The Q&A Archives: Carnations flop over

Question: My carnations grow very well each year, but in summer the stems flop over just as the plants are coming into flower. How can I make the stems stand up under the weight of the blossoms? Joseph Gamble Yorba Linda, CA

Answer: Carnations aren't adapted to southern California's hot summers, says Phil Ishuzu, owner of Sunnyslope Gardens, growers of more than a dozen varieties of carnations in San Gabriel. When temperatures soar consistently above 80 F, carnation plants grow so fast the stems never have time to stiffen, so they're floppy. And if the plants get less than six hours of direct sun a day, they also get leggy. Carnations grow best in a 'Colorado-type' climate -- high light intensity and temperatures in the 70's, Ishuzu explains. Carnations bloom year-round in southern California, so Ishuzu suggests you enjoy the late winter and spring blooms, which form when temperatures are cooler so have strong stems. Forget about the summer flowers and let the plants regain their strength. Cut off floppy summer blooms as they form and the plants will devote the energy to growing better roots and leaves. Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers as spring temperatures rise; this will help keep the plants compact. Also, try growing some of the lavender-colored, stiffer-stemmed varieties, such as Orchid Beauty and Lavender Lace, adds Ishuzu.

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