Photo: Walters Gardens, Inc

A welcome sight in the garden come spring, dianthus are revered for their spicy clove-scented flowers and cottage-style appeal. The blooms of this tough, low-maintenance heirloom occur in nearly every color, from white to almost black. Plants come in a range of shapes and sizes, from low, mat-forming groundcovers to upright varieties 3 feet tall. Their uses in the garden are nearly endless, from border displays and rockeries, to containers and cutting gardens. Dianthus attracts butterflies and hummingbirds, as well as pollinating insects.

From a large genus of about 300 species, Dianthus are native to Europe and Asia. Most are perennial, though some are biennial or annual. Perennial forms—referred to as pinks—are evergreen or semi-evergreen. The common name 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 are a favorite of florists for their long stems and extended bloom time. Less hardy than other types, carnations are typically grown in milder climates.

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

DIANTHUS BASICS

Height/Spread:

4-36 inches tall, 4-24 inches wide

Exposure:

Dianthus 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, causing stomach upset or vomiting. Seek advice from your veterinarian or poison control center if needed.

PLANTING INSTRUCTIONS

When to plant:

Perennial types are best planted during cooler months in spring or fall. For biennials and annuals, plant nursery starts outside in spring, or sow seed indoors 6-8 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. Alpine types prefer rocky soil with sharp drainage.

How to plant:

Place plants 6-12 inches apart, depending on the variety. Loosen soil to a depth of 12 inches and mix in 2-4 inches of compost. 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. Gently tamp soil around the base of the plant and water well.

DIANTHUS CARE

Deadheading and dividing:

Cut off spent blooms to encourage new flowers. 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:

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 using 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:

Dianthus are free of most pests and diseases when healthy and planted in the ideal site. Overwatering or heavy mulch can cause crown rot. Poor drainage can result in stem or root rot. Insect problems can include slugs, snails, sow bugs or grasshoppers.

Deer resistance:

Dianthus are seldom bothered by deer.

HOW TO CHOOSE THE RIGHT DIANTHUS

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.

DIANTHUS VARIETIES

Swipe to view slides

Photo: Walters Gardens, Inc

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

Zones:

4-9

Height/Spread:

Mounding compact habit, 8-10 inches tall, 12-14 inches wide

Exposure:

Full to partial sun

Bloom Time:

Early summer, with rebloom in fall

Color:

Coral pink flowers, blue-green foliage

Fragrant double flowers with deeply fringed petals contrast nicely against a background of blue foliage, which provides continuous color after flowers are finished blooming. Use this heat and humidity-tolerant variety to edge borders and pathways, or in containers. Shear after flowering for rebloom in early fall. A few other popular selections in this series are 'Maraschino', 'Black Cherry Frost', 'Raspberry Ruffles', and 'Sweetie Pie'.

Photo: Proven Winners

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

Zones:

4-9

Height/Spread:

Mounding compact habit, 6-8 inches tall, 8-12 inches wide

Exposure:

Full to partial sun

Bloom Time:

Early summer, with rebloom in fall

Color:

Deep red blooms are edged with pale pink; blue-green foliage

Semi-double frilly flowers add sweet fragrance and bright color to containers and rock gardens, or along pathways and borders. Tolerant of heat and humidity, shear plants after flowering for rebloom in fall.

Photo: Proven Winners

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

Zones:

4-9

Height/Spread:

Dwarf stature with mounding habit, 6-8 inches tall, 12-14 inches wide

Exposure:

Full to partial sun

Bloom Time:

Early summer, with rebloom in fall

Color:

Bright pink flowers, blue-green foliage

The diminutive size makes this heat-tolerant variety ideal for small spaces. Shear after flowering to encourage rebloom in fall. Plant in containers, along borders and pathways, or as a low-growing groundcover.

Photo: Walters Gardens, Inc

'Paint the Town Fuchsia'Buy now from Proven Winners
Dianthus hybrid

Zones:

4-9

Height/Spread:

Mounding compact habit, 6-8 inches tall, 12-14 inches wide

Exposure:

Full to partial sun

Bloom Time:

Spring to Summer

Color:

Fuchsia flowers, blue-green foliage

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
Dianthus gratianopolitanus

Zones:

3-9

Height/Spread:

Compact stature with mat-forming habit, 6-9 inches tall, 12-15 inches wide

Exposure:

Full sun

Bloom Time:

Mid-late spring, with intermittent rebloom through summer

Color:

Bright magenta-pink flowers, blue-green foliage

This award-winning variety is revered for its exceptionally long bloom time, drought tolerance and neat mat-forming habit. Plant in a rock garden with other alpine plants, or combine with with yarrow and lavender.

