How to Grow: Pinks

Dianthus spp and hybridsClove, Dianthus Barbatus, Sweet-William, Flower, Nature


Other Name

Cottage pinks


Sun Requirements

Full sun, part sun


Bloom Period and Seasonal Color

Spring to early fall in colors such as red, pink, white, and rose


Mature Height x Spread

6 to 24 inches x 8 to 12 inches


Added Benefits

attracts beneficials, attracts hummingbirds, drought tolerant, deer resistant


While there are annual and biennial versions of pinks, such as Sweet William and carnations, the perennial species of pinks is hardy in New England and makes an excellent low growing, blooming flower for gardens and containers. Pinks will start blooming during the cool days of spring and continue off and on into early fall. The spiky, blue-green leaves are topped with delicate, spicy, clove-scented single or double flowers usually in the pink, red or white color range. Some of the flowers have contrasting colored eyes, increasing the visual appeal. Old-fashioned varieties are more fragrant than modern hybrids. I like growing them as edging plants in front of a garden and in a cut flower garden since they also make good additions to flower arrangements.


Where, When and How to Plant

Pinks are hardy throughout New England. Start pinks from seed sown indoors under grow lights 6 to 8 weeks before your last frost date. Seeds can also be sown directly in the garden in spring, but they probably won’t bloom the first year. It’s easiest to purchase transplants from the local garden center or receive divisions from a friend’s garden and plant from spring to early fall in a full or part sun location on well-drained soil. Consider planting in raised beds if you have clay soil to help with water drainage. In warmer parts of our region, plant pinks where they will get afternoon shade to keep them in bloom throughout the summer. Space plants 6 to 12 inches apart.


Growing Tips

Pinks grow best in cool, moist conditions, but once established, they’re tolerant of drought. They like a slightly alkaline soil so keep the pH close to 7 by adding lime based on a soil test. Fertilize in spring with a layer of compost and add mulch to keep reduce weed competition.


Regional Advice and Care

Create more pinks by dividing the clumps in spring. This also will rejuvenate older plants that may not be flowering as well. Dig up the whole clump, separate it out into wedge-sized divisions, add compost, replant in a new location and water well. Deadhead spent flowers to encourage more blooms. Pinks also will self-sow, so weed out unwanted seedlings in spring so they don’t get overcrowded.


Companion Planting and Design

Grow pinks in a cottage garden with other similar stature plants such as low growing roses, lavender, lamb’s ears and geraniums. They also grow well in containers, but the container must be moved to a protected spot in winter such as a basement or garage. Grow pinks in a rock garden or along the edge of a low growing shrub or flower border, too.


Try These

“Birmingham” is a long stemmed, double flowered white variety. “Pomegranate Kiss” and “Fire Star” are frilly petaled, bright red varieties. “Purpleton” has double flowered, pinkish-purple flowers.

Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.

Go here for a video on dividing perennial flowers