Dianthus barbatus

Common Name: sweet William 
Type: Herbaceous perennial
Family: Caryophyllaceae
Native Range: Western Asia, eastern Europe, Korea
Zone: 3 to 9
Height: 1.00 to 2.00 feet
Spread: 0.50 to 1.00 feet
Bloom Time: May to frost
Bloom Description: Red, pink, white, and bicolors
Sun: Full sun to part shade
Water: Medium
Maintenance: Medium
Suggested Use: Annual
Flower: Showy, Fragrant
Attracts: Hummingbirds, Butterflies
Tolerate: Deer


Winter hardy to USDA Zones 3-9. This is a short-lived perennial that is perhaps best grown as a biennial. However, many gardeners simply purchase cold treated plants in spring and grow them as annuals. Moreover, many of the new cultivars will bloom the first year from seed if the seed is started early enough. Sweet William is best grown in deep, organically rich, well-drained soils in full sun, but generally appreciates some light afternoon shade in hot summer climates such as the St. Louis area. In optimum growing conditions it will reseed each year and remain in the garden for many years as if it were a long-lived perennial. Double-flowered forms will not come true from seed, however. Prompt deadheading of spent flowers (shear back large plantings) promotes perennial tendencies. Seed may be planted directly in the garden in late spring for bloom the following year. Some nurseries sell seedlings in early fall that may be planted immediately for bloom the following year. Nurseries commonly sell plants in spring for flowering the same year.

Noteworthy Characteristics

Dianthus barbatus, commonly called sweet William, typically grows 12-24” tall and features small flowers held in dense, flat-topped terminal clusters (3-5” wide). Many cultivars are available in commerce, including double-flowered forms as well as some dwarf plants (4-8” tall). Flowers come in vivid shades of red, pink, white and bicolor, sometimes with a contrasting eye, and with fringed petals that are bearded on the inside. Bloom from late spring to early summer. Flowers may be fragrant, and are attractive to hummingbirds. Lance-shaped medium green leaves (to 4” long).

Genus name comes from the Greek words dios meaning divine and anthos meaning flower.

Specific epithet means bearded or with long, weak hairs.


Susceptible to crown rot and rust, particularly in poorly-drained soils. Watch for snails and slugs. Deer tend to avoid this plant.


Cottage gardens. Beds and borders. Containers.