Carnation Watering Schedule: Essential Tips for Gardeners

Carnations are attractive flowers from the Dianthus genus that are also known as pinks. Carnations have beautiful flowers that give off a sweet, spicy scent similar to cloves. But to produce their best flowers, carnations need the right amount of water. In this article, I’ll run through everything you need to know about when and how to water carnations.

When and How to Water Carnations (Essential Tips)

The Importance of Watering Correctly

Plants depend on water to create new tissues and produce new growth. Water is also crucial for photosynthesis, the process that allows plants to create glucose. Without enough water, plants will struggle to stimulate new healthy growth.

During photosynthesis, plants absorb water through their roots and carbon dioxide and solar energy through their leaves. These components are mixed together to produce glucose. The plant then uses the glucose as fuel to produce cellulose – the primary building block of plant tissue.

While plants are sucking up water through their roots, they also absorb nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. Plants then use these nutrients to produce healthy new foliage and flowers.

When to Water Carnations

An array of colorful carnations in bloom in the garden

Carnations are drought-tolerant plants that grow well in dry or moist well-draining soils. As such, most types of carnations don’t require vast amounts of water. Water carnations once a week or whenever the top 2 to 3 inches of soil feel dry. Give your carnations approximately an inch of water each time.

Although carnations are speedy growers in moist soils, they hate sitting in saturated soils. So it’s essential to plant carnations in soils that provide good drainage and aeration. Carnations grow best in loose chalky, sandy, or loamy soils because these soils are well-draining.

Due to their compact size, carnations can grow well in containers. However, plants growing in containers use water faster than those growing in the ground. As such, you may need to water potted carnations more frequently than once a week.

Seasonal Changes to Consider

While carnations are drought-tolerant, they can struggle in hot temperatures. Carnations are hardy herbaceous perennials that grow best in cooler temperatures in USDA Zones 3 to 8. As such, carnations need watering more frequently during hot, dry summers.

Without enough water in hot temperatures, carnations may start drooping. Hot temperatures can also impact flower production, keeping the buds from developing. Carnations may fail to flower if they don’t get enough water during the blooming season.

As perennials, carnations die back during the winter and regrow during the spring. During the winter, keep carnations relatively moist, but avoid watering them if frost is expected.

For more, see our in-depth guide to how tall and wide carnations grow under optimal conditions. 

How to Water Carnations

A close shot of a flowering carnation plant against green grass and foliage

Watering carnations correctly is essential because it helps prevent issues like overwatering. Here’s a brief guide explaining how to water your carnations:

  1. Check to see if your carnation needs watering by testing the soil with your fingers. If the top 2 to 3 inches of soil feel dry, your carnation needs some water.
  2. Aim your watering can at the base of your carnation. This stops water from splashing onto the leaves or flowers, which can leave your carnations vulnerable to diseases.
  3. Give your carnation approximately an inch of water.

Signs of Overwatering

Carnations suffering from overwatering often have:

  • Drooping, wilting, or yellowing leaves
  • Brown, mushy, or smelly roots
  • Soil stays wet for long periods

Signs of Underwatering

Symptoms of underwatering include:

  • Cracked, dry soil
  • Limp, yellowing foliage
  • Flower buds not opening or dropping off

For more, see our in-depth guide to growing carnation flowers from seed

Watering Carnations FAQs

How Often Should I Water My Carnation?

Carnations should be watered once a week or whenever the top 2 or 3 inches of soil feel dry. Water carnations more frequently during hot, dry summers. These symbolic flowers usually need about an inch of water each week.

Can You Overwater Carnations?

Carnations are fairly drought-tolerant and don’t like sitting in waterlogged soil, so it’s easy to overwater them. Carnations suffering from overwatering have yellowing or drooping leaves.

Why Are My Carnation Flowers Dying?

Your carnation flowers may be dying if they’re suffering from underwatering or exposed to too much direct afternoon sunlight. Carnations may also die if they’re infected with serious diseases or pest infestations.

Do Carnations Come Back Every Year?

Most carnations are herbaceous perennials that grow back every year. Carnations die back during the winter before regrowing in the spring. However, carnations are short-lived perennials that only live for three or four years.

How Do You Keep Carnations Alive in a Vase?

Carnations last for up to three weeks in a vase. To keep them alive as long as possible, change the water every two to three days. Trim the end of the stem at a 45-degree angle each time to help your carnations absorb more water.

Wrapping Up

Carnations are drought-tolerant perennials that prefer dry to moist soils. Water carnations approximately once a week or whenever the top 2 to 3 inches of soil feel dry. Carnations hate waterlogged soil, so ensure your soil provides good drainage and aeration.


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