Old-Fashioned Pinks - Dianthus - Select Seeds
Dianthus are an old fashioned flower going back as long as 2000 years ago when it was named Dianthos, Flower of Jove. They include pinks, carnations and Sweet William, among others. You'll find annuals, biennials and perennials in varied heights and characteristics.
Some dianthus are hardy all the way to Zone 3! These wonderful little plants are survivors with a few quirky little traits. The carnations we buy from florists are a large hybrid variety grown specially for commercial use. All dianthus are charming and add an old fashioned touch to the garden.
Dianthus should not be mulched or over watered. They need plenty of air circulation, and do not like soil or mulch touching the stems and foliage. This too is another plant that needs deadheading to really give you it's full bloom.
They also need 4-5 hours of sun per day and a fertile, well drained soil. When preparing the soil for dianthus add a little lime to sweeten the soil. Dianthus can be grown in container as well. Add a little grit, such as sand, to a standard potting mix for containers.
You can start dianthus from seeds about 8 weeks before the last frost for blooms the same season, or direct seed for blooms the next year. They need temperatures of about 70 degrees to germinate, but they don't need light to sprout.
It's helpful to use a container with a plastic lid for a mini green house or cover with plastic wrap. Once the seedlings appear, keep them around 70 degrees, remove the plastic, and put them in a sunny window or under florescent lights. Keep them moist but not wet. Garden centers usually carry flats of Sweet William, and you may find some other varieties as well.
Known by Many Names
There are over 300 varieties of dianthus so I can only touch on a few of them, but they all share the same basic pretty look-some double, some single and in many different heights. The foliage is quite fascinating-from your usual green to a blue and even a pretty silver grass-like form.
Dianthus barbatus-Sweet William: Is hardy in Zones 3-9, and is considered a short lived perennial that is treated as a biennial. If stop deadheading in the autumn it will often reseed and you will have plants year after year. As mentioned you'll need to deadhead throughout the season for it to continue to bloom. Even if you forget or are gone on vacation and they look rather bad, try shearing the seed heads off and any brown foliage. They will usually come back! You'll find this variety in dwarf forms as well as a taller Sweet William that will grow up to 2 foot.
Dianthus plumarius-cottage pink: A fragrant perennial variety hardy to Zone 3. They grow to about 12 inches in height and should be started early for bloom the same year as mentioned. They are slow growing and the foliage is considered evergreen so these make a great front of the border plant. A note for Southern gardeners-'Itsaul White' is a double white variety that will hold up to very hot summers and it has a very sweet fragrance! the white blooms are very striking.
Dianthus deltoides-maiden pink: Holds up to the heat very well, and has grass-like foliage. As mentioned you can lightly shear these and they will come back and bloom again! This variety can be used as a groundcover or as edging in a flower bed. They have a sweet clove type fragrance.
Dianthus gratianopolitanus-cheddar pinks: Have an interesting blue green foliage and very fragrant flowers with toothed petals. They bloom heaviest from March til May, but if deadheaded will bloom throughout the summer. They tolerate the heat and drought and are hardy to Zone 3. These can also be used in rock gardens and planted in spaces within rock walls.
Dianthus caryophyllus-These are more like the florist's carnation and some are winter hardy to zone 3, but I did see some that were only to Zone 6 or 7-so check carefully if you are in a colder zone. These are recommended highly for windowboxes and containers. This variety includes Black King that's a deep deep burgundy-very striking and also a trailing variety that can be used in hanging baskets. The dwarf grenadin mix is compact and very hardy, making it a good choice.
Dianthus chinensi-China, Indian or rainbow pinks, are beautiful but have no fragrance. They grow about a foot tall and the blooms can be 3-4 inches in diameter. This dianthus can be used as a cut flower. This variety is very old, introduced in 1713 by a French missionary.
Interesting Notes: Dianthus is considered an herb and is used in China for digestive problems and in Africa for arthritis. They are also edible flowers and be candied, used in jams, butters, salads or desserts. You can make a syrup by infusing the petals in a hot sugar syrup, and using it on fruit salads or compotes. Cottage pinks and d. caryophyllus are the most flavorful.