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How to Care for Sweet William

By Desirae Roy ; Updated September 21, 2017

Sweet William, a flowering plant of the genus Dianthus, is also known by the historically curious name pinks. Pinks were not named for their color but rather for the serrated edge of their blooms, which resemble the cut of pinking shears (special tailoring scissors). Sweet William is easy to grow and enjoy, with its sweet, spicy fragrance and loads of little fringed-petaled blooms.

Plant Dianthus barbatus in a full-sun to lightly shaded area with well-drained soil. Soggy soil will damage this plant, so avoid overwatering. Sweet William will thrive as a border plant, in a rock garden, or as a bedding or container plant, with adequate moisture and sunlight.

Start seeds indoors seven weeks prior to the last frost date in your area. Germination should occur in six to 10 days, after which you should plant seedlings 8 inches apart. You should start seeing blooms about 12 weeks after sowing. Sweet William nursery starts should also be planted 8 inches apart and watered well. Avoid plants that look leggy or spindly or that have yellow leaves, which may indicate root problems.

Cut back the stalks after the first bloom cycle to encourage a longer and more prolific blooming period, and remove spent blooms to encourage growth throughout the season.

Add lime or wood ash to the soil if pH is deemed to be a problem. Sweet William prefers slightly alkaline soil, so a soil test may be advisable if in question.

Avoid heavily mulching Sweet William with organic matter over winter as it will not respond well to the trapped moisture. A lighter sand or pea gravel mulch will suffice. Most Sweet William plants are biennial, meaning that they will return for a second year of bloom and then taper off. However, dianthus often self-seeds and returns yearly, hiding its true nature. Three seasons of growth will see the best blooms and health of the plant.


Things You Will Need

  • Dianthus barbatus (Sweet William)
  • Trowel
  • Gardening shears/scissors
  • Lime or wood ash

About the Author


Desirae Roy began writing in 2009. After earning certification as an interpreter for the deaf, Roy earned a Bachelor of Arts in elementary education from Eastern Washington University. Part of her general studies included a botany course leading to a passion for the natural world.