Cottage gardens impress with their romantic splendor of color and a variety of different ornamental flowers and plants. Sweet William are also part of the typical appearance of old flower gardens and are easy and uncomplicated to cultivate. The bee-friendly, herbaceous plants are annual and perennial plants, which are available in specialist shops in numerous cultivated forms and flower colors. But once planted in the garden, the traditional carnation species takes care of its offspring and sows itself in the fall.

location and soil conditions

The colorful plant only comes into its own in full sun. In the light penumbra, the growth of the robust Sweet William suffers and the formation of flowers is often delayed. A permeable, humus-rich soil creates the ideal conditions for the fragrant cottage garden plant. The pH value of the soil does not play a major role for the undemanding flowers. These plants also cut a fine figure as decorative border plants for raised and hill beds, provided their need for sun is met.

fertilizing and watering

Sweet William are known to self-seed annually given the best care and site conditions. In order to experience the Dianthus barbatus in all its bloom every summer, the supply of nutrients and moisture must also be guaranteed. Plants in a cottage garden are considered to be extremely robust and are often almost indestructible. Nevertheless, a long-lasting dry period in summer also causes considerable damage to flowering and ornamental plants. During this time, you should regularly water the carnations with lime-free water. Avoid waterlogging, as this promotes root rot and weakens the plants’ resistance.

Regular mulching and the mixing in of compost or horn shavings are a must for a lushly flowering and varied ornamental garden. It is fertilized in early spring or late autumn, during the flowering period you can supply the carnations with liquid fertilizer if necessary. However, the perennial plants are not very consuming plants, so that preparing the soil with natural materials such as compost, coffee grounds or lawn clippings is usually completely sufficient. Avoid an oversupply of nutrients, because over-fertilization will damage the sweet William permanently.


Once settled in the garden, the summer flowers take matters into their own hands. The Dianthus barbatus flowers only in the second year, under ideal conditions flowering in the 3rd year is also possible. Faded plant parts should remain on the Sweet William if you want the carnations to sow themselves. In order to sow the popular ornamental plants in a controlled manner, you can also collect the small, black, round seeds and plant them in the garden the following year. In order to avoid mold infestation of the seed pods, they must be stored dry and cool.

Sowing can be done outdoors between April and July. To save yourself the hassle of moving the young plants in September, you can also sow the carnations directly at their final location. To do this, completely free the soil from weeds and loosen the substrate. The seeds are only lightly covered with soil and carefully watered. To increase the chances of germination, the soil should always be kept moist. As soon as the young carnations have reached a height of 10 centimetres, they must be pricked out. Keep about 20 – 25 centimeters between the individual plants.

In order to have a better overview of the young seedlings, you can also grow the seeds in seed pots or in the greenhouse from March. A humus-rich substrate is not necessary for sowing, just make sure it is in a sunny location and regularly moisten the soil with a water sprayer. In September, you should move the carnations to the garden. Water the flowers firmly immediately after planting, this will make it easier for the young plants to take root.

Note: Only a few snails prefer the seedlings of Dianthus barbatus, so special protection against these pests is not required.

Cultivation in tubs

Sweet William belongs to the variety of summer flowers that can easily be cultivated in planters on the balcony or terrace at home. The same conditions apply to successful keeping in pots as outdoors: a location in full sun and a substrate rich in humus promote the flowering splendor of the carnations. You should pay special attention to flowers in pots, as the soil in them dries out faster and the nutrients are used up relatively quickly.

Keep the soil moderately moist in summer and prevent waterlogging with drainage pieces of basalt or broken pottery. In the first year after sowing, you can use nitrogenous fertilizers. However, as soon as the first inflorescences appear in the following summer, you should switch to a phosphorus-rich nutrient supply. Sweet William can be skilfully staged in many ways on the terrace or balcony. Combine different colored varieties of carnations or place other summer bloomers such as snapdragons, sweet peas, dwarf dahlias or lobelia and geraniums in the immediate vicinity of the Dianthus barbatus. This allows you to create a colorful and varied flowering oasis in the smallest of spaces.

Remove withered inflorescences immediately and trim unwanted side shoots. This stimulates the carnations to shoot bushy and strengthens the overall growth of the plant. Keep in mind that the plants only flower in the second year and you should therefore cultivate a herbaceous, almost inconspicuous-looking plant in the containers for a summer.

