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Phlox is a large group of plants that includes native plants, annual plants and perennials, as well as both upright and creeping forms. The upright form has many different named varieties with flowers that vary from blues to reds and white; it is usually called Garden Phlox. The low-growing, mounding form is called Creeping Phlox.
When someone mentions phlox to me, I automatically picture the large blooms on the upright Garden Phlox, which work so well in romantic cottage gardens and lush perennial borders. With mid to late-summer flowers that stand out, and often above, other late summer annuals and perennials, Garden Phlox can be a well-placed design tool in the landscape.
Phlox was indeed grown by our grandparents and is frequently celebrated as an easy to grow perennial. Appreciated because of its large bloom and rich summer color, Garden phlox has been a favorite in many heirloom gardens for decades, yet still manages to look at home in 21st century gardens too.
The original Garden phloxes are those that have a native range from New York across to the Midwest and all way to the Gulf Coast. They are therefore acclimated to grow throughout the season with a tough hardiness, a multitude of blooms, and a dependable nature that allows the plants to thrive and flower for many years. All varieties of phlox attract butterflies, hummingbirds, and other pollinators to the garden.
The creeping phlox (Phlox subulata) is a perennial that is native to the eastern seaboard and is not usually grown from seed. Colors vary but are similar in range to the garden phlox – blues, pinks, whites and reds. Some attractive candy stripe varieties are available as well as solid colors. Once established, this delightful edging plant thrives with very little care from the gardener. They rarely get problems with mildew but can be killed by soggy soil, particularly in late winter. A deer and rabbit resistant plant, this perennial groundcover also tolerates drought once established.
Mildew resistant: With so many varieties on the market, there are plenty of choices. Finding one that is mildew resistant should be high on your list of characteristics, particularly if you are in an area of hot humid summers. Some great mildew resistant varieties include David which is a white blooming standard for any garden. Other phlox that are mildew resistant include Blue Flame, Blue Paradise and Goliath.
Container Growing: Smaller garden spaces and container growers do better with some of the shorter varieties that only get to about 2 feet in height. Coral Flame does well in containers as well as at the front of a perennial garden. Other shorter phlox varieties include Blue Flame, Forever Pink and Pixie Miracle Grace, all of which are also mildew-resistant.
Native: Many of the garden phloxes are native and you can find ones that do best in your area. Blue Paradise, Blue Moon Woodland Phlox and Home Fires Creeping Phlox are just some of the phlox varieties that you can enjoy in your native garden.
Color: The garden phlox is available in a range of colors from white to red to purple and blue so there is one to fit almost any garden color scheme. Berry colored Red Super works well against a backdrop of quieter colors such as white hydrangeas. whereas the pretty pink of Flamingo works well with other pastel cleomes or with a backdrop of an evergreen shrub.
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Scent: Phlox is famous for its perfumy aroma, lending its delicious vanilla-clove scent to the garden, and to any room where it's been cut and placed in a vase. Plant phlox where you can walk past them, sit near them, or enjoy from your window.
Growing Phlox from Seed: Some of the garden phlox varieties come true from seed, many do not. This includes both annual and perennial phlox varieties. Some that do come true from seed each year include Drummondii variety which is bright red and native to Texas, as well as the Blue Flame which is a delightful blue color.
With so many varieties to choose from you can find the perfect one for your garden and most people can find more than one for different parts of their landscape.
In warmer areas try sowing the seed in fall rather than in spring, but in areas with very cold winters (zones 5 and lower) start the seeds about two months before your last spring frost date. Annual phlox will germinate in about a week, while the perennials take up to a month to germinate. The seeds should be kept covered and in the dark to germinate (try putting the seed tray in a black garbage bag to keep it dark).
When the seeds germinate, put them in full sun just like your other seedlings and keep them moist. The perennial phlox seedlings can be put into the garden when they are large enough to handle easily. They do grow slowly the first year and usually do not bloom until year 2. Annual phlox will bloom the first year and set seed which can be collected or, in mild areas, left to self-seed for next year.
For garden phlox, the best time to divide is early spring when the plant is coming out of dormancy and you can clearly see how large they have spread. Again, dig down and lift one piece of the plant out and plant in another area.
About the Author: Kate Copsey is a garden writer, educator and speaker. She is also the author of The Downsized Veggie Garden: How to Garden Small – Wherever You Live, Whatever Your Space.
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