Are sweet williams annuals or perennials?

Dianthus Plants: How To Grow Dianthus

Dianthus flowers (Dianthus spp.) are also called “pinks.” They belong to a family of plants which includes carnations and are characterized by the spicy fragrance the blooms emit. Dianthus plants may be found as a hardy annual, biennial or perennial and most often used in borders or potted displays. A quick tutorial on how to grow dianthus reveals the ease of care and versatility of this attractive flowering plant.

Dianthus Plant

The dianthus plant is also called Sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) and has a fragrance with cinnamon or clove notes. The plants are small and usually between 6 and 18 inches tall. Dianthus flowers are most often in pink, salmon, red and white hues. The foliage is slender and sparsely spread on thick stems.

Dianthus had a short blooming season until 1971, when a breeder learned how to grow forms that did not set seed and, therefore, had a prolonged their bloom period. Modern varieties will typically bloom from May to October.

Planting Dianthus

Plant pinks in full sun, partial shade or anywhere they will receive at least 6 hours of sun.

The plants need fertile, well-drained soil that is alkaline.

Wait until the danger of frost has passed when planting dianthus and place them at the same level they were growing in the pots, with 12 to 18 inches between the plants. Do not mulch around them.

Water them only at the base of the plant to keep the foliage dry and prevent mildew spotting.

How to Care for Dianthus

Instructions on how to care for dianthus are very straightforward. Water the plants when dry and apply fertilizer every six to eight weeks. You may also work a slow-release fertilizer into the soil at planting, which will release you from the need to feed the plants.

Some varieties of dianthus are self-sowing, so deadheading is extremely important to reduce volunteer plants and to encourage additional blooming.

Perennial varieties are short lived and should be propagated by division, tip cuttings or even layering. Dianthus seed is also readily available at garden centers and may be started indoors six to eight weeks before the danger of frost has passed.

Dianthus Flower Varieties

There is a dianthus plant for almost any garden space and region. The typical annual dianthus is the Dianthus chinensis, or Chinese pinks.

The perennial varieties include Cheddar (D. gratianopolitanus), Cottage (D. plumarius) and Grass pinks (D. armeria). The foliage on all of these is blue-gray and each comes in a rainbow of colors.

D. barbatus is the common Sweet William and a biennial. There are both double and single flowers and the variety reseeds itself.

Allwood pinks (D. x allwoodii) are long lasting with flowering extending at least 8 weeks. They are mostly double flowering and come in two sizes, 3 to 6 inches and 10 to 18 inches tall.

The dianthus, carnation radiates a sweet and exotic odour, which provides gardens and balconies with unique flair. The opinion that this is a flower for mother-in-laws is invalid since there are numerous beautiful and powerful colours, which give every garden and balcony a matchless freshness. In addition, they are perfect cut flowers and decorate living rooms very tastefully. It will also bring you joy if you follow the right care instructions.

Plant Profile

  • Plant family: carnation family (Caryophyllaceae)
  • Type: carnations
  • Origin: temperate northern hemisphere
  • Herbaceous, persistent, cushion-forming annual or biennial plant
  • Growth height: depending on the kind between 20 centimetres and 70 centimetres
  • Blossom period: depending on the kind from May to August
  • Colour: white, pink, red, magenta, neon yellow, champagne, purple and two-coloured
  • Sepals on tall, simple or branched stems
  • Perennial

Implanted in the garden, carnations (dianthus) indulge our senses. Their long stems and colourful blossoms provide every garden with a summery atmosphere. Their origin lies in the northern hemisphere’s temperate climate zone. They are perennial and don’t need much care. Numerous sorts are available, which have different scents from subtle to powerful.

No matter if annual or biennial plants: these care instructions will provide you with all knowledge you need to achieve the carnation’s maximal beauty. The carnation has been known since 15. Century. White carnations became a symbol of marriage and love.

During the French Revolution, it demonstrated resistance of aristocratic society and red carnations in buttonholes showed opposition in the Parisian labour movement. Even today, the carnation has more symbolical meaning than most other plants. White symbolises friendship and loyalty, red carnations mean eroticism and pink ones represent love.


