Dictionary of Flowers: Dianthus (Carnations, Pinks, Sweet Williams)

We're so used to seeing Dianthus (Carnations) closed that we don't see their beauty fully opened. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Shelly and Flickr
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We're so used to seeing Dianthus (Carnations) closed up that we don't appreciate their beauty when fully opened. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of Shelly and Flickr

  • Dianthus 
  • Common name: carnation, pinks, sweet williams
  • Family: Caryophyllaceae
  • Category: Hardy perennials sold as annuals, hardiness varies by species
  • Height: 6" to 30"
  • Width:  6" to 24"
  • Sun
  • Blooms: late spring to summer, fall
  • Attracts: butterflies 
  • Growth habit: clump forming, trailing, upright, erect. Used as filler or spiller in container combinations
  • Maintenance: easy
  • Soil: neutral to alkaline, well drained. Water regularly if grown in containers. 
  • Garden uses: containers, hanging baskets, mixed border, cutting garden, front of border, rockery
  • Diseases: rust, wilt, crown rot
  • Pests: slugs and snails in wet weather

Dianthus is a genus of plants native to Eurasia and North Africa.

They are mainly tender perennials, but there are also annuals and biennial species.

Their foliage is gray green, narrow and pointed. Flowers can grow individually on stems on clusters above the leaves, with fringed petals. Some varieties can be double or semi-double. 

Colors vary from white to pink and yellow, red to nearly black. Depending on species, they can bloom in spring, summer or fall. Some of the species' flowers are scented.

They prefer to grow in a sunny position, though they can grow in part sun.

Soil should be neutral to alkaline, average and very well drained. Adding compost when planting helps with drainage issues.

Dianthus plants don’t perform well in humid, hot weather.

Mulching is not recommended, as it promotes rot.

Fertilizing is recommended once a year for perennial species, in spring before the plants start blooming. Annual species need to be fertilized once every other week with a bloom boosting formula.

Deadheading prolongs bloom period, but it is simpler to shear plants by one third after their bloom period. When sheared, they might bloom once again, though not as vigorously as the first time.

Division can be performed every third year (perennial species). 

IWILLWRITECAPTION. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of NAMEOFFLICKRUSER and Flickr

Dianthus plants are available as starts and bedding plants in nurseries during spring and summer.

They can be propagated by division, seed or cuttings. Cuttings should be taken in late spring or early summer.

Cut a non-blooming piece of stem cut about six inches, right under node, trim bottom leaves. Dip in rooting hormone and pot up in moist potting soil mixed with sand. When kept moist and warm, they root in about a month.

To grow from seed indoors, sow on moist starting mix, barely covering the seed. If kept at about 70F, they germinate in two to four weeks. Harden off and plant outdoors right around last frost date. They can also be wintersown or sown directly outdoors.

Some varieties of dianthus can reseed themselves. 




IWILLWRITECAPTION. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of NAMEOFFLICKRUSER and Flickr

Wet or heavy soils cause root rot. Improve drainage to avoid it. Rust can be treated with a fungicide. Plants affected by wilt need to be dug and discarded.

Slugs and snails can damage foliage. Bait as needed. Dianthus is deer resistant.

Popular varieties:

  • Dianthus barbatus (Sweet Williams) - twelve to twenty four inches tall, depending on variety. Blooms in clusters with white, pink and magenta flowers. Biennial/perennial. Self seeds. Scented
  • Dianthus gratianopolitanus (Cheddar Pinks) - up to a foot tall. Perennial. Pink single or double flowers, scented
  • Dianthus deltoides (Maiden Pinks) - mat forming, up to a foot, normally shorter. Single flowers on thin stems above foliage. Perennial, evergreen. Flowers can be pink to red and white
  • Dianthus chinensis  (China Pinks) - biennial, often grown as an annual. Single blooms, bicolors, pink, red or white. Up to a foot tall
  • Dianthus caryophyllus (Carnations) - up to three feet tall, they require stalking. Large double blooms, most highly scented. Some varieties are trailing, good for hanging baskets. Perennial

IWILLWRITECAPTION. Image used under a Creative Commons licence with the kind permission of NAMEOFFLICKRUSER and Flickr

Full List of Dictionary of Flowers Entries

Annuals For Containers

Perennials For Containers

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