The Dianthus genus is large and varied and includes evergreen perennials and annuals. However, the most popular type are referred to as ‘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 have been grown for centuries for their April-to-September pink and white bi-coloured or single coloured blooms. Mat-forming pinks are hardy perennials with silver, evergreen foliage. They have scented single or double flowers nearly all summer and most repeat flower if deadheaded. Pinks are ideal for cutting and are a reliable and easy-to-care-for addition to the garden.
The carnation, favoured by florists, is a relative of the pink but does not offer the clove-like scent of a pink. Sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus), grown as biennials for early summer flowers, are also part of the Dianthus family.
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.
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:
Find out how to grow Dianthus in our detailed Grow Guide.
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 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.
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, so it’s not unusual to have to replace them after about six years. Alternatively take cuttings each year to insure against loss.
How to propagate pinks
Cuttings can be taken any time from March to September. Choose non-flowering shoots and cut them off just above a node at about 6cm long. Remove the lower leaves and push the cuttings into a pot of pre-watered cutting compost. Cover with a plastic bag and leave them on a sunny windowsill. It can take between four and six weeks for cuttings to root.
Growing pinks: problem solving
Dianthus of all types are appealing to rabbits. Avoid growing them if rabbits are a problem in your garden.
Great pinks to grow
- Dianthus ‘Mrs Sinkins’ – highly scented white flowers. Flowers in May and June. A very old variety reaching 50cm in height
- Dianthus ‘Doris’ – a modern pink with double scented flowers that repeat flower from June onwards Reaches 40cm
- Dianthus ‘Bright Eyes’ – white flowers with a burgundy eye. Great perfume. Repeat flowering. Reaches 28cm
- Dianthus ‘Laced Monarch’ – scented, pink, double blooms with a burgundy trim. Repeat flowering from June to September. Reaches a height of 35cm
- Dianthus ‘Letitia Wyatt’ – soft pink, scented double flowers. Reaches a height of 40cm