Carnations, dianthus don’t need much or intense care, but there are still some details that need to be kept in mind in order to ensure the best growth possible.


The carnation, dianthus likes sunny, wind-protected locations, which enable it to develop nicely. This applies to growth as well as colour intensity and odour development. If you choose a half-shaded place, the carnation will become less opulent.

Soil conditions

No matter if in a flowerbed, flower tub or balcony trough: it’s important to choose the right soil conditions in order to get vital and blossomy carnations.

  • humous, nutrient-rich soil
  • moderately damp
  • permeable
  • mainly chalky soil
  • neutral pH-number below 7.0

The maiden pink (Dianthus deltoides) is an exception. Those also like slightly sour soil. Carnations (dianthus) are sensitive to too much humidity. That’s why they should not be planted next to other plants that require much water. They should not be put near streams or rivers either, because those areas are often permanently damp. The fringed pink (Dianthus superbum) is one of very few carnations that enjoys humidity.


In order to provide the optimal basis for growth, health and blossom, substrate is generally recommended. Should carnations decorate a flower tub or box, high-quality flower soil is necessary. It supplies carnations with nutrients they need for ideal prosperity. They will be more resistant and durable. Substrates that contain natural clay, bark mulch or wood fibre provide the perfect soil airing. White peat and perlite support the structure’s stability.


The perfect time to plant carnations is spring or autumn. Soil frost should be over in springtime and not yet arrived in autumn. If there is unexpected frost anyway, a protection foil could shelter the plants.

Plants in flowerbed

It’s necessary to prepare the soil properly to ensure that the carnations develop stately. It should be aerated with a rake first. Secondly, a hole for the plant can be dug. Stones or old roots need to be removed. It’s recommendable to add quartz sand, because it improves permeability and enables water to drain.

In addition, the soil should be mixed with compost or high-quality substrate. This will improve the carnation’s powerful growth. If there’s not enough chalk in the soil itself, some of it should be added as well.

This is how you should proceed:

  • depending on which carnation, you need to dig holes at a distance of about fifteen to thirty centimetres
  • put approximately three centimetres of quartz sand into the holes in order to create drainage
  • the hole should be twice as deep as the root ball’s size and there needs to be a three centimetre gap between roots and soil surface
  • mix the soil with substrate or compost and refill the hole
  • press the soil firmly
  • finally, you can water it slowly and moderately

Plants in a flowerpot

Planting carnations into flower tubs or balcony troughs works the same way as planting them into the ground. It’s important to use high-quality substrate, which provides carnations with the ideal basis for growth. Instead of quartz sand, it is also possible to scatter shards of earthenware on the ground, which works as drainage. You should make sure that there is a minimum distance of 2 centimetres between soil and the flower pot’s or box’ edge.

No water will spill over it when you water the flowers, even if the soil becomes muddy. It’s recommendable to use a saucer, which collects remaining water and prevents waterlogging if kept dry. Moisture-sensitive carnations will develop better.


Most kinds of carnations dislike dampness and manage well in dryness. That’s why they should only be watered moderately and not until the soil is almost completely dry. You can easily test that by pressing your thumb into the flower soil. If you can’t push it deeper than two centimetres, you can water the flower.


Although carnations don’t need much care, they enjoy manure. An organic start fertilizer is recommended when replanting or repotting fully-grown carnations. Apart from that, complete fertilizer should be added before blooming time in spring. After pruning back the sprouts and before a new blossom period, mineral fertilizer advisable. It should be used sparingly, because carnations are light feeders.

Overview over manuring periods:

  • start fertilizer when replanting or repotting
  • complete fertilizer in spring
  • mineral fertilizer after pruning back
  • providing carnations in flower pot or balcony trough with liquid fertilizer every 4 weeks
  • after manuring, flowers should be watered moderately; use chalky water if possible


Withered stems and blossoms should be cut away as soon as possible. They use up too many nutrients, which are needed for new blossoms. Consequently, the flowers will have fewer blossoms and existing ones will wither sooner.

