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Pink carnations with fine green foliage, growing in the garden.


A cottage garden favorite , Dianthus is a genus of flowering plants in the family Caryophyllaceae . Of the 300 species, most are native to Europe and Asia, some are native to North Africa, and one alpine species is native to the Arctic regions of North America.

Flowers within this popular genus include carnations ( D. caryophyllus ), garden roses D. plumarius) and sweet williams ( D. barbatus ).

Many are plants perennials herbaceous, but there are some yearly and biennials resistant available, and even some that are classified as dwarf shrubs.

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They have narrow, linear leaves with a blue-green hue that appear opposite each other on narrow stems.

Williams sweet red, pink and white, with other plants on the edge of a garden, next to a sidewalk with weeds growing through the cracks.

The flowers are typically made up of five petals, often with a ruffled or zigzag edge, in shades of white or red ranging from pale pink to deep maroon. They are usually two-tone.

With a long flowering period from late spring to early fall, its attractive mound growth and pretty blooms are complemented by an intoxicating fragrance of spicy sweetness reminiscent of cinnamon and cloves.

Horse chestnut - flowers.
Top-down shot of red and pink carnation, with silver-green leaves.
Photo by Allison Sidhu.

With so much to love, you're probably eager to learn how to grow these beauties in the garden. Here's what's to come:


One of the first cultivated flowers, the species of Dianthus They have been revered for centuries and were common in ancient Greek and Roman times. They often appeared in ornate friezes adorning buildings of importance and were added to celebratory garlands.

The name of this genus is derived from a combination of the Greek words God (God and anthos (flower), or "flower of the gods."

Red carnation with dark green foliage, growing in the garden with rocks in the surrounding ground and trees in the background.

Dandelion flowers

How they came to be called that is a bit murky, but there are a couple of viable stories to consider.

One myth holds that Diana, the Greek goddess of hunting, blamed a flute-playing shepherd for driving away her prey. In a fit of resentment, she gouged out his eyes, and where they fell, red carnations grew, symbolizing innocent blood.

Two potted Dianthus chinensis flowers, with deep pink flowers bordered by spiky foliage of lighter pink and green.

In Christian mythology, carnations are said to first bloom along the Via Dolorosa, where Mary's tears fell when Jesus carried the cross to Golgotha, another reference to the symbolism of innocent blood.

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Roses and carnations have long been the cottage garden favorites and they are very popular for use in rockeries . Thanks to its exceptional longevity when cut and their magnificent fragrance, they are also an excellent cut flower for flower arrangements , and carnations are still the flower of choice for boutonnieres.

Pink dianthus with many buds and green foliage on dark brown soil.
Roses feature a zigzag petal border. Photo by Lorna Kring.

With its many shades ranging from white to pink to red, it's easy to see why. D. plumarius took the nickname "roses".

As a side note, the verb "to pink" became popular in the 15th century and means "to finish an edge with a scalloped, notched, or other ornamental pattern." As if they were trimmed with scissors jagged , D. plumaris it exhibits delicately notched petals, in addition to a rosy hue.


Hardiness varies between species, from zones 3 to 9 , but they are all easily grown in the home garden.

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If you're not sure yours will survive the winter in your area, be sure to cut back a few cuttings or overwinter the seedlings until next spring. (See propagation notes below.)

Carnations grow to a height of 24 inches, sweet williams have an upright habit of up to 18 inches, and old-fashioned roses form mounds that can reach 6 to 10 inches. Alpine roses are the smallest, forming mats only 4-6 inches tall.

Flowering alpine pink carnation ground cover growing on top of a rock wall.
Dianthus Alpine rose is perfect for rock gardens.

The short mound-forming roses make a striking accent in front of edging, rockeries, and window boxes. Sweet williams and taller carnations can be placed further back in garden beds for an attractive second coat of color.

Everyone likes a place in full sun where they get at least 6 hours of sunlight each day and need well-drained soil. Adequate air circulation is also important.

Before planting, give them a rich soil have 2 to 4 inches of well rotten compost worked to a depth of 12 inches, and reapply a compost compost in spring.

Roses that grow in the garden, with green foliage and buds.
Mound-forming roses. Photo by Lorna Kring.

Water new plants weekly. They can be fertilized every 4-6 weeks with an all-purpose liquid fertilizer like 20-10-20 during the growing season, or applied a slow-release granule form fertilizer in the spring.

