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Past Articles Library | Add a Touch of Sweetness to your Garden with Sweet William

Sweet William or Dianthus barbatus is classified as a short lived perennial in the USDA Plant Hardiness Zones 3 through 9 where it is grown as a biennial.  While the show stopping part of this plant is the blooms, the vegetation adds texture to any landscape.  When one talks about Sweet William, the foliage is not in the conversation instead it is the blooms that together create a disk shape.  The blooms themselves can be pink, purple, white or salmon in color.  These colors can appear as single shades or bicolor in the early and late spring.

While this short lived perennial can be started indoors 8 weeks prior to your local frost free date, there really is no need to do so.  The reason for this is the fact that this plant is considered to be a biennial.  What is a biennial?  Well, the easiest definition is to look at the plant as one that lives for two years.  The first year for a Sweet William plant’s starts off with vegetative growth only.  In this example, Sweet William produces vegetation that is evergreen like or stays green year round.  The second year’s growth is where the plant blooms, reseeds, and then dies.  As you can see, starting your Sweet William inside will not force the plant to bloom any sooner.

To begin the planting process of your Sweet William starts off with picking the correct location.  This plant loves to be in direct sunlight with a loamy soil that is well draining.  Once you have selected the correct location, the next step is to prepare the garden space.  This means you need to remove all the unwanted plant material and turn over the soil to a depth of 6 to 8 inches.  Next, mix in 2 inches of compost and smooth over the soil surface with a garden rake.  If the season is not summer yet, wait on planting your Sweet William seeds.  On the other hand, if summer is present go ahead and sow your seeds.  Sweet William seeds need to be planted so that they are 1/8 inch deep in the soil or for easy, simply sprinkle the seeds on top of the soil.

If you are a frugal gardener, go ahead and pull out your ruler and plant one seed every inch.  Once your seeds have been planted, top them with a very fine layer of soil, and water.

Do not let the soil dry out and in 8 to 10 days you will begin to see little green dots on top of the soil.  Thin your Sweet William seedlings once they have reached 4 inches in height.  The required spacing between plants at this stage is 9 inches.

Once the plants are large enough that you are not afraid of breaking them off, add a 2 inch layer of mulch.  This will control weeds and keep the soil moist. 

Continue to monitor the soil moisture and water when needed.  The following spring you will need to add 1 inch of well seasoned compost and another layer of mulch.

When the Sweet William begins to bloom and the flowers fade, deadhead them so that the swollen part of the flower is removed.  The reason for this is the fact that Sweet William will reseed itself and without some control you will end up with this plant everywhere.

While Sweet William is normally plant disease and pest free, there are times when issues pop up.  As far as plant diseases go, Sweet William can suffer from fusarium wilt, gray mold, leaf spot, rust, and root rot.  Fusarium wilt is caused by a fungus that lives in the soil.  This is especially true when it comes to warm, wet conditions.  The best line of defense is to plant plants that are fusarium wilt resistant.  The second line of defense is to control pests and weeds, which can transfer this plant disease from plant to plant.  Thirdly, if the leaves are turning yellow and then brown, simply pull up the plant and start over.

Gray mold leaves brown spots on the leaves and flowers.  The best line of defense is to cut back the Sweet William after its first year of growth.  Also, cleaning up the garden space will aid in controlling gray mold.

Leaf spot, rust, and root rot are other plant diseases that can be prevented and controlled by proper garden cleaning.

Having said that though, there is one common factor to all these plant diseases and it is watering.  To prevent fungal and bacterial issues, only water Sweet William from the bottom.  When you are talking about the garden space, this means using a drip line for watering.  Also, make sure that the plant spacing is correct.  This simple step will allow the plants to have space, which means air can circulate between the plants and allow the plant material to dry out.

There are two pests that really bother Sweet William.  This is slugs and grasshoppers.  Slugs will consume the seedlings of the Sweet William plant.  While you can spray a pesticide to rid your garden space of slugs, why would you when you can simply set a trap out where they are feeding.  The easiest trap to create is a beer trap.  To make this, take a shallow container and fill it with beer.  The slugs are attracted to the beer, climb up the saucer to check it out, and fall in.  At this point, the slugs drown but your job is not done.  You will need to go out and gather your dead slugs and put them in your compost bin. 

When it comes to grasshoppers, these little creatures can be a challenge to control but it is not impossible.  The first technique is to invite natural predators to the environment.  This includes spiders, ground beetles and even frogs.  Next, set up bird perches throughout your garden.  This will give another predator a space to hang out and eat grasshoppers.  The last technique sounds a little counterintuitive.  What I mean by this is giving grasshoppers what they want may seem like a way of inviting more grasshoppers.  While this is true, creating a grasshopper friendly environment away from your garden is a wonderful way of keeping the grasshoppers out of your garden.  Plus, these grasshopper friendly environments are also the same environments that predators like to hang out in.  At this point, I know you are wondering what special environment a grasshopper haven is?  Well, it is as simple as tall grass.


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Mow Different Directions

When mowing your lawn, mow in a different direction every week.

This way you won't develop ruts in the soil from following the same path, and the grass texture is helped when mowed from different directions.

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