By: Darcy Larum, Landscape Designer
Oftentimes, I am asked by customers for specific plants only by description. For example, “I’m looking for a plant I saw that’s grass-like but has little pink flowers.” Naturally, cheddar pinks comes to my mind with a description like that. However, with so many varieties of cheddar pink, aka dianthus, I need to show them examples. Most times, I find it is Firewitch dianthus that has caught their eye. Continue reading to learn what is Firewitch and how to care for Firewitch dianthus.
Named the perennial plant of the year in 2006, Firewitch dianthus (Dianthus gratianopolitanus ‘Firewitch’) was actually created by a German horticulturist in 1957, where it was named Feuerhexe. In 1987, United States horticulturists began to propagate and grow Firewitch flowers and they have been a much-loved border plant for zones 3-9 ever since.
Blooming in May and June, their deep pink or magenta flowers are a beatific contrast against the blue-green, silvery grass-like foliage. The flowers are fragrant, smelling lightly like cloves. These fragrant flowers attract butterflies and hummingbirds. Firewitch flowers hold up against heat and humidity more than most dianthus flowers.
Because Firewitch dianthus grows only about six to eight inches (15 to 20.5 cm.) high and 12 inches (30.5 cm.) wide, it’s excellent to use in borders, rock gardens, on slopes, or even tucked into crevices of rock walls.
Firewitch flowers are in the dianthus family, sometimes called cheddar pinks or border pinks. Firewitch dianthus plants grow best in full sun but can tolerate light shade.
Give them well-drained, slightly sandy soil to avoid crown rot. Once established, the plants are drought tolerant. Firewitch plants are also deemed deer resistant.
They prefer normal to light waterings. When watering, do not wet the foliage or crowns, as they may develop crown rot.
Cut back Firewitch plants after blooms fade to promote reblooming. You can simply cut the grass-like foliage back with grass shears.
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Dianthus gratianopolitanus 'Firewitch'
Other Names: Cheddar Pinks, Clove Pinks
A robust variety bearing single, fuchsia flowers in late spring to early summer, over a cushion of blue-green, grass-like leaves has a mild, clove-like, spicy fragrance will sporadically re-bloom throughout the summer
Firewitch Pinks has masses of beautiful fragrant fuchsia frilly flowers with white eyes at the ends of the stems from late spring to mid summer, which are most effective when planted in groupings. The flowers are excellent for cutting. Its attractive grassy leaves remain silvery blue in color throughout the year. The fruit is not ornamentally significant.
Firewitch Pinks is an herbaceous evergreen perennial with a mounded form. It brings an extremely fine and delicate texture to the garden composition and should be used to full effect.
This plant will require occasional maintenance and upkeep, and is best cleaned up in early spring before it resumes active growth for the season. It is a good choice for attracting bees and butterflies to your yard, but is not particularly attractive to deer who tend to leave it alone in favor of tastier treats. It has no significant negative characteristics.
Firewitch Pinks is recommended for the following landscape applications
Firewitch Pinks will grow to be only 6 inches tall at maturity extending to 8 inches tall with the flowers, with a spread of 10 inches. When grown in masses or used as a bedding plant, individual plants should be spaced approximately 8 inches apart. Its foliage tends to remain low and dense right to the ground. It grows at a medium rate, and under ideal conditions can be expected to live for approximately 5 years.
This plant should only be grown in full sunlight. It prefers to grow in average to moist conditions, and shouldn't be allowed to dry out. It is not particular as to soil type or pH. It is highly tolerant of urban pollution and will even thrive in inner city environments. This is a selected variety of a species not originally from North America. It can be propagated by cuttings however, as a cultivated variety, be aware that it may be subject to certain restrictions or prohibitions on propagation.
Firewitch Pinks is a fine choice for the garden, but it is also a good selection for planting in outdoor pots and containers. It is often used as a 'filler' in the 'spiller-thriller-filler' container combination, providing a mass of flowers and foliage against which the thriller plants stand out. Note that when growing plants in outdoor containers and baskets, they may require more frequent waterings than they would in the yard or garden.
When planting these flowers, choose a location with full sun exposure, which is at least six hours of direct sunlight per day. The soil must drain quickly, because these flowers do not tolerate wet soil. Before planting, mix a 2- to 4-inch layer of well-rotted compost into the top 6 inches of soil to improve soil quality Dianthus flowers are available in many different sizes and colors. In USDA zones 6 through 9, China pinks grow as annuals or biennials. Peek under the leaves and discard any plants infested with garden pests like aphids. Leave the floppy plants at the store, taking home the shorter compact plants. Dianthus plants suffer from crown and root rot when grown in wet conditions.
All dianthus prefer full sun (at least six hours per day.) They like rich soil that has two to four inches of well-rotted compost. Work the compost to a depth of 12 inches before planting and reapply a top dressing of compost in spring.
You can start dianthus from seed about eight weeks before the last frost in spring and transplanted outside after frost. Dianthus seeds can also be sown directly in the garden in summer. Transplants can be added to the garden in the spring or fall. Space plants 6" to 12" apart (depending on the type.)
Add mulch to the base of the plants to help retain soil moisture and maintain even soil temperatures. Water the plants thoroughly at least once a week to help new roots grow down deeply. Once new growth appears, apply a light fertilizer.
Cut off spent blooms to encourage new flowers. Older plants may develop dead spots in the center of the foliage, which means it’s time to divide. Cut clumps into several pieces, removing the dead foliage, and transplant divisions to new spots.
Carnations, sweet William, and cottage pinks do best in rich, well-draining soil that’s kept moist but not soggy. Alpine types, such as cheddar pinks, prefer a slightly alkaline, sandy soil with sharp drainage.
For established perennials, apply a thin layer of compost in spring and sidedress with a well-balanced fertilizer according to instructions. Avoid organic mulch, as it can contribute to rot or fungal problems, instead using gravel or stone chips to suppress weeds. For biennials or annuals, apply a liquid fertilizer monthly during bloom time.
Water once a week in summer, or more frequently in hot weather if needed. Avoid overwatering, which can cause rot. Overhead watering may cause leaf mildew.
Carnation types with long stems may need staking to keep them from falling over.
Dianthus are free of most pests and diseases when healthy and planted in the ideal site. Overwatering or heavy mulch can cause crown rot. Poor drainage can result in stem or root rot. Insect problems can include slugs, snails, sow bugs or grasshoppers.
Dianthus are seldom bothered by deer.
Firewitch dianthus is quite drought tolerant once established, but it grows best with regular watering during its first season or two. Mulching the plant in spring can help conserve soil moisture and keep down competing weeds. Avoid using organic mulch that can hold water and promote fungal problems, which can include rust, leaf spot and root rot. Instead, mulch with pea stone or gravel, because these drain readily and keep the soil moist but also tend to keep the plant's foliage dry.