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Home & garden.

Updated: 9 May 2022

How to grow pinks (dianthus) and best varieties

Garden pinks are tougher than they look and will give you months of colour and a knockout scent. Discover our best dianthus varieties and tips for how to grow them.
Ceri Thomas
Dianthus

Garden pinks, alpine pinks, carnations and sweet Williams – they’re all types of dianthus that fit different roles. Garden pinks are the best choice if you’re after a long-flowering garden plant. Traditional favourites for the cottage garden, they look delicate but are actually very hardy. They also have a distinctive spicy scent. Some gardeners consider them old-fashioned, but recent breeding has given us more modern-looking plants

Which? Gardening magazine grew a range of popular varieties over two years, to see which would give us the best display and be hardy enough to get through UK winters.


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Key facts

PLANT TYPE Herbaceous perennial

POSITION Full sun

SOIL Well-drained, not acidic

How to grow pinks: month by month

JanuaryFebruaryMarchAprilMayJune


PLANTPLANTFLOWERINGFLOWERING
JulyAugustSeptemberOctoberNovemberDecember
FLOWERING
FLOWERINGFLOWERING/TRIM

Best pinks varieties

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Full testing results for pinks

Variety nameOverall ratingFlower impactDisplay impactDuration of floweringWeather toleranceScentShape of plantsVigour & survival of plants over two yearsPests & disease

USING THE TABLE OVERALL RATING The more stars the better. Rating ignores price and is based on: flower impact 15%, display impact 15%, duration of flowering 15%, scent 15%, shape of plants 15%, pests and diseases 10%, vigour and survival 10%, weather resistance of flowers 5%.

How we test pinks

The Which? Gardening magazine experts chose 19 varieties of garden pinks, including old and new types. We grew three of each variety at our trial garden at Capel Manor in north London, where the soil is well drained and slightly acidic, and at Kingston Maurward College in Dorset, where the soil is well drained and alkaline (the soil type usually recommended for growing dianthus).

The trial began in spring, and we assessed the plants for the following criteria over the course of two summers: impact of individual blooms and overall display; length of flowering and weather tolerance; how strong and pleasant their fragrance was; how well plants kept their shape and vigour; whether they remained healthy.

Caring for your plants

Planting

Pot plug plants into 9cm pots and grow on until the roots touch the sides, before transferring them to the garden.

Pinks are hardy but usually perform best when planted in spring. Make sure they're acclimatised to outside temperatures before you plant them.

Plant in full sun in well-drained soil that is alkaline to slightly acidic.

Deadheading

Deadhead plants by cutting off the old flowers as they go over, for tidier plants. In late autumn, trim back the whole plant to a neat mat of healthy growth to keep it in shape.

Watering

Water plants during hot, dry spells to prevent them drying out. Even with watering, we found that a heatwave will delay reflowering until the weather cools.

Taking cuttings

Take cuttings from March to September. Remove non-flowering side-shoots from the plant by cutting or pulling them away from the stem. Place several cuttings 3-4cm apart around the edge of a small pot filled with a 50:50 mix of compost and perlite or grit. Keep them warm and covered until they start to grow, then pot on individually when roots appear under the pot.

Common growing problems

Fungal diseases

Fungal diseases can cause leaf spotting, yellowing, and brown or straw-coloured stems at the base or in sections of the plants. Reduce humidity by not overcrowding plants and avoiding watering them from overhead. Also try to improve the drainage. Remove badly infected plants to limit the spread of fungal diseases.

Aphids and thrips

Aphids and thrips can damage shoot tips and leaves. Check your plants carefully and squash any you see to prevent colonies building up.

Read more about aphids and thrips.