How to Plant and Care for Dianthus

By Beth Krietsch

Dianthus flowers are beautiful and popular perennial blooms often referred to as pinks, carnations, or Sweet Williams. The name pink makes sense given that nearly all dianthus varieties are some shade of pink or red, whether light, dark, or somewhere in between. Dianthus plants are native to Asia and Europe, but are grown in gardens throughout the world.

These colorful plants bloom in the spring and throughout the summer. They’re often used as ground cover, but are also grown in gardens or planters mixed with other flower varieties, such as columbine, geranium, and artemisia. Available in more than 300 varieties and plenty of vibrant colors, dianthus flowers are known to attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and bees.

What does dianthus look like?

Dianthus flowers are diverse, though some similarities extend across all varieties. Each dianthus flower has five petals and is radially symmetric, and you’ll often notice that the flowers are clustered in groups of three to five. Some varieties have tiny, delicate flowers, whereas others—like carnations, for example—have far larger blooms.

Left Firewitch Dianthus

Right Sweet William Dianthus

A few favorite varieties of dianthus

When planting dianthus, there are hundreds of varieties to choose from. Here are a few you might like.

  • Sweet William—These small flowers are more tolerant of cold weather than many other dianthus varieties, and can grow in zones 3–9. Unlike other dianthus varieties that are perennials, Sweet Williams are actually biennials.
  • Ragged Pink—This type of dianthus is unique in that it can grow to be nearly two feet tall. The flowers are almost always a shade of pink with fringed edges, which is perhaps where the name “ragged pink” comes in.
  • Firewitch—One of the most loved varieties of dianthus, Firewitch Dianthus flowers are typically magenta or another deep shade of pink. These fragrant flowers bloom in May and June. Compared to many other varieties of dianthus, Firewitch tends to be more resistant to humidity and heat.
  • Arctic Fire—This variety is particularly eye-catching, with a deep pink or red center surrounded by intricate bright white serrated petals.
  • Coral Reef—With magnificent coral-hued flowers, the Coral Reef dianthus variety is a particularly tropical-looking variety of dianthus that brightens up any garden or planter.

Planting dianthus

Dianthus flowers should be planted in the fall before the first frost, or after the last frost in the spring. They grow fairly easily, but you want to be sure to plant these flowers in nutrient-rich soil that drains well, has neutral to alkaline pH (below 7), and gets a ton of sunlight. And by “a ton of sunlight,” we suggest five hours or more each day. Dianthus plants usually don’t thrive when grown in shady areas.

Before planting, you’ll want to aerate the soil with a rake, and when it comes time to get the dianthus in the ground you’ll want to leave about 6–12 inches between each plant or seed so they have room to grow.

Caring for dianthus

As a low-maintenance flower, dianthus care is fairly simple. Here’s a bit of of advice for keeping your plants happy and healthy.

  • Apply a thin layer of compost to your soil about once every year to provide dianthus flowers with nutrients.
  • If you live in an area that isn’t seeing regular rainfall, you’ll want to water your dianthus enough to keep the soil slightly to moderately damp. Usually, watering once or twice a week will do the trick. A good rule here is to water your dianthus if you’re unable to press your thumb more than three quarters of an inch into the soil.
  • Use stakes to keep tall varieties of dianthus upright, especially if they seem to be having trouble supporting themselves.
  • If the flowers or leaves turn brown, you’ll want to remove them as soon as possible in order to preserve the plant’s health and allow it to produce more blooms. Pruning shears are a helpful tool for removing dead flowers.
  • Many people love dianthus as cut flowers in a bouquet or vase. It’s fine to cut them as long as you leave the stem two or three inches long and avoid cutting mid-day, when the sun is at its strongest.
  • Prune your dianthus if you notice that the plant seems to be thinning in spots.
  • Following the first strong frost, cut stems back so they’re just an inch or two long.

Pest control

People typically don’t experience too many pest problems when caring for dianthus, but greenflies and snails are both known to snack on dianthus leaves. Many people use traps or bait to deal with snails, and organic insecticide can be used for greenflies.

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