Name: pinks, dianthus (Dianthus plumerius).
Height: up to 60cm; ground covers to 15cm.
Foliage: grey-green stems and leaves similar to carnations.
Climate: sub-tropical to cold temperate; tolerates cold nights; susceptible to fungal diseases in high humidity.
Soil: not fussy, but does prefer good drainage; pH 7–7.5 (slightly alkaline) preferred.
Position: full sun to light shade.
Flowering: single to double blooms, from white to deep mauve and bright red; similar to carnations.
Feeding: use a long-term controlled-release fertiliser as directed on the label.
Watering: water regularly, especially during hot weather.
Dianthus is very similar to carnations (Dianthus caryophyllus), although it is somewhat smaller in both stature and flower size. Height ranges from around 15–60cm, depending on the variety. Some varieties are upright, while others are mat-forming.
Plants have grey-green stems and leaves. Their flowers may be single or double, and are usually carried on stems that hold them well above the foliage. When the stems are long enough, they make good cut flowers for indoor vases.
Most varieties of dianthus are sold as seedlings or young potted plants just starting to flower. Packet seeds are also available (follow instructions for when and how to sow).
Dianthus is not fussy about soils, growing well in anything from a sandy loam to a clay. The secret is to work in plenty of compost or manure before planting to improve soil texture. Include a controlled-release fertiliser for flowers and garden beds.
A neutral (pH 7) or slightly alkaline soil (pH up to 7.5) seems to suit dianthus best. If you know your soil is acidic (pH under 7), add a handful of lime per square metre during your preparation. Make sure it’s garden lime (calcium carbonate) or dolomite (which also contains magnesium carbonate), NOT slaked/quick lime (calcium hydroxide), which is nasty stuff to handle and should not be used in a garden.
Dianthus can also be grown successfully in window and planter boxes, hanging baskets and as a filler around a shrub or tree in a large tub. Use a premium-quality pot and tub potting mix that includes water-storing crystals to improve moisture retention over summer.
Dianthus will flower freely for several months once the weather warms in spring. The flowering period can be significantly extended by trimming off old flowers as they fade (dead-heading). This process redirects the plant’s energies and encourages more growth and more flowers.
Flowering can also be promoted by applying a water-soluble or liquid plant food every three or four weeks from mid-spring through to the end of summer.
Like carnations, dianthus can sometimes be attacked by red spider mites. Rather than using chemicals, this pest can usually be controlled by thoroughly wetting plants with an insecticidal soap. Repeat as often as is necessary to eradicate this pest.
Snails and slugs may also be troublesome when seedlings are planted out, and also in the mat-forming varieties. Catch them in action at night, or use bait traps to lure them away.
Hebe: summer-flowering evergreen shrub with flowers from white to deep purple, originating from New Zealand.
Alyssum: low-growing annual or perennial flowering plant with tiny white to purple flowers.
Verbena: soft-leaved matting or trailing annual/perennial with clusters of small flowers from white through to blues and reds.
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