Photo: Walters Gardens, Inc

A welcome sight in the garden come spring, dianthus plants are low maintenance with spicy clove-scented flowers that offer cottage-style appeal.

Here are a few more reasons to grow dianthus in your garden:

  • Blooms in nearly every color, from white to almost black.
  • Attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, as well as pollinating insects.
  • Comes in a range of shapes and sizes, from low groundcovers to upright varieties.
  • Uses in the garden include border displays, rockeries, containers and cutting gardens.

On this page: Basics | Planting | Care | Pictures | Choose the Right Dianthus | Landscaping Tips

On this page:

DIANTHUS BASICS

Zones:

3-9, differs by variety

Native region:

Native to Europe and Asia.

Types:

If you’re wondering whether dianthus are annual or perennial, the genus Dianthus has species that are both annual and perennial-and also biennial. Here are some of the common names you may have heard associated with the genus.

  • Pinks are perennial forms. They are evergreen or semi-evergreen. The common name “pink” is derived from the frilly edges of the petals, which look like they were cut with pinking shears.
  • Sweet William is a short-lived perennial most often grown as a biennial or annual.
  • Carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus.) are a favorite of florists for their long stems and extended bloom time.

Height/Spread:

Depending on the variety, height can reach anywhere from 4 to 36 inches tall. How much is spreads also depends on the variety, ranging anywhere from 4 to 24 inches wide.

Exposure:

Bloom best with at least six hours of full sun, but can tolerate partial shade.

Bloom time:

Spring to early summer; some rebloom intermittently or continuously through summer and fall.

Color and characteristics:

Flowers are single, semi-double or double with frilly petals. They come in nearly every color with the exception of blue, as well as patterned bicolors. Foliage is strappy and grass-like, occurring in shades of green, blue-green or silver-green.

Toxicity:

Dianthus foliage can cause minor skin irritation in some individuals, the effects usually lasting just a few minutes. The plants can be mildly toxic to pets if ingested.

Deer resistance:

Dianthus are seldom bothered by deer.

HOW TO PLANT DIANTHUS

When to plant:

Planting times depend on the type you're planting.

  • Perennial types: Plant during cooler months in early spring or fall.
  • Biennials and annuals: Plant nursery starts outside in spring, or sow seed indoors 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date for bloom the same year.
  • Seeds sown directly in the garden in late spring or summer will bloom the following year.

Where to plant:

Choose a site with rich, well-draining soil in full to part sun. Plants will bloom best in full sun; too much shade can result in fewer flowers and crown rot.

How to plant:

Here's a basic planting overview.

  1. Place plants 6 to 12 inches apart, depending on the variety.
  2. Loosen soil to a depth of 12 inches and mix in 2 to 4 inches of compost.
  3. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the root ball and place the plant in the hole so the top of the root ball is level with the soil.
  4. Gently tamp soil around the base of the plant and water well.

DIANTHUS CARE

Deadheading:

Deadhead (cut off spent blooms). Removing spent flowers encourages new flowers.

Trimming Back Perennials

See more on deadheading and shearing back dianthus at 1:10.

Dividing:

Older plants may develop dead spots in the center of the foliage, which means it’s time to divide. Cut clumps into several pieces, removing the dead foliage, and transplant divisions to new spots.

Soil:

Carnations, sweet William, and cottage pinks do best in rich, well-draining soil that’s kept moist but not soggy. Alpine types, such as cheddar pinks, prefer a slightly alkaline, sandy soil with sharp drainage.

Amendments & fertilizer:

Here are several guidelines for making sure your dianthus get the nutrients they need.

  • For established perennials, apply a thin layer of compost in spring and sidedress with a well-balanced fertilizer according to instructions.
  • Avoid organic mulch, as it can contribute to rot or fungal problems; instead, use gravel or stone chips to suppress weeds.
  • For biennials or annuals, apply a liquid fertilizer monthly during bloom time.

Watering:

Water once a week in summer, or more frequently in hot weather if needed. Avoid overwatering, which can cause rot. Overhead watering may cause leaf mildew.

