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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 chinensis

Chinese Pink, Rainbow Pink
Perennials, 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 chinensis Telstar (photo courtesy of Thomas J. Story)
Dianthus chinensis Telstar (photo courtesy of Thomas J. Story)

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Dianthus chinensis

Biennial or short-lived perennial; most varieties are grown as annuals. Erect plant to 6–30 in. high and 6–10 in. wide; stems branch only at top. Stem leaves are narrow, 1–3 in. long, 1/2 in. wide, hairy on margins. Basal leaves are usually gone by flowering time. Flowers are about 1 in. across, rose-lilac with a deeper-colored eye; lack fragrance.

Modern strains are compact domes (1 ft. high or less) covered with bright flowers in white, pink, red, and all variations and combinations of those colors. Petals are deeply fringed on some, smooth-edged on others. Some flowers have intricately marked eyes. ‘Fire Carpet’ is solid red; ‘Snowfire’, white with a red eye. Telstar is a bushy, extra-dwarf (6–8 in.) strain with dark green leaves. Sow directly in ground in spring, in full sun, for summer bloom. Pick off faded flowers with their bases to prolong bloom.

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