How to grow dianthus (pinks, carnations and sweet Williams)

How to grow dianthus (pinks, carnations and sweet Williams)

Enjoy the sweet heady scent of pinks in summer

Image above: Dianthus at Lakeland Horticultural Society garden, Holehird, Windermere

Dainty pinks are one of the staples of the English cottage garden; their gorgeous clove scent fills a warm summer evening. They are the traditional pinks, carnations and Sweet Williams that are one of the florist’s staples, being one of the cut flowers which last a long time. Carnations have largely fallen out of fashion, both at the florists and being grown in our gardens; unlike the pinks and Sweet Williams they generally don’t have much scent.

There are around 300 species with the bulk of them coming from Eastern Europe and Asia. They were much favoured by the ancient Greeks and Romans. They come in a single or a bi-coloured form in shades of pink, red and white. Their long flowering period, late spring to early autumn, makes them a popular perennial herbaceous plant. Most of the varieties for sale in the UK are hardy, provided they have good drainage. The height varies from 15cm (6”) for the alpine varieties to 60cm (24”) for carnations.

Dianthus Pink Kisses


Full sun; if they are in partial shade they will flower but not nearly as profusely, with a good air flow.


Well-drained humus rich; when planting add a mixture of good quality peat-free compost and grit.

Feed and water

Add some general fertiliser when planting then as soon as they start to form buds feed weekly with a tomato fertiliser. For the first year after planting make sure it is well watered, waiting until the soil is dry before watering again.


It is vital that you keep deadheading, cut the stems back to the base, otherwise it will stop producing more flowers to concentrate on seed production. Mulch in winter to give the crown some protection then remove it in spring.

Pests and diseases

They are generally quite trouble free, occasionally they will get rust and powdery mildew if there isn’t a good airflow around them. This usually is more prevalent when the weather is cool and wet. Spray with an organic fungicide or just remove all the infected leaves.

Greenfly can occasionally be a problem, so just rub them off between finger and thumb or feed the birds and hoverflies who will remove them for you.

If the flowers and buds drop and the foliage goes yellow, they have probably got root rot, caused by sitting in wet compost. Remove them immediately and take all the sodden compost from around their roots then pot them on into a good free draining compost; a 50/50 mix of horticultural grit and John Innes No 2. If the roots are very damaged they may not recover and if they do they will take a long time to return to a healthy state, so unless you have somewhere to keep it out of the limelight it may be better to throw it away.

Profile Image Angela Slater

Angela Slater

Daughter of a farmer and market gardener so have always had a connection with the outdoors, whether it was keeping animals or producing fruit, vegetables and cut flowers. Along with my work at Hayes Garden World I also have a smallholding, mainly breeding rare breed pigs. I gained an HND and BSc in Conservation and Environmental Land Management, as a result I am an ardent environmentalist and have a keen interest in environmentally friendly gardening. In my time at Hayes I worked for several years in the Outdoor Plant and Houseplant areas.