- Type Herbaceous flower
- Lifespan Annual, perennial, biennial
- USDA Zones 3-10
- Light Sun to part shade
- Soil Well-drained
- When to Plant Sow in spring
- Design Tip Flirty ground cover
- Companions Coreopsis, lamb's ear
- Peak Season Summer
Dianthus: A Field Guide
Dianthus is a genus of flowers that covers a lot of ground, so to speak. In addition to common garden pinks (the low-growing, candy-colored cultivars we most often associate with Dianthus, the taxonomic category includes carnations and sweet William (a species of pink that somehow managed to get its own horticultural nickname).
But don’t be confused. All kinds of Dianthus are useful garden flowers, with attractive grayish green foliage and adorable, starry blossoms. Carnations can be ruffled, pinks are often frilly, and sweet William is in a class by itself with its tightly packed balls of blooms.
Depending on the species and cultivar, Dianthus can be an annual, a tender perennial, or a biennial (looking at you, sweet William). But even in warmer growing zones (6 and higher), these are short-lived perennials and you probably won’t get more than two seasons of flowers out of them before they start to look scraggly. Replace them with impunity to keep a steady supply of flowers spilling over the front of the border of the edge of a path.
For some of our favorite varieties of pinks, see Gardening 101: Dianthus, for a closer look at D. alpinus (a delicate rock garden flower), D. plumarius (the one you think of when you close your eyes and envision pinks), and D. ‘Mrs. Sinkins’ (Vita Sackville-West’s favorite).