How to Grow and Care for Dianthus


Dianthus plants have been used in the garden for generations and were probably grown by your grandmother. These plants have very thin almost grass-like leaves. The flowers have the characteristic of fringed edges on the petals. 

One of the common names for dianthus is “pinks” which is not about the color but rather the irregular edge. Dianthus is available in shades of red, pink, and white. There are annual varieties, perennials and even biennials. 

The flowers of dianthus can be single or double, and they all have irregular fringed borders. Another trait of dianthus is the scent. The flowers have a spicy scent reminiscent of cloves. 

Many gardeners purposely plant dianthus on the borders of their garden paths so they can enjoy the scent as they walk past. Dianthus is also a favorite of pollinators, so include some in your butterfly garden.

Additionally, dianthus can be upright plants or mounding or trailing, so be careful to purchase the type of plant you want for your planting location of choice in the garden. The height of the plant can vary from 6 inches to 36 inches depending on the variety you choose.

red admiral  on a dianthus flower

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Dianthus need a minimum of six hours of sunlight each day. They will survive with less light, but they won’t flower as fully. This plant prefers well-draining soil. If your soil is more clay-based, you might want to plant the dianthus in a pot or container where they will also be very happy. 

Dianthus needs about one inch of water per week. This trait and the dianthus’ preference for well-draining soil make them a perfect choice for a rock garden or alpine garden.

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When Do Dianthus Bloom?

Dianthus plants will traditionally bloom in the spring with bright long-lasting flowers that cover the plant. Often a second bloom in fall can be almost as splendid. Between blooms, the neat and tidy blue green mound of foliage will offer an attractive ground cover for neighboring flowering plants like stunning roses, dahlias, or salvias. 

Breeders are successfully working to expand the blooming time of dianthus so they will flower throughout the summer. The big key to keeping the plant flowering is to deadhead the spent flowers. If you have a large amount of dianthus, you can even shear the plants after the spring bloom and you will ensure a second display of flowers in the fall.

dianthus flower

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Dianthus is a light feeder, so it won’t compete with the neighboring plants for the soil nutrients. Add some compost to the soil around the dianthus plant in the spring, and it will be very happy all season.

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Growing Dianthus from Seed

Dianthus is very easy to grow from seed. You can use seeds saved from your plants, but they may not result in the same plant as its parent. Purchase new seeds to assure your seedlings develop into the plants you want, and the color of flowers you prefer. 

Start your seed about two months before the last frost date in your growing zone. Start the seeds in a seed tray for indoors, keeping the trays in a warm area with lots of sun or supplement them with grow lights and a plant heat mat. It is important to use a heat mat designed for plants as it is sealed and waterproof, and it will not pose an electrical threat. 

The seeds should germinate in eight to ten days. Keep growing in these conditions until the plants are about four inches tall. Gradually harden off outdoors and plant in their permanent location once the danger of frost is past.

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Using Dianthus Cuttings to Grow New Plants

If you prefer, you can take cuttings from the ‘mother’ plant to propagate new plants. In mid-summer take two-to-three-inch cuttings from the plant you want to propagate. Use rooting hormone by dipping the cut end into the hormone. 

Insert the cutting into the potting soil mixed with vermiculite. The potting soil should be moist but not soggy. Insert the cutting deep enough so that at least one node is below the soil line. Place the cuttings in a warm sunny location. Keep the soil moist. 

It will take about a month for the cutting to root. If successful, you will see new leaves developing. Once there is new growth, the cuttings can be planted in their permanent home.

Whether you start from seeds or a cutting, growing dianthus is very straightforward and is worth the effort to add to every gardener’s flower bed.