Carnation, the beautiful state flower of Ohio

By Eileen W. NOVOTNY

OSU Extension Master Gardener Volunteer

Oh, how my mother-in-law loved long stemmed pink carnations. A vase of these tall stately flowers was for her the best of birthday presents.

Mentioning the word “stately” brings to mind the fact that the bright scarlet carnation (Dianthus caryophyllus) is the official flower of Ohio.

In 1904, the state legislature chose the red carnation to honor native President William McKinley, who was assassinated in 1901. McKinley liked to wear a red carnation stuck in his buttonhole on the lapel of his jacket.

McKinley said the flower represented love, respect and reverence. This symbolism still holds true of any red-colored flower today.

The strongly fragrant red carnation is perhaps the most popular flower in the world.

Most carnations are hardy to plant in U.S. Department of Agriculture determined hardiness zones 3/4 through 8/9.

With delicate, frilly blossoms and a rich clove fragrance, carnations, also known as clove pink, have two categories: the florist type and the border type.

The carnations in home gardens grow in bushy clumps that range 12 to 24 inches wide.

Carnations are easy to grow, but require certain planting conditions to thrive.

Unlike the florist carnation, which is grown in a greenhouse, the bushier border garden carnation grows best in full sun. In areas with hot summers, plant the carnations in a location that gets morning sun and is shaded from the hotter afternoon sun.

Choose a site with good air circulation to reduce problems with diseases.

Carnations prefer soil that is slightly alkaline, with a pH of 6.6 to 7.8. You can test the garden soil by taking samples to OSU Extension, which will give a complete report of the soil’s condition.

Adjust the soil based on the test results; add calcium carbonate (lime) to raise the soil’s pH and sulfur to lower the pH.

Drainage is important, as the plants’ crowns will rot in wet or extremely compacted soil. If your soil is heavy clay, either grow carnations in pots or amend the soil with loose, organic material.

Look for carnation flowers to bloom mid-spring to summer, producing bright pink, white and yellow hues, along with deep red, purple and even striped perennial flowers. The vivid hues and fragrant aroma of these colorful flowers make carnations irresistible to bees and hummingbirds and all those Ohioans.

To learn more about the kinds of carnations we grow in our gardens today, go to

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