Pinch or cut off dead flowers to prevent seed formation and encourage additional blooming. At the end of the growing season, cut the flower stalks down to the ground.

To protect yourself from winter, add a dry mulch layer of 4 inches after the first hard frost and remove in spring once new growth begins.


Carnation can be propagated from seeds that start inside , sown directly in the garden or grown from stem cuttings.

To plant from seed, start indoors 2-8 weeks before the last frost in your area. Plant in a light, loamy soil mix, scattering seeds on top and then covering with a light layer of soil.

Close-up of a group of blooming garden roses of D. gratianopolitanus '' Firewitch '', with serrated edges on each petal and narrow dark greenish-blue leaves.
Garden roses D. gratianopolitanus 'Firewitch'.

Cover the container with a bell or plastic bag to keep the soil moist and warm. Once the seedlings have 2-3 true leaves, move them to their own pots. Transplant outdoors once they are 4-5 inches tall.

To direct sowing outdoors, plant seeds 1/8 inch deep after all danger of frost has passed. Keep the soil moist, and once they have 2-3 leaves, thin to 8-12 inches apart.

To get started with stem cuttings, cut several non-flowering stems from the mother plant just below the joint of a leaf.

Pink and white carnation flower with a black center and jagged-edged petals, set against a green foliage background in shallow focus.

Trim the bottom leaves, leaving 4-5 sets of leaves at the top of the stem. Dip the base in a hormone rooting powder and place it around the perimeter of a container filled with light potting soil.

Water, then put it in a plastic bag, securing the top with a zip tie. Located in a sheltered spot in the garden that receives the light of the morning sun, but out of the afternoon sun.

Stem cuttings should root in about 4-5 weeks. Remove the ball of soil and gently separate the cuttings, then place them in individual containers.

Spend the winter in a sheltered place that is protected from frost and freezing temperatures. Plant in spring once the soil warms up.


The new cultivars are bred to be resistant to disease and, for the most part, do not present problems.

They don't like wet feet or damp, humid conditions. Take care of these needs and they will be well prepared to fight the attack.

A white butterfly Aporia crataegi pollinates a pink and white Dianthus barbatus flower, with a green background in shallow focus.
A butterfly Aporia crataegi pollinate a flower of D. barbatus .

Carnation flies sometimes lay their eggs in the foliage of carnations, burrowing into the leaves and creating pale "tunnels." The complementary planting with garlic or spraying with a garlic tea will kill flies and their larvae.

Clusters of sweet william white flowers with red centers and green leaves.

Rust can be prevented by providing adequate ventilation. Remove and discard leaves infected with rusty or brown marks on the leaves, or treat with an application of copper oxychloride. Infected plant matter should be thrown away, not added to the compost pile.

Powdery mildew is forms on leaves in warm, humid conditions. Provide adequate ventilation and destroy affected plants, or treat with a benomyl fungicide.


Plant type: Perennial herbaceous; some species are annual Flower / Foliage Color: White, lilac, red and pink
Native to: Europe, Asia, North Africa, North America Tolerance: Light frost
Resistance (USDA Zone): 3-9 Soil type: Organically rich
Flowering time / season: Late spring to early fall Soil pH: 6 to 7.5
Exposition: Full sun Soil drainage: Well draining
Spacing: 6-12 inches depending on the species Attracts: Bees, beneficial insects, birds, butterflies
Planting depth: Seeds: surface 1/8 inch deep; transplants: same depth as container Accompanying sowing: Varies by species, height, and use.
Height: 4-24 inches depending on the species Applications: Beds, pots, cut flowers and massive plantings
Spread: 4-18 inches depending on the species Order: Caryophils
Growth rate: Fast Gender: Caryophyllaceae
Water needs: Moderate Gender: Carnation
Maintenance: Moderate Species: - D. alpinus
- D. caryophyllus
- D. gratianopolitanus
- D. chinensis
- D. armory
- D. plumarius
- D. superbus
- D. barbatus
Plagues and diseases: Aphids, carnation flies, rust and powdery mildew


Colorful, fragrant and easy to grow, the cultivars of Dianthus they are a delicious addition to the garden or containers.

Provide plenty of sunlight, good drainage, and plenty of fresh air for flowers and fragrance all summer long.

Try a mix of sweet roses and williams for borders and rockeries, and add some carnations to cut and bring indoors for floral arrangements.



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