Staking:

Carnation types with long stems may need staking to keep them from falling over.

Diseases and pests:

In addition to being easy to care for, dianthus are free of most pests and diseases when healthy and planted in the ideal site. Just like any plant, though, there are potential problems that can occur.

  • Overwatering or heavy mulch can cause crown rot.
  • Poor drainage can result in stem rot or root rot.
  • Insect problems can include slugs, snails, sow bugs, spider mites, or grasshoppers.

DIANTHUS VARIETIES

Swipe to view slides

Photo by: Proven Winners.

‘Paint the Town Magenta’ Buy now from Proven Winners
D. hybrid

Zones: 4-9
Habit: Dwarf stature with mounding habit
Height/Spread: 6 to 8 inches tall, 12 to 14 inches wide
Exposure: Full to partial sun
Bloom Time: Early summer, with rebloom in fall

The diminutive size makes this heat-tolerant variety ideal for small spaces.

2022 National Perennial of the Year

Photo by: Proven Winners.

Fruit Punch® ‘Classic Coral’ Buy now from Proven Winners
D. hybrid

Zones: 4-9
Habit: Mounding compact habit
Height/Spread: 8 to 10 inches tall, 12 to 14 inches wide
Exposure: Full to partial sun
Bloom Time: Early summer, with rebloom in fall

Fragrant double flowers contrast nicely against a background of blue-green foliage, which provides continuous color after flowers are finished blooming. Tolerant of heat and humidity.

See the entire Fruit Punch® series.

Photo by: Proven Winners.

Fruit Punch® ‘Cherry Vanilla’ Buy now from Proven Winners
D. hybrid

Zones: 4-9
Habit: Mounding compact habit
Height/Spread: 6 to 8 inches tall, 8 to 12 inches wide
Exposure: Full to partial sun
Bloom Time: Early summer, with rebloom in fall

Semi-double frilly flowers add sweet fragrance and bright color to containers and rock gardens, or along pathways and borders.

Photo by: Proven Winners.

'Paint the Town Fuchsia'Buy now from Proven Winners
D. hybrid

Zones: 4-9
Habit: Mounding compact habit
Height/Spread: 6 to 8 inches tall, 12 to 14 inches wide
Exposure: Full to partial sun
Bloom Time: Spring to Summer

Prized for increased heat tolerance and bright colors, this selection is perfect for sunny pathways and borders. Considered an improved variety over 'Firewitch' with better flower coverage and improved vigor.

Photo: Walters Gardens, Inc

‘Firewitch’ (syn. ‘Feuerhexe’), Cheddar Pink
D. gratianopolitanus

Zones: 3-9
Habit: Compact stature with mat-forming habit
Height/Spread: 6 to 9 inches tall, 12 to 15 inches wide
Exposure: Full sun
Bloom Time: Mid-late spring, with intermittent rebloom through summer

Known for its exceptionally long bloom time, drought tolerance, and neat mat-forming habit.

Photo: Steffen Hauser / botanikfoto / Alamy Stock Photo

‘Bath’s Pink’, Cheddar Pink
D. gratianopolitanus

Zones: 3-9
Habit: Mat-forming habit
Height/Spread: 9 to 12 inches tall, 6 to 12 inches wide
Exposure: Full sun
Bloom Time: Late spring, with intermittent rebloom in summer

Tolerant of heat, humidity and drought, this tough variety is good for edging and as a rock garden specimen. The deeply fringed, star-shaped flowers are pleasantly fragrant.

Photo: Eric Hunt / Millette Photomedia

‘Itsaul White’, Cottage Pink
D. plumarius

Zones: 3-9
Habit: Upright habit
Height/Spread: 12 inches tall, 12 to 18 inches wide
Exposure: Late spring to early summer, with rebloom in summer
Bloom Time: Late spring to mid-summer

Pure-white flowers complement the silvery evergreen foliage. Sweet vanilla-scented blooms on arching 12-inch stems make good cut flowers.

