Annual pinks (Dianthus chinensis) are a good selection for container gardens and window boxes because they provide color all summer long in shades of soft pink, deep red, and clear white.
Their fringed petals often have interesting, patterned edges and dark-colored centers and their foliage is light green. Pinks combine well with geraniums, petunias, and marigolds because they have similar water requirements.
The species Dianthus chinensis isn't fragrant, but cultivars such as ‘Coronation Ruby' or ‘Danielle Marie' have highly scented flowers.
Common name: China pink, Indian pink
Botanical name: Dianthus chinensis
Plant type: Short-lived perennial or biennial; usually grown as an annual
Zones: 7 to 10
Height: To 20 inches
• Sun: Full sun to light shade
• Soil: Slightly alkaline, light soil with some sand or gravel for drainage is best.
• Moisture: Water regularly, but do not let soil stay soggy.
• Mulch: Do not mulch with wood chips or other organic mulch. It encourages fungal diseases.
• Pruning: Remove spent flowers to encourage more blooms.
• Fertilizer: Apply a balanced fertilizer every two weeks.
• Sow in the ground in summer for flowers the following year.
• Take cuttings from nonflowering foliage in summer.
• Insects: Red spider mites and aphids occasionally attack plants. Treat spider mites with an insecticidal soap. Spray aphids with a strong stream of water.
• Animals: Squirrels, chipmunks, rabbits, and deer all like pinks.
• Fungal diseases: Crown rot and rust can occur in poorly drained soil. Increase soil drainage to correct the problem.
• Pinks are attractive at the front of a border, spaced 6 to 8 inches apart, and they are well-suited to rock gardens. They combine well with lavender, perennial geraniums, petunias, and sage.
• Use pinks in cut-flower arrangements.
• In warmer climates, or during very hot weather, pinks appreciate some afternoon shade.
• The cultivars in the Parfait Series of Dianthus are medal winners because of their outstanding flowers, including ‘Raspberry Parfait' (pictured) and ‘Strawberry Parfait'.
• More good cultivars include ‘Fire Carpet' with red flowers, the Baby Doll Series that reach just 6 to 8 inches tall, and ‘Diamond Blush Pink' with prolific pink flowers.
All in the family
The National Garden Bureau named 2004 the Year of the Dianthus. Common names include sweet William, carnation, or pink. Species other than Dianthus chinensis include:
• D. barbatus (sweet William) is a perennial, but treat it like a biennial if you start it from seed. Sow in summer for flowers the next year. Has single or double flowers ranging from white to pink to scarlet.
• D. caryophyllus (carnation) is used mostly as a greenhouse plant. Not particularly hardy in northern gardens. Grows one to five flowers per stem, reaching 32 inches.
• D. deltoides (maiden pink) has pink, white, or red flowers and mat-forming, narrow green leaves. Self-seeds easily and performs well in rock gardens and flower beds.
• D. plumarius (border pink) has many cultivars. Older ones have an especially nice clove scent.
Others in the Caryophyllaceae family include annual baby's breath (Gypsophila elegans), snow in summer (Cerastium tomentosum), sweet William catchfly (Silene armeria), and sandwort (Arenaria montana).
Where to buy
• Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds, rareseeds.com
• Nature Hills Nursery, naturehills.com
• Park Seed, parkseed.com