Even though outside temperatures are still quite balmy, we are moving into winter. Maybe this year we will actually have a winter. That makes now the perfect time to start planting dianthus.
In fact, the perfect time to plant dianthus is when you plant your pansies. Dianthus and pansies are wonderful fall and winter companion plants.
Dianthus is a versatile group of plants that we can grow in our Mississippi gardens and landscapes. My fall landscape is not complete without having dianthus to enjoy. Try pairing them with pansies and violas for a great, cool-season container. Look for the new Cool Wave pansies available from the Wave petunia folks. This is an improved trailing pansy that is a fantastic spiller plant for containers.
For gardeners in the coastal region, dianthus is a great choice for fall color. Dianthus can be planted in the southern part of the state now through spring for an outstanding color display. Fall plantings are good, as the extra time in the ground allows plants to develop robust root systems. This growth results in a beautiful and colorful display next spring.
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Low temperatures usually damage the flowers and turn the foliage purplish, but the plants will recover. In north Mississippi, protect fall plantings from the cold. Or an easier solution is to simply plant new plants next spring for a great pink-themed color display.
My favorite dianthus for the cool season has to be the Telstar series. This series has great colors ranging from carmine rose, pink and purple to one that is almost red. There also are a couple of pretty bicolors called picottees.
Telstar is the perfect choice for mass planting in the landscape. The plants grow uniformly with a sturdy habit that reaches only about 10 inches tall and wide. Always plant in full sun in well-drained soil.
Telstar dianthus is susceptible to root disease problems if the soil is consistently wet. This is always a concern in our cool and wet fall and winter seasons. I grow my Telstar dianthus in commercially available container gardening systems or raised beds, which eliminate the worry about oversaturated soils.
Telstar dianthus is a moderate to heavy feeder. At planting, I always fertilize with a good, slow-release fertilizer. I place about a tablespoon of my favorite fertilizer in the planting hole and then supplement monthly with water-soluble fertilizer. After the first flowering flush, prune the plants back about 3 inches. This trimming encourages more lateral growth and even more flowers.
Another good dianthus choice is the Super Parfait series. Super Parfait is indeed super and tolerant of cold weather. This group is known for its compact size and large blossoms — 2 to 2.5 inches in diameter.
Super Parfait Raspberry has gorgeous, pinkish-white flowers with crimson-streaked petals and dark eyes. My favorite is the large Super Parfait Red Peppermint flowers, which are bright white with a red center eye.
One of the most surprising things about dianthus flowers is that they are edible. To prepare them, first wash and gently pat the blooms dry, and then hold the flower base and pull on the petals to separate. Add them to any fresh salad, either lettuce or fruit. The colorful petals are frilly, and since we eat with our eyes first, they add interest to our daily meals.
Gary Bachman is a professor of horticulture at the Coastal Research and Extension Center in Biloxi.