The Dianthus genus is large and varied and includes evergreen perennials, biennials and annuals. However, the most popular garden type are referred to as ‘garden pinks’. This is not because they are all pink but because the flowers have a serrated edge as if they have been trimmed with pinking shears.
Garden pinks are a reliable and easy-to-care-for addition to the garden that have been grown for centuries. They are hardy perennials with grey-green evergreen or semi-evergreen foliage and flowers in shades of pink, magenta, salmon pink and white. They have scented single or double flowers nearly all summer and most repeat flower if deadheaded. Garden pinks look good in cottage gardens and herbaceous borders. They also make good cut flowers, and have a lovely, clove-like scent.
The more compact alpine pinks are perfect for planting in pots, window boxes and hanging baskets and also look good in rockeries.
Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus), grown as biennials for early summer flowers, are also part of the Dianthus family.
The carnation, favoured by florists, is a relative of the pink but does not offer the clove-like scent of a pink.
How to grow pinks
Grow pinks in well-drained compost in full sun. Cut back after flowering to encourage a second flush of blooms, and feed with a liquid tomato feed. Cut back again in autumn.
Dianthus are not long lived plants – after a few years they go woody at the base and look rather straggly. They are easily propagated by cuttings, however, so you can create fresh plants each year.
When growing pinks as a cut flower, wait until the buds have slightly opened before picking – if you pick them when the buds are closed the perfume won’t be as strong. They can last for a couple of weeks in a cool room.
More on growing pinks:
Dianthus: jump links
- Where to grow dianthus
- How to care for dianthus
- How to propagate dianthus
- Dianthus problem-solving
- Types of dianthus to grow
Where to plant pinks
Pinks are hardy and cope well in hot summers and very cold winters. They do best in a neutral or alkaline soil. Choose a position where they’re not crowded or competing with other plants. An open position is beneficial and a well-drained soil is essential.
How to plant pinks
Pinks require a well-drained soil. Improve heavy soils by digging in grit prior to planting. Alternatively plant pinks in pots of peat-free, multi-purpose compost. Plants should settle in quickly if grown in the right conditions, so you won’t need to water them for long. Alpine pinks are perfect for pots.
How care for pinks
Deadhead spent blooms and feed with a liquid tomato feed to encourage a second or even third flush of flowers. Some of the very old-fashioned pinks might not flower more than once a year.
In autumn cut back the faded blooms and any leaves that look scruffy. Lightly trim the foliage to encourage fresh growth.
Pinks are not long-lived – they have a tendency to sprawl in the middle and go woody at the base – so it’s not unusual to have to replace them after about six years. You can take cuttings each year to keep a fresh supply of plants going.
How to propagate pinks
Dianthus are shortlived plants, so cuttings are a good way of keeping your plants going. Cuttings (known as pipings) can be taken any time from June to September. Here’s our step-by-step guide:
Choose some non-flowering shoots and cut them off just above a node. Aim for a cutting that’s about 6cm long.
Remove the lower leaves, then push the cuttings into a pot of pre-watered cutting compost.
Cover with a plastic bag and leave the cuttings on a sunny windowsill.
It can take between four and six weeks for cuttings to root. Once they have rooted (when you gently tug the plant, it will remain firm in the compost), plant each cutting separately into its own small pot of multipurpose compost and water in.
Grow on in a cool greenhouse or cold frame over the autumn and winter and plant out in the garden the following spring.
Growing pinks: problem solving
Rabbits love dianthus of all types. Avoid growing them if rabbits are a problem in your garden. Dianthus are, however, resistant to deer.
Rotting stems foliage can be caused by soil that is too wet, or not enough sunlight. Pinks grow best in full sun, in well drained soil. Do not overwater.
Great pinks to grow
‘Red Dwarf’ is an alpine pink – a robust, mat-forming perennial suited to growing in very-well drained soil in beds, borders or containers. This variety has raspberry-pink flowers, deep crimson at the centre that appear from late spring to early autumn. Height x spread: 10cm x 30cm
‘Memories’ has double, white blooms that release a fruity aroma. It’s a great choice for a twilight or moon garden. Discover more plants for evening scent. H x S: 10cm x 30cm
‘Sugar Plum’ is a striking variety with double, hot pink flowers edged with creamy pink. Richly scented, it grows to form a mound of glaucous foliage and summer blooms. H x S: 40cm x 30cm
‘Pop Star’ is an alpine variety with baby pink, clove-scented flowers. The deeply fringed petals make this a particularly eye-catching variety. H x S: 10cm x 15cm
As the name suggests, ‘Candy Floss’ has bright pink, double flowers with a sweet fragrance. Plant it in containers or borders near paths or seating areas to make the most of the fragrance. H x S: 30cm x 30cm
This stunning variety has pure white, single flowers with a pink, halo-like ‘eye’ in the centre. Reaching up to 5cm in diameter, the flowers are relatively large for a pink and have a delicious fragrance. H x S: 45cm x 35cm
Dianthus carthusianorum has tiny pink blooms atop tall stems that emerge from a mat of grey-green foliage. Good for the front of a border or gravel garden. H x S: 50 x 20cm
Dianthus cruentus is a pretty alpine pink. It has tall, upright flower stems on which clusters of pink-red flowers appear in late spring and summer, which contrast beautifully with blue-green, evergreen foliage. H x S: 60cm x 15cm.