The same applies to brown leaves, which can easily be removed. Normally, they just fall off when leaves turn brown. At the end of each blossom period, you can cut the flowers by maximal one third. This improves regrowth and appearance. Pruning back is recommendable if the plant has thin spots.

Carnations are beautiful cut flowers and look great in any vase. Two or three centimetres above earth’s surface, the flower’s stem can be cut off. This should be done when the blossoms are still slightly closed. However, don’t cut them off in summer’s hot midday sun. The cut surfaces show open pores and heat will damage the flower.


Most kinds of carnations are hardy until 15 degrees below zero. Humidity can still damage them when snow and soil frost drench the soil. Carnations in a flowerpot should be placed somewhere protected from the wind. It’s not advisable to put flower tubs on the ground. They should rather stand on polystyrene. It isolates carnations from cold soil frost.

Carnations in the garden get more than enough humidity through the ground in winter while the dampness of pot carnations needs to be controlled regularly and watered if needed. You should only water them when there is no frost.


Carnations are either annual or biennial plants. That’s why it’s necessary to remember propagation in time.


The easiest and most uncomplicated way is the propagation through cuttings. Cuttings of strong plants are cut at an angle and put into a pot with a mixture of peat and sand in it. Perfect cuttings have no blossoms, but at least three leaf nodes. The only thing you need to keep in mind is to water in a steady manner. The roots need rather humid soil to develop. Waterlogging, however, is to be avoided.

  • planting time for cuttings: late summer or autumn
  • time for root development: about eigth weeks
  • after approximately eight weeks, you can plant the cuttings into the flowerbed


The carnation’s seed is also able to propagate the flower. However, this is not as promising as propagation through cuttings.

This is how you should proceed:

  • the seeds can be extracted after the blossom period
  • when the seed capsules are opened, they have to be dried for one or two days
  • until spring, the seeds are stored in a dark container, which protects them from humidity
  • from March on, the seeds can be put into special seed boxes or into a small pot
  • cactus or special seed propagation soil are ideal
  • seeds are only slightly covered with soil
  • don’t water the soil, but spray it
  • a transparent foil needs to be put over the pot or box
  • soil needs to be sprayed with water regularly, because it needs to be equally damp
  • seedlings are pricked out at a height of about three centimetres
  • when the new plant is about eight centimetres high, it can be repotted or planted into a flowerbed
  • Germinating temperature: 15° Celsius
  • Location: bright without direct sun exposure


Division is the ideal way of propagation when a mother plant needs to be diminished. The mother plants needs to be dug out and cut to pieces with a sharp knife or spade. You need to make sure that all parts have buds. Following this, all parts need to be planted in the previously mentioned fashion. It’s recommendable to enrich the soil with compost.

It’s necessary to keep the soil humid during the first two or three weeks in order to improve the roots’ growth. The ideal time for division is before a new budding.


Carnations are not prone to special diseases. However, the risk for illnesses is higher when they are not treated properly.

Keeping a carnation at a dark location, which contains too much humidity, might lead to fungal diseases. If this is the case, the plant needs to be implanted into fresh soil mixed with nutrient-rich substrate and situated at a bright place. Normally, carnations recover quickly.



Greenflies are one of carnations’ biggest enemies. They feed from the leaves and cause them to wither. There will be no blossom. Insecticide, which is available in garden shops, helps. Organic insecticide against greenflies poses an eco-friendly alternative to chemical products.


Especially young plants are frequently plagued by snails. They devour the leaves almost completely. Apart from the visual damage, there will also be disturbances in growth and absences of budding. In spring, you should distribute snail bait around your carnations preventively.


It’s hard to estimate the exact number of species, because new kinds of carnations emerge all over the world continually. It is assumed that there currently are about 600 species and more than 2200 types. In European realms, the common pink, sweetwilliam and Carthusian pink are some of the most popular types. The clove pink, also called gillyflower, does also have blossoms at the stem.