Tip: Collect the inflorescences of potted plants in good time before the seeds can sow themselves.

Sweet William overwinters

Protect the young plants in winter with fir branches or dry lawn clippings. No special precautions need to be taken for older carnations, they are considered hardy. The only exception are carnations, which are only cultivated in pots. These can also remain outdoors, but require additional protection in the form of sacking or a special fleece. Accommodation in cool rooms is not necessary and can endanger the growth and hardiness of the popular cottage garden plant.

Care and cultivation tips

extend lifetime

In the first year, the carnations reach a height of about 15 – 20 centimeters, depending on the chosen variety. The cottage garden plant only shines in its colorful splendor in the second year. The flowering period is between May and August, but depending on the weather, sweet William can bloom into early autumn. Do not remove the plants immediately, because some Dianthus barbatus are still in full bloom in the 3rd year.

promoting flowering

Not all dead flowers need to be left on the plant for seeds to form. Remove most of the old blooms to encourage the Sweet William to bloom a second time.

cut flowers

The plant with its lanceolate, dark green leaves and long flower stalks is also suitable as a cut flower. To ensure that you can enjoy the colorful carnation for as long as possible, you should observe the following tips:

  • Always cut cut flowers early in the morning.
  • Use sharp knife.
  • Add special freshness-keeping agent to the water.
  • Use disinfected vases.
  • Avoid close proximity to fruit and vegetables.

Bartnelken varieties

The carnation plants are available in different heights and colors. Two-tone or double flowers are no longer a rarity among the popular cottage garden plants. Depending on the variety, the robust ornamental flowers can reach a height of between 25 and 60 centimeters.

  • Double Sweet William – These varieties reach a height of up to 50 centimeters and have double, multicolored flowers. Like all Dianthus barbatus, this variant is easy to cultivate and is also suitable as a cut flower.
  • Dianthus barbatus ‘Sooty’ – With its fragrant, chocolate-colored flowers, this variety is one of the most popular varieties of the carnation family. The leaves take on a brown-red color as they grow later, and the “Sooty” reaches a height of around 35 centimeters overall.
  • Dianthus barbatus “Kaleidoscope Mixed” – Whether cultivated as an annual or biennial plant, the sweet William of this variety are always an eye-catcher in your own garden with their two-tone, lush flowers and their size of up to 55 centimeters. If you don’t want to wait for flowering the following year, sow the seeds of this variety in February.

pests and diseases

Fungal pathogens and harmful insects do not stop at the lush flowering, herbaceous plants. Despite the short lifespan of the carnations, you should not take such an infestation lightly and take effective countermeasures. Better than fighting pests and diseases, however, is to promote the resilience of the plants. Water the plants regularly and pay attention to the right location.


Dust-like, rust-colored discoloration of the shoots and leaves is an indication of a rust fungus disease. The fungal pathogen feeds on the cell sap of the carnations, which becomes noticeable later in the course of the disease in the form of rolled-up, shriveled leaves. If left untreated and as the infection progresses, the infected growth will suffer massive damage and die. At the slightest sign, you should act to protect other plants from any infestation. Remove infested parts of the carnations and dispose of them with the residual waste. With special fungicides you can curb the progression of the disease. These remedies are also useful as a preventive measure if rust fungus has appeared in your neighborhood. If you continue to struggle with the fungal pathogen in the years that follow,

Note: Do not use aggressive chemical products on houseplants. These can emit harmful substances into the environment and damage your health.


Hardly any ornamental or useful plant is spared by the insatiable insects. The animals, which are only a few millimeters in size, withdraw their cell sap from the host plant and thus cause crippling of the shoot tips and leaves. Another downer: the pests rarely come alone. Ants prefer the honeydew excreted by the aphids and therefore even defend them against attackers. Rely on the natural predators of lice, such as earwigs, lacewing larvae and ladybugs. At the same time, you can use baking soda or a jet of water to combat the ants.

You can spray infested plants with a broth made from field horsetail or stinging nettles and thus also effectively get rid of the pests. You hardly need insecticides if you have an aphid infestation.

The plants of the old cottage gardens have lost none of their charm. The robust Sweet William are no exception here, as they are easy to cultivate and – provided the conditions are ideal – take care of their own sowing. The colorful summer flowers also have no objection to cultivation in pots or tubs.

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