The dianthus plant is the quintessential cottage flower. Dianthus, also called pinks, is treasured for its grasslike, blue-green foliage and abundant starry flowers, which are often spicily fragrant. Dianthus plants range from tiny creeping groundcovers to 30-inch-tall cut flowers, which are a favorite with florists. The “pink” part of their name has a two-fold meaning: Plants are often pink in color, and the petals have a fringed look as if someone took pinking shears to their edges.
Dianthus plants come in all shapes and sizes, including miniature varieties that form a tight little lump of foliage and blooms, and giant species reaching up to 3 feet tall with almost no basal foliage. These plants are typically mat-forming perennials that form very tight-knit spreads of foliage. As they continue to grow, you may sometimes get dead spots within the center of the foliage. When this occurs, divide the plant and re-plant to encourage new growth and to remove any old, dead foliage.
Flowers of dianthus are extremely variable and offer something for everyone. Many of the blossoms include interesting patterns and colors with large blotches of deep reds, or rings of color on the outside of the petals. There are also many blooms that have fully double blossoms. Others still are borne in clusters at the tip of the stalk, creating the look of a mini bouquet. Blooms of some, like D. superbus, have an extremely long and exaggerated fringe on the edge of the petals, like they have streamers flying off each tip. Blooms are also quite fragrant and smell like cloves, with a spicy-sweet floral scent.
No matter what dianthus you grow, it is important to remove any spent blooms. This will encourage the plant to continue flowering, and prevent them from wasting energy on producing seed.
Several species of dianthus blossoms are edible. They offer a similar taste to their smell and have a clove-like spiciness. Note: Check to see if species are safe to consume and take care before tasting dianthus. (In addition to confirming edibility, make sure flowers are chemical free, too.)
Dianthus Care Must-Knows
If you are thinking of planting dianthus, look for a location that boasts a good amount of sun. In too much shade, you can lose portions of the mat-forming types to rot. These types also prefer well-drained soil. If the base of the plant stays too moist, the crown can rot. Taller forms, like carnations, also need full sun to prevent them from flopping over. However, even in full sun, some of the tall types may need additional support.
Removing old blooms on all types of dianthus encourages reblooming. Depending on what type you have, make sure you are familiar with whether the plant is a true perennial or a biennial. If biennial types are blooming, this will most likely be their last year. If you leave some of the spent blooms on the plant, they will most likely seed around your garden so that you still have plants next year.
The most common dianthus is the carnation. Carnations are one of the oldest cut flowers, with their documented use reaching back as far as 2,000 years ago. With the continued breeding and improvements made to this flower today, there are a wide variety of colors and sizes available, although much of the scent that used to be so potent in dianthus has been bred away.
Related: The Best Perennials for Your Yard
Another common dianthus is sweet William. Sweet Williams bear their flowers in clusters at the tips of the stems. These flowers often have patterns or circles of many colors on their petals creating quite a stunning effect. In the garden, these plants tend to be either biennial or short-lived perennials.