The dianthus plant is the quintessential cottage flower. Dianthus, also called pinks, is treasured for its grasslike, blue-green foliage and abundant starry flowers, which are often spicily fragrant. Dianthus plants range from tiny creeping groundcovers to 30-inch-tall cut flowers, which are a favorite with florists. The “pink” part of their name has a two-fold meaning: Plants are often pink in color, and the petals have a fringed look as if someone took pinking shears to their edges.
Dianthus plants come in all shapes and sizes, including miniature varieties that form a tight little lump of foliage and blooms, and giant species reaching up to 3 feet tall with almost no basal foliage. These plants are typically mat-forming perennials that form very tight-knit spreads of foliage. As they continue to grow, you may sometimes get dead spots within the center of the foliage. When this occurs, divide the plant and re-plant to encourage new growth and to remove any old, dead foliage.
Flowers of dianthus are extremely variable and offer something for everyone. Many of the blossoms include interesting patterns and colors with large blotches of deep reds, or rings of color on the outside of the petals. There are also many blooms that have fully double blossoms. Others still are borne in clusters at the tip of the stalk, creating the look of a mini bouquet. Blooms of some, like D. superbus, have an extremely long and exaggerated fringe on the edge of the petals, like they have streamers flying off each tip. Blooms are also quite fragrant and smell like cloves, with a spicy-sweet floral scent.
No matter what dianthus you grow, it is important to remove any spent blooms. This will encourage the plant to continue flowering, and prevent them from wasting energy on producing seed.
Several species of dianthus blossoms are edible. They offer a similar taste to their smell and have a clove-like spiciness. Note: Check to see if species are safe to consume and take care before tasting dianthus. (In addition to confirming edibility, make sure flowers are chemical free, too.)
Dianthus Care Must-Knows
If you are thinking of planting dianthus, look for a location that boasts a good amount of sun. In too much shade, you can lose portions of the mat-forming types to rot. These types also prefer well-drained soil. If the base of the plant stays too moist, the crown can rot. Taller forms, like carnations, also need full sun to prevent them from flopping over. However, even in full sun, some of the tall types may need additional support.
Removing old blooms on all types of dianthus encourages reblooming. Depending on what type you have, make sure you are familiar with whether the plant is a true perennial or a biennial. If biennial types are blooming, this will most likely be their last year. If you leave some of the spent blooms on the plant, they will most likely seed around your garden so that you still have plants next year.
The most common dianthus is the carnation. Carnations are one of the oldest cut flowers, with their documented use reaching back as far as 2,000 years ago. With the continued breeding and improvements made to this flower today, there are a wide variety of colors and sizes available, although much of the scent that used to be so potent in dianthus has been bred away.
Related: The Best Perennials for Your Yard
Another common dianthus is sweet William. Sweet Williams bear their flowers in clusters at the tips of the stems. These flowers often have patterns or circles of many colors on their petals creating quite a stunning effect. In the garden, these plants tend to be either biennial or short-lived perennials.
More Varieties of Dianthus
Fruit Punch 'Apple Slice' Dianthus
Dianthus superbus flowers have extremely exaggerated fringed petals.
'Arctic Fire' Maiden Pinks
Dianthus deltoides 'Arctic Fire' is a mat-forming plant with dark green foliage and white flowers with a pink eye ringed in red. Flowers partially close in the evening.
Dianthus chinensis is most often grown as a cool-season annual flower, although it can be a short-lived perennial in Zones 5 and warmer. Its common name comes not from the pink color of its flowers, but rather from the jagged edge of the flower petals, which look as though they have been cut with a pinking shear.
'Firewitch' Cheddar Pinks
Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Firewitch' has fringed, fragrant magenta blooms and grows just 6 inches tall. The major flush of bloom is in midspring to early summer, but the plant blooms sporadically in late summer and fall. It is hardy in Zones 3-8.
'Grans' Favorite' Border Pinks
Dianthus 'Grans' Favorite' is an old-fashioned scented pink with double miniature carnationlike pink blooms with raspberry-red edging.
Dianthus caryophyllus is the same species grown as a cut flower by florists. Hardy in Zones 8-10, it produces sprays of spicily scented blooms on stems 18-30 inches long. It may need staking in the garden.
'Ideal Violet' Hybrid Dianthus
Dianthus 'Ideal Violet' is bred for winter cold resistance and summer heat tolerance. It is an excellent cool-season annual or short-lived perennial with fragrant red-violet blooms on 10- to 12-inch-tall plants.
'La Bourboule Pink' Cheddar Pinks
Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'La Bourboule Pink' forms a compact mound of foliage no more than an inch or two tall. Magenta pink flowers rise several inches above the blue-green foliage in mid- to late spring.
'Red Maiden' Maiden Pinks
Dianthus deltoides 'Red Maiden' is hot pink and forms a mat of deep green foliage on which 12-inch-tall flowers appear in late spring. It is hardy in Zones 3-8.
'Rose de Mai' Border Pinks
Dianthus plumarius 'Rose de Mai', also sometimes called gillyflower, is an old-fashioned flower with highly fragrant pale pink blooms in midspring to early summer. It is hardy in Zones 4-10.
'Sooty' Sweet William
Dianthus barbatus nigrescens 'Sooty' has unique maroon-tinged foliage and dark red flowers with wonderful Sweet William fragrance.
'Spotty' Cheddar Pinks
Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Spotty' gets its name from its charming spotted flowers, which are dark pink spotted with lighter pink.
Dianthus barbatus is a biennial or short-lived perennial. Allow it to self-seed in the garden to ensure its return the following year. It is a great addition to the cottage garden with its 2-foot-tall clusters of fragrant red, pink, white, or bicolor blooms.
Dianthus Companion Plants
One of the longest bloomers in the garden, hardy geranium bears little flowers for months at a time. It produces jewel-tone, saucer-shape flowers above mounds of handsome lobed foliage. It needs full sun and is a tough and reliable plant, thriving in a wide assortment of soils. Many of the best are hybrids. Perennial geraniums may form large colonies.
Exciting new selections with incredible foliage patterns have put coralbells on the map. Previously enjoyed mainly for their spires of dainty reddish flowers, coralbells are now grown as much for the unusual mottling and veining of different-color leaves. The low clumps of long-stemmed evergreen or semi-evergreen lobed foliage make coralbells fine groundcover plants. They enjoy humus-rich, moisture-retaining soil. Beware of heaving in areas with very cold winters.
Named for the Greek goddess of the rainbow, iris indeed comes in a rainbow of colors and in many heights. All have the classic intricate flowers. The flowers are constructed with three upright "standard" petals and three drooping "fall" petals, which are often different colors. The falls may be "bearded" or not. Some cultivars bloom a second time in late summer. Some species prefer alkaline soil while others prefer acidic soil.
Garden Plans for Dianthus
Small-Space Spring Garden
You don't need a lot of space to create a great springtime display, thanks to this garden plan.
Butterfly Garden Plan
Create a lush island butterfly garden bed of flowers that will bring beautiful fluttering insects to your garden.
Easy Slope Garden Plan
This mix of easy annuals and tough perennials will beautify any slope. Follow this garden plan to get the look in your green space.
Soften a Fence with This Lush Border Garden Plan
The exciting plants included in this design will provide long-lasting color, fragrance, and texture that will leave you saying, "What fence?"
Bask in tropical delight with this dreamy patio garden.