With more than 300 species of dianthus, gardeners can find many colors and sizes to fit their landscape.

Eye-catching color

While at the Medford Growers Market recently, I was captivated by the beauty and fragrance of two dianthus plants I saw growing by the front of the armory.

The plants were eye-catching because of their color and growth habit, and they were just beginning to bloom. I was overcome by that "got to have it" feeling we gardeners know all too well.

There are more than 300 species of dianthus, plus an extremely large number of hybrids in this family. Some of the more familiar ones include carnations, baby's breath, campion, as well as pinks and Sweet William. While growth habit and size may vary, these perennials all have grass-like, gray-green or blue-green foliage. Pinks and Sweet William may grow to 16 or 20 inches, but the ones often called simply "dianthus" usually are less than a foot tall and have a mound-like shape, making them excellent border and rock-garden plants. Before purchasing, be sure to check the tag for plant height.

The blooms generally have a rich, spicy, clove-like fragrance and are single, semidouble, or double in shades of pink, red, white and even yellow or orange. Many hybrids have interesting patterns on their five petals. The ones at the armory, for instance, had cranberry-red petals with two bright pink spots on each petal.

The petal edges on dianthus, pinks and carnations are jagged, making them look like they have been trimmed with pinking shears. They begin blooming in late spring and bloom all summer if faded flowers are removed to make way for more buds. The mound-shaped ones, especially, are literally covered with blooms.

Another appealing thing about growing this family of plants in the Rogue Valley is that they are quite tolerant of dry conditions. This should give you the clue that they do not like wet feet and thrive in light, fast-draining soil. They like full sun, but will perform well in partial shade, too. They like soil on the alkaline, not acidic, side, so many will benefit from lime added to the soil. Florist carnations, however, are grown commercially in greenhouses, or at least in mild-winter climates, such as Hawaii, making them unsuitable for our area.

While most members of this family are perennials, there are annual varieties, too, and Sweet William is a biennial. Annuals can be started indoors or by scattering seeds directly in the garden.

Perennials, however, need to be propagated from cuttings or divided every few years. But you may want to purchase them from your local garden center, allowing you to experience the many unusual colors and markings available in this plant family.

Coming Up: Bee Girl Sarah Red-Laird will present a free symposium to address the issue of the declining honeybee population. Part of the discussion will center on how backyard gardeners can assist by growing plants that attract bees. The symposium will be held at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, May 29, at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road in Central Point.

Master Gardener Marjorie Neal will teach a class on growing vegetables and herbs in containers from 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, May 30. Neal will discuss selection of containers and soil, as well as vegetables and herbs well-suited to growing this way. The class will be held at the Southern Oregon Research and Extension Center, 569 Hanley Road in Central Point. Cost is $5. Call 541-776-7371 for details.

Carol Oneal is a past president of the OSU Jackson County Master Gardeners Association. Email her at

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