Dianthus plumarius 1 of 4 Hibiscus syriacus with pest infestation Hibiscus syriacus

The maiden pink (Dianthus deltoides) is one of the most persistent carnations. Unlike most other types, it doesn’t like chalk. The number of cheddar pinks decreases continually, although it fills the garden with colourful blossoms as early as May. The ragged pink (Dianthus seguieri) is very impressive, because it’s an evergreen plant and grows up to 60 centimetres.

The large pink (Dianthus superbus) enjoys swampy and humid places. If cared for properly, it can also become about 60 centimetres high.

I recently attempted to explain to my friend Lucy just how lovely dianthus can be, but her response was to remove them from her online shopping basket and go back to looking at alliums. I pleaded: “They smell heavenly. You will be picking them all summer long, little posies of ruffled blossoms all over your kitchen.” But that failed to move her.

I should have qualified the difference between a carnation – the unscented, unloved flower of forecourts, top heavy and not great for the garden (and a species of dianthus) – and a pink, which is a darling, compact, scented variety that is easy to grow. (The name comes not from the colour, but the frilly edges, as in pinking shears.)

Get the basics right with pinks and they will flower non-stop from July to September, not minding a dry summer, which makes them perfect for pots. The Alpine sort will hunker down on windy balconies and window ledges. Pinks do require good amounts of light: they won’t grow in shade and they won’t tolerate wet roots. If you garden on clay, add lots of grit and then add some more, then a little more on top of that.

To keep them flowering, deadhead regularly. Pinch out the whole flowering stem so that the plant bushes out from the base. This will keep it neat. If the weather is dry, or the plants are pot-grown, water as necessary and feed them every two weeks with comfrey or phosphate-rich organic tomato feed to promote flowering. By the end of the September, they will need to be trimmed into a compact mound; this will keep them tidy over winter.

All pinks are descended from Dianthus plumarius, which is sweetly scented with fringed petals that range from pink to almost white. It grows up to 20cm tall and 60cm wide. Dianthus superbus has stronger, spicier perfume and wispy pink flowers. Dianthus superbus var. longicalycinus ‘Alba’ is perfection: spidery white, sweetly scented flowers on mounds of narrow foliage, happy in sun or part shade, as long as the drainage is good. Dianthus alpinus is a mat-forming Alpine that grows to 10cm high and is perfect for windswept window boxes.

There are thousands of cultivars, but I have a soft spot for ‘Pheasant Eye’ from 1690, with a deep-red centre, fringed white petals and red tips; ‘Gran’s Favourite’, which is a semi-white double with astounding scent; and ‘Dad’s Favourite’, which is said to have been bred by the weavers of Paisley in Scotland in the mid-19th century and has white petals, each edged in a broad, red line – good for cutting for the vase.

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Is That Plant ‘Perennial’ or ‘Annual’?

Each and every year, as the bleak winter months roll on, aspiring gardeners begin to plan their gardens for the coming year. Choices are made; should one once attempt to grow strawberries, or merely acquiesce to the inevitable supremacy of the zucchini? Is it worth trying to once again defy the seemingly innumerable creatures who gorge on tomatoes? Is this the year to grow flowers in addition to vegetables?

Our research tells us this is a dahlia, and as such it is a perennial.

For those who do decide to plant flowers there is quickly a decision which needs to be made: should one plant perennials or annuals? Those who are unfamiliar with the difference between such plants, and interested in having flowers that come back every year, may turn to a dictionary in order to make the correct choice. Given that annual may be defined as “occurring or happening every year or once a year,” some number of gardeners will doubtless plant this kind of flower, setting themselves up for years of disappointment and lifeless husks. Because while annual can indeed mean “occurring every year,” that is when it is applied to things like vision exams or holiday parties; when applied to plants, annual means “completing the life cycle in one growing season or single year.”

If you want plants that come back every year (at least until your poor gardening technique manages to kill them off) then you should be planting flowers that are perennial (“persisting for several years usually with new herbaceous growth from a perennating part”). Yes, annual and perennial share a root (both may be traced to the Latin word for “year,” annus, and the two words have considerable semantic overlap (both may mean “recurrent” in some way), but insofar as they relate to plants they are markedly different.

