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Dianthus gratianopolitanus (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)
Dianthus gratianopolitanus (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)

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Zones A2, A3, 1-24
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Full, Partial
Regular Water

Dianthus barbatus

Sweet William
Annuals, Flowers


This genus is made up of more than 300 species and an extremely large number of hybrids. Most kinds form attractive evergreen mats or tufts of grasslike green, gray-green, blue-green, or gray-blue leaves. Single, semidouble, or double flowers come in white and shades of pink, rose, red, yellow, and orange. Many have a rich, spicy fragrance. The main bloom period for most is spring into early summer, but some kinds rebloom later in the season or keep going into fall if faded flowers are removed.

Among dianthus are favorites such as cottage pink and sweet William, highly prized cut flowers such as carnation (clove pink), and rock garden miniatures. There are hundreds of varieties and hybrids available, including some local favorites.

All kinds of dianthus thrive in light, fast-draining soil. Carnations, sweet William, and cottage pinks need fairly rich soil. Rock garden or alpine types require a gritty growing medium, with added lime if soil is acid. Avoid overwatering. Sow seeds of annual kinds in flats or directly in the garden. Propagate perennial kinds by cuttings made from tips of growing shoots, by division or layering, or from seed. Carnation and sweet William are subject to rust and fusarium wilt. 

Dianthus barbatus ‘Bouquet Purple’ (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)
Dianthus barbatus ‘Bouquet Purple’ (photo courtesy of Denver Botanic Gardens)

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Dianthus barbatus

Vigorous biennial often grown as an annual. From southern Europe. Grows to 20 in. high and 1 ft. wide, with sturdy stems. Leaves are flat, light to dark green. Dense clusters of white, pink, rose, red, purplish, or bicolored flowers, about 1/2 in. across, set among leafy bracts; not very fragrant. Sow seeds in late spring for bloom the following year. Double-flowered and dwarf strains are obtainable from seed. Indian Carpet is only 6 in. high. The Amazon series grows to 18–36 in. high.

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