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Dianthus

Antje Sommerkamp Antje SommerkampUlrike Hanninger Ulrike Hanninger

Ever popular, Dianthus can be planted in flower beds or in containers. Let us introduce these decorative flowers in all their varieties and forms, and give you some tips on how to care for them.

Origin

Dianthus is the name of a genus within the carnation or pinks family (Caryophyllaceae). Up to 600 Dianthus species are found in widespread areas of the northern hemisphere, particularly Eurasia. They often grow in difficult locations that are not suitable for most other plants, such as poor, dry, sandy soil or damp to waterlogged patches near bodies of water. Carnations or clove pinks (Dianthus caryophyllus) come from the Mediterranean and were grown as a decorative plant back in ancient times. More widespread species include the maiden pink (Dianthus deltoides), the sweet William (Dianthus barbatus) and the garden pink (Dianthus plumarius). In total, over 27,000 Dianthus varieties are registered. Most garden Dianthus plants flower from the end of May or June all throughout summer. In contrast, the annual China pink (Dianthus chinensis) doesn’t make it through winter but carries on flowering into fall.

Since the 15th century, white Dianthus flowers have been a symbol of love and marriage. Red carnations, on the other hand, served as a symbol of the socialist workers’ movement and were worn on the lapel at party celebrations in East Germany. The botanical genus name Dianthus means “flower of Zeus” or “flower of the gods”, coming from the Ancient Greek: “dios” means “god” or “Zeus”, while “anthos” means “flower”.

Appearance and Growth

Usually perennial but occasionally annual or biennial, Dianthus tends to grow in upright clumps or form flat carpets. Its single or double stems may be angular or round. The opposite leaves are singular, and the narrow leaf blade is lanceolate to ovate. The flowers appear alone or in groups on terminal inflorescences. The green to dry bracts are found in pairs if at all. The five green to red sepals grow in a tubular shape at the base. The petals tend to be serrated, crenate or split. The color of the petals varies from white to pink and red to purple. There are also some patterned, multi-colored, double or single varieties. Some species and varieties give off a lovely fragrance.

Strawberry-colored Dianthus in a rockery

Dianthus chinensis “Super Parfait Strawberry” adds a fresh pop of color to a rockery

Location and Soil

Lots of sun, loose and not too nutrient-rich soil and no wetness - these location requirements can be found on the labels for most Dianthus species. With needs like these, these popular romantic summer flowers are ideal for pots, planters and other cute containers on patios and balconies.

Planting

The ideal time to plant Dianthus is spring. When planting Dianthus, keep a distance of 7.87 to 11.81 inches between the plants in the bed, depending on the species and variety. Between 8 and 15 plants will fit in one square yard. You can also find all the information you need about plant distancing on the label.

Care Tips

Dianthus plants don’t need a lot of water. Their grassy leaves don’t allow a lot of moisture to evaporate, as they are covered with a waxy layer. Fertilization is not necessary essential. Wilted flower stems should be regularly removed to make space for new flowers.

Trim Dianthus dead heads

Cut dead heads off to enjoy more flowers in late summer

Most Dianthus species are hard to separate. They generally don’t form offshoots, only growing one deep central root with minimal branching.

Dianthus in containers need minimal care. Jürgen Peters, perennial expert at “Allerlei Seltenes” in Uetersen, can recommend most species for container gardening: “it’s important to have permeable soil, so it’s best to mix in 20 to 30 percent coarse sand with your topsoil. Feed sparingly: fertilizer sticks for summer flowers are a good option.” Dianthus perennials in planters should easily withstand winter weather in a protected location with little rain.

Winter Protection

Almost all perennial Dianthus boast good winter hardiness as long as the soil has good drainage and doesn’t become waterlogged in winter. Rockery species occasionally suffer from black frost as they lack a blanket of snow as natural protection in winter. These species should be protected with a layer of fleece in winter.