Both words may also function as nouns; an annual can be a publication occurring yearly, a yearly event, or “something that lasts one year or season (specifically, a plant that completes its growth in one growing season).” A perennial may be a recurrent topic, a continuing question, or “a plant (such as a tree or shrub, or an herb renewing the top growth seasonally) that lives for an indefinite number of years.” The noun form is somewhat more common in reference to gardening choices (perennials or annuals, rather than perennial flowers or annual plants).

Annual is the older of the words, in use as both noun and adjective since the 14th century. Perennial came into use in the early 17th century, first as an adjective meaning “lasting indefinitely; impervious to change.”

Sixtly, the creature intends immortality, which while it failes of in the dying or expiring of the particulars of euery sort, it would supply for the preseruation at least of the kindes, by a perenniall substitution of new particulars in euery kinde: and yet loseth all this labour, because all things must be dissolued, and must be restored by another way knowen to God and not now to nature.
— Nicholas Byfield, An exposition upon the Epistle to the Colossians, 1615

As, long or hard want doth sometimes sterue; so the perenniall current of wealth, of peace, or ease, with other outward blessings, doth usually drowne all sense or notion of that goodnesse, whence these and all other good things flow.
— Thomas Jackson, A treatise containing the originall of unbeliefe, misbeliefe, or misperswasions concerning the veritie, unitie, and attributes of the Deitie with directions for rectifying our beliefe or knowledge in the fore-mentioned points, 1625

Similarly to how these earliest uses of perennial mean “everlasting,” the first uses of this word when referring to plants were “evergreen”; later uses included the horticultural sense of “growing anew each year.” The earliest uses of annual were “covering the period of a year” (adjective) and “an event that occurs yearly” (noun); the application of this word to plants that die without your help each year came about the in 17th century.

Here is a shorter version: if you want plants that will ostensibly come back every year, buy perennials. If you are fine with your plants expiring every year and having to procure replacements, then buy annuals. And if you want plants that are dependable and behave as they are supposed to year after year, buy plastic ones.



The history of cottage gardens is perfumed with the pretty, frilly flowers of Dianthus. “Pink” is the well-known common name for Dianthus — but there are cottage pinks, Cheddar pinks, border pinks, Chinese pinks, and maiden pinks, to name just a few, each with its own charms. Hundreds of hybrids have been introduced, and many of them are deliciously clove-scented. Sweet William, which is especially easy to grow from seed, is also a member of the Dianthus family.

Dianthus Features

Dianthus are perennial, annual, or biennial plants with feathery silver-green or blue-gray leaves, usually forming a tight mound or mat. Dianthus flowers rise from two inches up to two feet above the leaves, sometimes leaning a little lazily as they stretch toward the sun. The blooms, which have a ruffled edge that looks as if it has been trimmed with pinking shears, are typically only about an inch across, but healthy plants produce dozens of showy flowers at once. Dianthus flowers may be snow white, blush pink, bright magenta, or bicolored, with a flashy contrasting center or picotee edge. ‘Diana’s Blueberry Hybrid’ is a soft but dazzling blue.

Dianthus Care

Dianthus are drought-tolerant plants for sunny spots at the edge of a flower bed or a path. The plants take hold willingly in the cracks of a rock wall, where their roots can stay cool. In small flower pots, pinks spread out to make a handsome display. They flourish in the cool temperatures in spring and fall, but they are surprisingly adaptable. As long as they are planted in well-drained soil, they tolerate heat and thrive where rainfall and humidity are high. Dianthus flowers bloom prolifically in early spring and summer, but many dianthus will rebloom throughout the gardening season if you cut flowers off as they fade. Hedge shears will do the trick, leaving a tufty mound of foliage. Do not mulch too close to your Dianthus.

Planting and Growing Perennials

Dianthus Pinks

Pinks were widely popular in colonial America: Thomas Jefferson mentioned pinks repeatedly in his garden diaries. He grew sweet William, which is a biennial dianthus (D. barbatus), and is sometimes called bunch pink or London pride. Dianthus pinks of all kinds are pretty and long-lasting cut flowers. They are typical old-time posey plants and perfect button-hole blooms, but they suit modern gardens and gardeners, too: the plants have a sleek look and do not need pampering, and the fragrance has just the right amount of spice.

