What would the perennial garden be without mounds of pinks? Pinks, or dianthus, are related to carnations and most have similar flowers with ragged, notched edges. Pinks are usually smaller and hardier than carnations. The plants have attractive gray-green, elongated leaves and stems and a rounding, mounded form. The flowers form on single stems from early summer through fall, depending on the variety.
Most varieties are hardy in U.S. Department of Agriculture plant hardiness zones 3 through 9 and come in shades of pink, red, white or bicolor. The flowers have a spicy scent and make excellent cut flowers. Pinks are classified as tender perennials. They generally begin to languish after two or three years. Some varieties will self-sow and you can extend their life by taking small cuttings or plugs.
Dianthus has long been beloved in Britain, where it was probably introduced by the Normans a millennia ago. Rochester Castle in Kent has a patch of dianthus growing on the castle wall that has possibly been there since the castle was built in 1100.
Plant dianthus in full sun for best blooms from nursery transplants, divisions or cuttings. The plants prefer slightly rich, reasonably moist soil that is well-draining and alkaline. Dig 2 inches of compost into the soil before planting and add lime if your soil’s pH falls below 6.0. In soggy soils, the plants develop root rot. You may notice blackened stems and the plants fall apart.
Dig holes as deep and twice as wide as the young plants and space them 12 inches apart. Water the plants frequently during the first four weeks after planting to keep the soil consistently moist. Once the plants begin to show new growth, cut back watering so the soil stays slightly moist 2 inches beneath the surface. In general, watering once a week should suffice, although you might need to water more frequently during hot weather. If the plants sit next to an irrigated lawn, you probably won’t need to water as much.
Remove the flowers after they’re spent to encourage more blooms. Shear the plants back by one-third mid-summer. This practice keeps them looking tidy and encourages new growth and flowering. Dig the plants up every two years to divide them or cut off small pieces from the edges for new plantings. In this way, you can extend the life of your planting for many years.
Fertilize dianthus lightly in the spring with ¼ cup 10-10-10 fertilizer for every 20 square feet of garden space. Mulch the soil with 2 inches of wood chips or bark to conserve moisture and keep weeds down. Cut the plants to 3 inches above the ground after the first frost.
Pinks Pests and Problems
The main problem with dianthus is root rot, caused by soggy soils. Grow the plants in raised beds or improve the soil with compost, peat moss or other organic matter. Grasshoppers and slugs occasionally feed on the plants and squirrels and chipmunks also like the spicy flowers.
Dianthus growers have been hybridizing dianthus in Great Britain for hundreds of years. Paisley weavers there bred and named thousands of varieties in the 18th century. The plants don’t tolerate air pollution and many of their hybrids died out during the Industrial Revolution. ‘Paisley Gem’ may be one remnant from that era.
‘Mrs. Sinkins’ is another old favorite, developed in 1868 by John Sinkins and introduced by nurseryman, Charles Turner. Mr. Sinkins was urged to name the variety after Queen Victoria, but he insisted on naming it for his wife. The flower is still widely available.
Breeder Montague Allwood developed hundreds of varieties of dianthus in the early 20th century. ‘Doris,’ ‘Laced Monarch,’ and ‘Laced Joy’ are still available.
‘Bath’s Pink’ is a modern hybrid with prolific, pale pink blooms. It forms low mounds and has blue-green foliage.
‘Sweet William’ is a short-lived perennial, perfect for the cottage garden. It produces clusters of flowers with round petals.
For more information on growing pinks, visit the following links:
Bob’s Market goes over the basics of dianthus care on YouTube.
Lancaster Farms mentions a lot of fun facts about Pinks on YouTube.
Julie Christensen learned about gardening on her grandfather’s farm and mother’s vegetable garden in southern Idaho. Today, she lives and gardens on the high plains of Colorado. When she’s not digging in the dirt, Julie writes about food, education, parenting and gardening.