Use

Carnations are cultivated as various varieties, and are primarily popular as cut flowers. As a mostly short-lived bed and balcony plant, sweet William is a traditional cottage garden plant. Seed blends are available to buy as well as young plants. The Cheddar pink (Dianthus gratianopolitanus) and its English garden descendants (Dianthus hybrids) are among the best scented plants available. They can easily be grown in pots or containers on balconies, but are also suitable for sunny flower beds or rockeries. Ever-popular sweet Williams are often biennials, but generally self-seed in suitable locations. Furthermore, there is a whole range of cushion-forming and clump-forming species that are preferably used to add green to dry stone walls, rockeries or heather gardens, such as garden pinks, Carthusian pinks (Dianthus carthusianorum) and maiden pinks.

Sweet William combined with rosemary, oregano and parsley

The rustic ensemble of sweet Williams (Dianthus barbatus), rosemary, oregano and parsley catches the eye against a picket fence. The cute flowers really pop against lush green herbs

To let the varied flowers of the Dianthus take the limelight, it’s advisable to position Dianthus with companions with fewer flowers but varied foliage as well as compact or loose growers that share this plant’s love of sunny, dry positions: herbs! This combination doesn’t just look great in a container - with their love for permeable, drier soil, Dianthus and herbs will also thrive in gravel beds and rockeries. Stony slopes make the wood pink feel at home in particular, but other long-flowering summer China pink varieties will also add color between stones and gray gravel. Known by gardeners as “border pinks”, certain scented Dianthus (such as the Dianthus plumarius) are popular border plants, creating a scented frame around rockeries or beds.

Especially popular for pots are scented cloves, first of all, garden pink. They will beguile with their sweet, fresh scent when planted near seating areas, joining the heady scent of herbs to form a remarkable potpourri. Thyme, rosemary, lavender, basil, sage or mint are aromatic container companions. Even small combinations with just one Dianthus species and one or two herbs can be beautiful. This ensemble won’t hold it against you if you occasionally take a sample for your kitchen or even a bouquet of Dianthus for your vase.

Important Species and Varieties

If you want to purchase some Dianthus, you’ll be spoilt for choice: the variety on offer is enormous. Thanks to intensive breeding in England, recent times have seen Dianthus emerge in all possible color variations to add a touch of joy to your containers. It has managed to shed its former image of “granny flower” to become a popular, on-trend plant. Your imagination is the only limit when it comes to creative plant combinations - carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus), Cheddar pinks (Dianthus gratianopolitanus), maiden pinks (Dianthus deltoides), garden pinks (Dianthus plumarius) and other species and varieties catch the eye with attractive, often multicolored flowers. Apart from pure blue, there is anything your heart desires. The petals vary from round to crenate. Some varieties have fringed edges. The decision therefore depends only on your own taste and the species you’d prefer to grow.

Dianthus “Chomley Farran”

There’s the right Dianthus to suit any taste. Here: the “Chomley Farran” variety

Propagation

Most Dianthus can be propagated through cuttings. Take these in early summer, ideally from flower-free shoots, and place them in potting soil. Sowing seeds is advisable particularly for short-lived species such as sweet Williams and maiden pinks.

Diseases and Pests

The greatest dangers are posed by aphids, slugs and snails. If their location in the garden is too moist or shaded, Dianthus tend to succumb to fungal infections.

Frequently Asked Questions

What do Dianthus look like?

Dianthus tend to have serrated, slit or crenate petals with colors ranging from white to pink and red and sometimes purple. The flowers sit on single or branched stalks that may be angular or round. The leaves are lanceolate to ovate.

When can Dianthus be planted?

Dianthus should ideally be planted in spring.

How much water do Dianthus need?

As Dianthus don’t need much water, they should be watered sparingly.

Are Dianthus winter hardy?

If the soil is permeable enough, most perennial species have a good level of winter hardiness. When planted in a rockery, Dianthus should be protected with fleece.

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