of the genus Dianthus. Dianthus is native to Eurasia but has been cultivated for approximately 2000 years.

Gardeners grow the small-flowered ones in their gardens. Dianthus whether perennial or annual comes in a variety of colors. There are bicolor flowers too.

Perennial dianthus thrives in a sunny garden. A few have a sweet smell.

Annual dianthus grows best in part shade of flower beds or containers. Some also have a scent.

Other Facts

Dianthus caryophyllus, the carnation, has been part of the floral scene since Greek and Roman times. There are several stories about how it got its name.

The carnation is symbolic of many world traditions and events. Here are some:

  • January birth flower
  • Mother’s Day in the U.S.
  • State flower of Ohio
  • Parents’ day in Korea
  • Weddings
  • Labor movements
  • National flower of Spain, Monaco and Slovenia
  • St. Patrick’s Day
  • Given to commemorate the first anniversary of a marriage

There are at least three ways to enjoy a carnation. Since the flower you buy at the florist or in the floral section of department stores is available all year, let’s begin with the florist carnation.

One open and one almost open carnation flower.
Choose a carnation bouquet with some flowers in full bloom, some almost in bloom and the joy will last longer.

Florist Carnation

This wonderful flower has long strong stems, grey green leaves and crinkly flower petals bunched together almost like a tissue paper flower. Put it close to your nose and catch its spicy scent.

Colors range from white, pink, red, purple, yellow to green. If you want a different color for an event the carnation is easily dyed by florists.  

In the Victorian years (Queen Victoria’s reign in British history from June 20, 1837 – January 22, 1901), flower colors became popular as a way to send a message from one person to another.

The kind of flower sent was also important. Carnation as a flower is said to represent fascination or love or distinction.

While sources agree on some meanings, not all are the same. Here are a few compiled meanings for the colors of carnations:

  • White: purity, pure love, luck
  • Light red: admiration
  • Dark red: love, affection, flashy
  • Pink: mother’s love, gratitude
  • Yellow: cheerful, disappointment, rejection
  • Purple: capricious
  • Green: St. Patrick’s Day

It’s fun to think about the meaning of a flower given or received. If you get one, what does it mean?

Have fun deciphering the message. Hopefully it’s the thought that counts and that it’s meant in goodwill!

Florist carnations last approximately two weeks due to cultivation of thicker stems and larger blooms. Here’s how to care for your bouquet:

Change the water at least once in the middle of their two week run.

Cut off the ends of the stems at a diagonal after one week. The cut stems eliminate the old healed-up cuts that block water flow. Stems are again open to take up water.

An evergreen Dianthus in winter.
Evergreen Dianthus in winter functions as ground cover all year.


In the garden, perennial dianthus surprises because it looks different from the florist’s carnation.

Small clumps of thin silver green leaves surround thin stems. The stems stand above the leaves holding small flowers.

Petals are open with cut or crinkly edges. Another name for it is “Pink.”

As an evergreen, low-growing mound, silver grey leaves make good ground cover even when the plant is not in bloom.

It flowers in early summer, some with beautiful spicy scents. Good for front of the border. It needs full sun most of the day.

Plant in well drained soil. Too much water may cause crown rot.

Height varies from three inches to one foot. It attracts butterflies and hummingbirds. Deer don’t like them.


Compared to the perennial, the annual dianthus likes cooler temps. Partial shade or better, eastern sun will keep it from drying out.

It’s low growing and great at edges of containers or at the front of the garden border.

It’s flowers differ from the florist carnation because the blooms are small.

Some blooms may resemble the bunched petals of carnations. Other cultivars have open single petals instead.

Start from seed or buy as a young plant. Dead head to keep blooms coming all summer.

Carnation, January’s birth flower, celebrates life all year. Whether bought as a bouquet or grown in the smaller perennial or annual versions by gardeners, enjoy them!


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Copyright 2020 Juli Seyfried

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Juli is a content writer and serious gardener. She gardens a small yard in an older suburban neighborhood. Lots of problem-solving and fun on a small property. Always something new to try!

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