Photo: Steffen Hauser / botanikfoto / Alamy Stock Photo

‘Bath’s Pink’, Cheddar Pink
Dianthus gratianopolitanus

Zones:

3-9

Height/Spread:

Mat-forming habit, 9-12 inches tall, 6-12 inches wide

Exposure:

Full sun

Bloom Time:

Late spring, with intermittent rebloom in summer

Color:

Soft pink flowers, blue-green foliage

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: Kathy Puckett / Millette Photomedia

‘Arctic Fire’, Maiden Pink
Dianthus deltoides

Zones:

3-9

Height/Spread:

Compact stature with mat-forming habit, 6-8 inches tall, 12-14 inches wide

Exposure:

Full sun

Bloom Time:

Late spring to mid-summer

Color:

White flowers with a pink eye rimmed with crimson, dark green foliage

Frilly white petals surround the fiery center for an eye-catching effect. Dense, mat-forming clumps are ideal for edging, or as a groundcover in a mixed border or around roses.

Photo: Eric Hunt / Millette Photomedia

‘Itsaul White’, Cottage Pink
Dianthus plumarius

Zones:

3-9

Height/Spread:

Upright habit, 12 inches tall, 12-18 inches wide

Exposure:

Late spring to early summer, with rebloom in summer

Bloom Time:

Late spring to mid-summer

Color:

White flowers, silvery blue foliage

Frothy pure-white flowers complement the silvery evergreen foliage. The sweet vanilla-scented blooms on arching 12-inch stems make good cut flowers. Shear after the first flush of flowers for rebloom in summer.

Photo: Eag1eEyes / Shutterstock

Sweet William
Dianthus barbatus

Zones:

3-9

Height/Spread:

Upright stature, 12-24 inches tall, 12 inches wide

Exposure:

Full to partial sun

Bloom Time:

Late spring through frost

Color:

Red, pink, purple, white or bicolored flowers; green foliage

This beloved short-lived perennial is most often grown as an annual or biennial. Readily available as nursery plants or seeds, sweet William will bloom the first year from plants, or from seed if started indoors early. Sow seeds directly in the garden in late spring or summer for bloom the following year. Use in mass plantings, beds, borders, and containers. Keep plants deadheaded for continuous bloom. Later in the season, leave some of the spent flowers so that plants will reseed the following year.

Photo: Sylvain Marineau / Millette Photomedia

China Pink (syn. Rainbow Pink)
Dianthus chinensis

Zones:

6-9

Height/Spread:

Upright or bushy habit, 6-30 inches tall, 6-10 inches wide

Exposure:

Full to partial sun

Bloom Time:

Late spring to early summer, with rebloom in summer

Color:

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. Use in mass plantings, beds, borders, and containers. Deadhead spent blooms to encourage new flowers. Leave spent blooms late in the season so that plants will reseed the following year.

Photo: Paul S Drobot / Millette Photomedia

‘Green Ball’
Dianthus barbatus

Zones:

8-9

Height/Spread:

Mounding habit, 10-14 inches tall, 8-12 inches wide

Exposure:

Full sun to partial shade

Bloom Time:

Late spring to summer

Color:

Lime-green flowers, dark green foliage

This newer novelty variety has fuzzy 3-inch ball-shaped flowers on strong, upright stems. Available only as nursery plants, use in containers, beds or a cutting garden. With regular fertilizing and deadheading, it will rebloom for months. Treat as an annual in most climates, and half-hardy perennial in warmer regions. With a long vase life, ‘Green Ball’ makes an exceptional and unique cut flower for arrangements.

DIANTHUS LANDSCAPING TIPS

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 rockery with other rock garden 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.

RELATED:
Ideas for an Enticing Cottage Garden
21 Easiest Flowers for Beginners
16 Surprisingly Drought-Tolerant Plants

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