Basic information about Dianthus. Includes Origin, Growing & Cultivation, Common Pests & Diseases, Interesting Facts & Uses, and Garden Design Tips.
The botanical name, Dianthus, is taken from the Greek words ‘Dios’ (‘of Zeus’) and ‘Anthos’ (‘flower’) and was given by Theophrastus, a Greek botanist.
This plant has many common names (some specific to species or species groups), including Pinks (see below), Sweet William (a reference to the fragrance, along with a corruption of the French ‘oillet’ or ‘little eye’), and Carnation (commonly thought to have originated as the Greek ‘coronation’ or ‘corone’ meaning ‘flower garland or crown’ since they were used in ceremonial flower crowns).
Dating from the 1400s, the verb ‘to pink’ meant ‘to decorate with a perforated or punched pattern’.
Additionally, the color pink may have been named after this flower!
Dianthus is large genus with around 300 species; all are native to the Northern Hemisphere, with the majority native to Europe and Asia, with some representatives in North Africa and one in the North America artic region.
Growing and Cultivation
Dianthus prefers full sun and fertile, well-drained and neutral to slightly alkaline soil conditions. They do not tolerate ‘wet feet’, especially in winter. Dianthus enjoy either a fertilizer feeding every 2 months during the season, or a slow-release worked into the soil when planting. Some varieties are self-sowing; you may deadhead old blossoms to prevent this and encourage rebloom. Dianthus perennials can be short-lived; saving seed or dividing frequently (every 2-3 years) is recommended to prevent fade-out and loss of vigor. Good air circulation and careful watering is important to prevent mildew. Dianthus foliage may turn yellow with over-watering; watering once a week (more in drought conditions) should be enough for established plants. Dianthus should not be mulched (or mulched very carefully) to avoid excess moisture retention around the crown (where stems meet roots at the soil level).
Common Pests and Diseases
Dianthus is susceptible to a variety of fungal mildew, molds and rots. They are all related to conditions becoming too wet for the plant.
Mildews, molds, and flower rots (gray or black waterlogged spots, blotches, areas or white/gray fuzzy patches) can show up on leaves and flowers that are consistently kept too moist or with water sitting on leaves/flowers and not evaporating promptly. Water ideally in the late morning, before the heat of the day but with plenty of time for evaporation. Do not water when it is dark and/or cold out (before sunrise or after sunset)! Plant with plenty of air circulation, do not allow Dianthus to become too crowded.
Root and stem rots (soft, squishy black or dark roots or stems) can occur in heavy soils or any soil with poor drainage. Amend heavy or poorly draining soils with perlite, bark, coarse sand, or other drainage helper.
Dianthus can also sometimes be attacked by spider mites and aphids (look for webbing or bugs) – these may be sprayed off with a garden hose or treated with insecticidal soaps or oils.
This plant is fairly deer resistant and moderately rabbit-resistant; the strong taste makes it unattractive to eat.
Interesting Facts and Uses
Dianthus blossoms are beautiful and long-lived as cut flowers – many will keep for as long as 2 weeks in a vase! They are well known for their spicy, clove-like scent.
The flowers are also edible and can be used for flavoring, and have historically been used in wine, soups, sauces and jams.
Some more places to add Dianthus flower’s spicy clove flavor and bright colors include salads, cakes, punches, and ice cream. It’s recommended to remove the white heel at the base of each petal, due to its bitter taste.
Dianthus flowers attract and feed bees, butterflies and hummingbirds, making it an excellent addition to pollinator-friendly gardens.
Garden Design Tips
Dianthus is available in many growing forms and colors that give it a wide range of uses in the garden. Tall to medium varieties harmonize well with other perennials in a border such as heuchera, larkspur, lavender, hardy geraniums, poppies, roses and sage. Dwarf and spreading varieties work well as edging, in rock gardens or walls, or as groundcovers.
To purchase Dianthus varieties, please visit our Sun Companion Plants Page.