Photo: Eag1eEyes / Shutterstock

Sweet William
D. barbatus

Zones: 3-9
Habit: Upright stature
Height/Spread: 12 to 24 inches tall, 12 inches wide
Exposure: Full to partial sun
Bloom Time: Late spring through frost
Colors: Red, pink, purple, white or bicolored flowers; green foliage

This short-lived perennial is most often grown as an annual or biennial. Keep plants deadheaded for continuous bloom.

Photo: Sylvain Marineau / Millette Photomedia

China Pink (syn. Rainbow Pink)
D. chinensis

Zones: 6-9
Habit: Upright or bushy habit
Height/Spread: 6 to 30 inches tall, 6 to 10 inches wide
Exposure: Full to partial sun
Bloom Time: Late spring to early summer, with rebloom in summer
Colors: Red, pink, white or bicolored flowers; green foliage

Similar to sweet William, China pink is a short-lived perennial most often grown as a cool-season annual.

Photo: Paul S Drobot / Millette Photomedia

‘Green Ball’
D. barbatus

Zones: 8-9
Habit: Mounding habit
Height/Spread: 10 to 14 inches tall, 8 to 12 inches wide
Exposure: Full sun to partial shade
Bloom Time: Late spring to summer

This novelty variety has fuzzy 3-inch ball-shaped flowers on strong, upright stems. Treat as an annual in most climates and half-hardy perennial in warmer regions.

HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT DIANTHUS

With so many choices, here are some factors to consider.

For bedding displays and borders:

Edge the front of a border with low-growing perennial varieties. Sprinkle annual or biennial seeds to fill in gaps between established perennials.

For containers, rock gardens, and small yards:

Dwarf and mat-forming types will stay smaller and not overwhelm a space. Combine in containers, rockeries, or beds with other small annuals or perennials that thrive in the same growing conditions.

For cutting gardens and large-scale landscapes:

Choose Sweet William or carnation varieties that will grow tall and plant them in rows or masses for the greatest visual impact. The stately stems and long bloom time make these suitable for floral arrangements.

For areas of the garden that you want to keep low maintenance:

Be sure to choose a perennial so they come back every year. Good choices include D. gratianopolitanus, D. plumarius, D. barbatus, and D. chinensis.

DIANTHUS LANDSCAPING TIPS

With so many choices, here are some tips to consider.

For bedding displays and borders:

Edge the front of a border with low-growing perennial varieties. Sprinkle annual or biennial seeds to fill in gaps between established perennials.

For containers, rock gardens, and small yards:

Dwarf and mat-forming types will stay smaller and not overwhelm a space. Combine in containers, rockeries, or beds with other small annuals or perennials that thrive in the same growing conditions.

For cutting gardens and large-scale landscapes:

Choose Sweet William or carnation varieties that will grow tall and plant them in rows or masses for the greatest visual impact. The stately stems and long bloom time make these suitable for floral arrangements.

There are many ways to incorporate this beloved heirloom into any landscape. Here’s how:

  • Mass in a bed along a patio or deck, where the spicy fragrance can be enjoyed up close.
  • Plant alpine types in a rock garden with other plants such as columbine, sedums, thyme, creeping phlox, and lamb’s ear.
  • Dress up an entryway or balcony with a decorative container and plant with dianthus in varying colors, or with annuals such as sweet alyssum, lobelia, and dusty miller for months of continuous color.
  • Place window boxes on a side of your house that receives full sun and plant dianthus in cheerful colors for a nostalgic, cottage-style effect.
  • Line a pathway with shorter varieties that bloom at different times for a season-long display of color.
  • Convert a raised bed into a cutting garden and plant carnation types with long stems. Add other cutting flowers such as dahlias, sweet peas, zinnias, and sunflowers for freshly cut bouquets through summer and fall.
  • Combine in a mixed border with other cottage-style plants such as cranesbill geranium, coral bells, iris, roses, columbine, artemisia, and lavender.

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