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Dianthus: How to Plant and Grow Dianthus Flowers | The Old Farmer's Almanac

Dianthus

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neotemlpars/Shutterstock
Botanical Name
Dianthus spp.
Plant Type
Sun Exposure
Soil pH
Bloom Time
Flower Color
Hardiness Zone
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How to Plant, Grow, and Care for Dianthus Flowers

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Darling dianthus flowers bring beguiling fragrance and cheerful color to sunny borders or containers. Also known as “pinks,” this hardy, adaptable plant ranges from low-growing annuals to taller perennials (such as carnations). If you deadhead, dianthus will keep reblooming from spring sometimes until fall frost! Learn more about how to plant dianthuses. 

About Dianthus Flowers

Ancient Greek botanist Theophrastus (c.371–c.287 B.C.) gave the Dianthus genus its name: “divine flower” (dios + anthos). Ever since, gardeners have been smitten with these plants’ charms: a sweet and spicy fragrance and lovely fringed blossoms in many colors (intense pink, white, lavender, yellow, red, bicolor). 

Dianthus are popular for many reasons. Besides being hardy and adaptable, they are also long-blooming and will flower prolifically 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.  And, they’re deer-resistant! 

The common name “pinks” is not because of their most common color (an intense pink) but for the unique fringed or jagged edges of their 5-petal blooms that look like they’ve been cut with pinking shears. 

Is Dianthus a Perennial or Annual?

Dianthuses can be annual, biennial, or perennial. Dianthuses genus covers over 300 species; as a gardeners’ favorite, they have been extensively bred and hybridized. Most varieties are 10 to 20 inches tall, but dianthus varieties range from annual creeping ground covers to 24-inch (or longer) long-stemmed perennials (such as carnations) suitable for cutting. This genus also includes Sweet Williams (D. barbatus), which are biennial or short-lived perennials.  Depending on the variety, dianthuses bring cheer to sunny garden borders, rock gardens, or containers; they especially look great as bedding plants when massed together.

Planting

Dianthuses demand full sun (they fail to thrive in shade) and well-draining soil (standing water will rot the roots). Improve the soil drainage if necessary (e.g., mix in compost with heavy soil).

When to Plant Dianthus 

  • Direct-seed outdoors in early spring when a light frost is still possible. If transplanting a small nursery plant, plant during the cooler months in spring or fall to encourage deep rooting. 
  • If sowing seeds indoors, start them 10 to 12 weeks before the last spring frost.

How to Plant Dianthus 

  • When direct-seeding outdoors, only cover lightly with soil; seeds need light to germinate.
  • If transplanting, space plants 6 to 12 inches apart (depending on variety) for good air circulation. Set so the crown is level with soil surface and water lightly.
  • If sowing seeds indoors, press sees lightly into moist potting medium; cover lightly and keep moist. Apply bottom heat. When seedlings break through the soil, place seed trays in a sun-drenched window. Annual germinate in about 10 days, perennials in 3 weeks. Harden off and transplant seedlings when they have four sets of leaves and there is no danger of frost. 
Photo: Michael Sean O’Leary/Shutterstock
Growing
  • Avoid mulch, especially close to the stem; good air circulation is needed to avoid crown rot.

  • 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. 
Harvesting

Dianthus make excellent cut flowers. Many varieties have a spicy fragrance in addition to a long vase life of 7 to 21 days. Cut flowers for arrangements when the are just opening. 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. 

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Wit and Wisdom
  • In Tudor and Edwardian times dianthus had several names: gillyflower, pheasant’s ear, and sops-in-wine. It is also known as cottage pink and clove pink.
  • Dianthus flower petals are edible; remove and discard the bitter petal base before using.  
  • “Hot July brings cooling showers, apricots and gillyflowers.” 
    –Sara Coleridge, British writer (1802–52) 
Pests/Diseases

Dianthus is deer-resistant.
Diseases: aster yellows, Botrytis blight, leaf spot, root and stem rots, rust, wilt
Pestsaphids, grasshoppers, slugs and snails, sow bugs 

Cooking Notes

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.

About The Author

Catherine Boeckmann

Catherine Boeckmann loves nature, stargazing, and gardening so it’s not surprise that she and The Old Farmer’s Almanac found each other. She leads digital content for the Almanac website, and is also a certified master gardener in the state of Indiana. Read More from Catherine Boeckmann

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