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How to Grow Phlox

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Phlox comes in two forms – there is Garden Phlox (Phlox paniculate), which is an upright flower that grows to about three feet. Creeping Phlox (Phlox subulata), is a spring groundcover that stays green for most of the year. Both are easy-to-grow perennials that come back reliably every season.

Garden phlox is a great addition to casual cottage garden landscapes, and is also at home in the shrub and perennial garden. The Creeping form looks great as an edging plant to gardens, or falling casually over a low wall. Both Garden phlox and Creeping phlox attract a variety of pollinators, including butterflies and hummingbirds.

a swallowtail butterfly visits a phlox bloom
Sweet-smelling Phlox is a favorite of butterflies, like this Giant Swallowtail.
a hummingbird visits a phlox flower
Expect plentiful visits from pollinators, including Ruby-throated hummingbirds, if you plant Phlox!

When & Where to Plant Phlox

Phlox can be planted in spring or fall, and should be planted immediately upon receiving.

Light: Both varieties of phlox enjoy full sun, although the upright garden phlox can take a little afternoon shade, particularly in the south.

Soil: Phlox is tolerant of most garden soils, but well-drained soil is preferable, particularly in northern areas where spring snow is slow to drain. Damp, waterlogged spring soil can rot the dormant roots. Add compost or peat moss to the garden to improve drainage and create a better overall environment.

Spacing: Garden phlox should be planted about 18 inches apart, while Creeping phlox should be planted about 2 feet apart. Giving these plants lots of room for air circulation is the key to limiting the appearance of mildew.

Over the next few years you’ll see that both varieties form clumps that will gradually increase and join together to form one large clump of phlox, with the Creeping variety creating a mat or carpet.

Planting: Fall plants can be kept cool on the deck for a few days until it’s convenient for you to plant, but don’t let the roots dry out and be sure to plant a few weeks before your first frost arrives.

Likewise, if the plant arrives in a container in spring, keep the container moist until the ground is ready to plant. Hold off on spring planting until the soil is free from melted snow and ice, and the ground is easy to work.

potted perennial garden phlox blue flame
Start with a healthy Phlox plant with a strong root system.
disturbing the roots on potted phlox before planting
Disturb the roots before planting to encourage them to spread and reach.

How to Grow Phlox Throughout the Season

Growth Habit: Each spring you will see the dormant crown start to emerge from dormancy and produce small green leaves. Keep the area weed-free and let the phlox just grow.

After a few weeks of spring sunshine, the phlox is covered with pink or white flowers. Flowers continue to be produced until the weather turns to summer heat but you might well find a few flowers come back when cooler late summer or fall weather arrives.

Staking: The clump of Garden phlox emerges with bright-green leaves that stay low until spring is well established and then begins to grow upward stems. The stems are quite strong and rarely need staking unless the plant is in an area of high winds or where animals can knock the plant over. If you decide to stake, do so early in the year, when the plant is still low to the ground, rather than when flowers begin to form.

pink garden phlox in bloom
Many Phlox have a bi-color center upon closer inspection, like this Phlox Bright Eyes.

Watering: Although you’ll need to water young plants regularly until they become established, Phlox in general do not require much water. During seasons with regular rainfall, your phlox should not need any extra water from the gardener. This drought-tolerant perennial will struggle with water-logged soil, so practice restraint with your hose!

An application of general garden fertilizer each spring or spreading a fresh layer of compost or fine mulch over the garden each spring is about all these delightful plants need.

Mulching: The low-growing phlox emerges around the same time as the garden phlox, but the whole mat starts to show little green shoots which quickly grow to produce early green in the garden. Even in areas where the plant does not go completely dormant, you’ll see bright new growth emerge. For this reason, mulch very lightly, so as not to smother out low-growing plants.


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Phlox: End of Season Care

Trimming & Pruning: Deadheading the spent flowers of the summer blooming perennial keeps the plants healthy, and snipping off the flowers of the ground cover form keeps it looking neat. If you don’t have time or forget to deadhead or trim, the plants will forgive you and continue to bloom anyway. Each fall, after the frost has killed the top growth of your garden phlox, trim the top dead growth and add that to the compost pile.

Trim the garden phlox flowers and put into a vase on the table where they will hold up quite well for four or five days.

Dividing & Transplanting: Divide Garden Phlox every 2-4 years in spring, to keep plants healthy and vibrant. Separate plants into sections, roots intact, with at least 3 active offshoots for replanting. Transplant with crowns one inch below the soil surface.

Pests & Disease: Garden phlox also gets mildew issues particularly in areas with warm, humid summers. Plants growing in part shade are more likely to get issues than those in full sun, but even full sun locations cannot stop the mildew appearing on the plant. Use a botanical fungicide if the problem is persistent and plant resistant varieties where you can. Creeping phlox does not usually have fungal issues.

Grow Phlox: Design Advice

flowering phlox and monarda
Phlox is a great companion, pairing nicely with many other flowering perennials. Here it is with < a href="/perennials/bee-balm">Bee Balm.

Garden phlox is a perfect addition to any perennial garden even a native garden. Plant the delicate pinks and white plants toward the back of the garden bed where their height will not block you seeing smaller plants. They are perfect behind early blooming perennials such as peonies which hide the early growth of the phlox stems. The pink varieties also set off the blue of Russian Sage but they should perhaps be a little further way from the reds of the bergamots.

Plant small spring crocus bulbs close to the creeping phlox and as the phlox spreads the bulbs will continue to emerge through the green mat for added spring delight.

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