Dianthus Plants and Seeds available at Burpee

  • Dianthus Firewitch
  • Dianthus Arctic Fire
  • Dianthus Jolt Cherry
  • Dianthus Raspberry Surprise
  • Dianthus Sweet Black Cherry Hybrid

Dianthus is a genus of 300 species of flowering plants. Here at Bob’s we grow dianthus that we sell in bedding flats, and we also sell perennial types of dianthus that come back every year. Overall dianthus is a pretty hardy plant. Even somebody with a brown thumb would have a hard time killing it. Nevertheless, here are some tips to help you get the most out of your dianthus.

First off, there is sometimes a bit of confusion about our dianthus in bedding flats. We sell it as an annual, but many customers say that it is a perennial. The confusion is simply created by our geographic location. These dianthus plants are biennial, or short-lived perennials, but because of our unpredictable winters they may either be killed in a hard freeze or survive through a mild winter. That’s why we sell them as an “annual”. Basically we only sell plants as perennials if we know it has a near 100% chance of surviving our winters. With bedding dianthus it is more like a 25% chance.

Select a site with full sun and well-drained soil, preferably with neutral to alkaline soil pH. Dianthus won’t tolerate wet soils, especially in winter.

Plant in spring or fall, spacing plants 6 to 12 inches apart, depending on the type. Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the plant’s container. Carefully remove the plant from its pot and place it in the hole so the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. Carefully fill in around the root ball and firm the soil gently. Water thoroughly.

Apply a thin layer of compost each spring, followed by a 2-inch layer of mulch to retain moisture and control weeds. Water plants during the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week. Stake tall varieties to keep them upright. Remove spent blooms on tall varieties, or shear back mounding plants after bloom to encourage rebloom. After the first killing frost, cut stems back to an inch or two above soil line. Divide plants every 3 to 4 years as new growth begins in the spring, lifting plants and dividing them into clumps.

How to Plant and Care for Dianthus

Planting dianthus

Dianthus flowers should be planted in the fall before the first frost, or after the last frost in the spring. They grow fairly easily, but you want to be sure to plant these flowers in nutrient-rich soil that drains well, has neutral to alkaline pH (below 7), and gets a ton of sunlight. And by “a ton of sunlight,” we suggest five hours or more each day. Dianthus plants usually don’t thrive when grown in shady areas.

Before planting, you’ll want to aerate the soil with a rake, and when it comes time to get the dianthus in the ground you’ll want to leave about 6–12 inches between each plant or seed so they have room to grow.

Caring for dianthus

As a low-maintenance flower, dianthus care is fairly simple. Here’s a bit of of advice for keeping your plants happy and healthy.

  • Apply a thin layer of compost to your soil about once every year to provide dianthus flowers with nutrients.
  • If you live in an area that isn’t seeing regular rainfall, you’ll want to water your dianthus enough to keep the soil slightly to moderately damp. Usually, watering once or twice a week will do the trick. A good rule here is to water your dianthus if you’re unable to press your thumb more than three quarters of an inch into the soil.
  • Use stakes to keep tall varieties of dianthus upright, especially if they seem to be having trouble supporting themselves.
  • If the flowers or leaves turn brown, you’ll want to remove them as soon as possible in order to preserve the plant’s health and allow it to produce more blooms. Pruning shears are a helpful tool for removing dead flowers.
  • Many people love dianthus as cut flowers in a bouquet or vase. It’s fine to cut them as long as you leave the stem two or three inches long and avoid cutting mid-day, when the sun is at its strongest.
  • Prune your dianthus if you notice that the plant seems to be thinning in spots.
  • Following the first strong frost, cut stems back so they’re just an inch or two long.

Pest control

People typically don’t experience too many pest problems when caring for dianthus, but greenflies and snails are both known to snack on dianthus leaves. Many people use traps or bait to deal with snails, and organic insecticide can be used for greenflies.

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