How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Dianthus Flowers
Dianthus are a variable genus of flowers that are best known for their scented, intensely pink blooms. Adaptable and hardy, they are well-suited for most flower gardens. Here’s how to plant, grow, and care for dianthus flowers in your garden!
Native to Europe and Asia, dianthus varieties range from creeping ground covers perfect for rock gardens to 24-inch (or more) flowering stems suitable for cutting. These flowers are also commonly known as “pinks”—either for their characteristically pink blooms or for the fringed (i.e., “pinked”) edges of said blooms. In any case, their colorful, five-petal flowers bring cheer to sunny border gardens or containers on the deck or patio.
Dianthus are popular for many reasons. Besides producing an abundance of starry flowers, they are also long-blooming and will flower through the summer season if you deadhead the faded flowers. And their fragrance is lovely—similar to cloves. The flowers also attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators to the garden.
When to Plant Dianthus
- Direct-seed outdoors in early spring when a light frost is still possible. Cover the seeds lightly; they need light to germinate.
- Adult dianthus plants are best planted during the cooler months in spring or fall to encourage deep rooting.
Choosing and Preparing a Planting Site
- Dianthus should be planted in full sun, but can tolerate some shade.
- Well-drained soil and good air circulation are necessary to avoid diseases. Improve the soil drainage, if necessary. Read more about preparing soil for planting.
How to Plant Dianthus
- Set transplants so that the crown is level with the soil surface.
- Space plants 6 to 12 inches apart depending on variety.
- Water lightly.
- Add a thin layer of dry organic mulch around the plants.
- Start seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost. Press seeds lightly into moist potting medium. Cover lightly and keep moist. Apply bottom heat if possible.
- Place seed trays in a sunny window when seedlings break through the soil.
- Harden off and transplant seedlings when they have four sets of leaves and there is no danger of frost.
How to Grow Dianthus
- Water only when soil is dry and be careful not to overwater.
- Fertilize a few times during the growing season with a balanced fertilizer (equal amounts of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) or a phosphate-rich tomato fertilizer.
- Deadhead faded flowers, removing the stems, too, for more blooms.
- Shear plants back after flowering in late summer to encourage a second set of flowers later in the season.
- Many varieties self-seed if blossoms are not removed.
- At season’s end, leave evergreen foliage for fall and winter interest or cut stems back to 1 to 2 inches above the soil surface.
- Divide established plants every 2 to 3 years in early spring or after flowering.
The dianthus family contains over 300 species and hundreds of hybrid varieties.
According to the North American Dianthus Society, these are the best varieties for home gardens:
- Hardy rock garden pinks: alpine pinks (Dianthus alpinus) and Cheddar pinks (D. gratianopolitanus) and their hybrids; strongly scented, small flowers on 2- to 6-inch-tall plants; grassy gray-green leaves; hardy in Zones 3 to 9
- Cottage pinks (D. plumarius): clove-scented, lilac-pink flowers; grass-like foliage, 12 to 15 inches tall; deadhead for rebloom in fall; hardy in Zones 3 to 9
- China pinks (D. chinensis): lightly scented flowers on 6- to 10-inch-tall stalks over 3- to 4-inch-high mounds; hardy perennials in zones 7 to 10
- Clusterheads, e.g., Sweet William (D. barbatus): clusters of single or double white, pink, red, or salmon flowers on 12- to 24-inch-tall stems; annual, biennial, or short-lived perennial; hardy in Zones 3 to 9
- Carnations (D. caryophyllus), aka the florist’s flower: multi-petaled blooms on 12- to 24-inch stems; curly, blue-green foliage; hardy in zones 5 to 8. Choose hardy perennial border carnations (aka “wild carnations”) over frost-tender varieties that require a greenhouse.
Miscellaneous fragrant species hardy in zones 3 to 8 include:
- Sand pink (D. arenarius): 6- to 10-inch-tall deeply fringed, white blossoms
- Noe’s pink (D. petraeus ssp. noeanus), an alpine species with white flowers
- Superb pink (D. superbus), aka fringed pink, for its feathery, deeply cut petals.
- ‘Grenadin Yellow’ (D. caryophyllus): 16 to 20 inches tall, creamy yellow blooms
Displaying Dianthus as Cut Flowers
- Dianthus make excellent cut flowers. Many varieties have a spicy fragrance in addition to a long vase life, about 2 weeks.
- Cut the bottom of the stems at a slant, just above a node on the stem.
- Remove leaves that are submerged in the water.
- Replace the water every 3 days.
- Re-cut the stems after 1 week.
- Ancient Greek botanist Theophrastus (c. 371–c. 287 B.C.) gave the Dianthus genus its name: “divine flower” (dios-anthos).
- In Tudor and Edwardian times dianthus had several names: gillyflower, pheasant’s ear, and sops-in-wine. Other names are cottage pinks and clove pinks.
- “Hot July brings cooling showers, apricots and gillyflowers.”
–Sara Coleridge, British writer (1802–52)
Dianthus flowers are edible; the petals are sometimes candied and used as edible decoration. Discard the bitter petal base before using and avoid ingesting the foliage and stems, as they can cause indigestion.