- Phloxes: Plant Care and Collection of Varieties
- Perennial Phlox for the Home Garden
- Oh, For Phlox Sake! Growing Phlox from Seed
- Origins and cultural history
- General phlox types
- Phlox in the garden
- Growing phlox from seed
- Floral design with phlox
- We give a… Well, let’s just say we really care
Phloxes: Plant Care and Collection of Varieties
Phlox in bloom are a sight to behold, with masses of small, star-shaped, colorful flowers blanketing the plants. There are several types, the most common of which are spring-blooming creeping phlox and summer-blooming tall phlox.
There is a type of phlox suitable for almost any garden situation. Use spring-blooming creeping phlox as a ground cover in rock gardens and in woodland plantings. Tall garden phlox brighten the back of the border with their exuberant early summer flowers. Tall phlox are susceptible to powdery mildew, especially in regions with hot, humid summers, so choose resistant varieties.
Special features of phloxes
Easy care/low maintenance
Good for cut flowers
Choosing a site to grow phloxes
Select a site with moist, well-drained soil. Some types prefer full sun while other types thrive in shade.
Plant in spring, spacing plants 1 to 2 feet apart, depending on the variety. Prepare the garden bed by using a garden fork or tiller to loosen the soil to a depth of 12 to 15 inches, then mix in a 2- to 4-inch layer of compost. Dig a hole twice the diameter of the pot the plant is in. Carefully remove the plant from its container and place it in the hole so the top of the root ball is level with the soil surface. Carefully fill in around the root ball and firm the soil gently. Water thoroughly.
Apply a thin layer of compost each spring, followed by a 2-inch layer of mulch to retain moisture and control weeds. Water plants during the summer if rainfall is less than 1 inch per week. As flowers fade, cut back old flower stems to encourage rebloom. Divide tall garden phlox every 2 to 3 years to promote vigor and minimize disease problems.
After the first killing frost, cut stems on tall phlox back to an inch or two above soil line.
Perennial Phlox for the Home Garden
Selecting perennials for the home garden can be a bit intimidating. There are literally thousands of species and varieties available. Among those that deserve consideration are several species of Phlox. (The word phlox is Greek meaning flame and refers to their brightly colored flowers.)
One of the most widely grown Phlox species is garden phlox (Phlox paniculata). Garden phlox is a clump-forming, upright plant which produces large, showy flower clusters in summer. Plants are generally 2 to 4 feet tall. While the species itself is seldom grown in gardens, there are numerous varieties available. Gardeners can choose from white, pink, red, blue, and purple flowering varieties. Unfortunately, most varieties of garden phlox are susceptible to powdery mildew. Powdery mildew produces a grayish white coating on the stems and leaves of infected plants. Infected leaves turn yellow and eventually dry up and turn brown. Mildew infected plants become ugly eyesores in perennial gardens. As a result, the popularity of garden phlox has declined in recent years. While good cultural practices, such as adequate plant spacing, can reduce the severity of powdery mildew, gardeners wishing to plant garden phlox should select mildew resistant varieties. Mildew resistant varieties include ‘David’ (white flowers) and ‘Eva Cullum’ (flowers are pink with red eyes). Garden phlox grows best in moist, fertile, well-drained soils in partial to full sun. Plants often need to be watered during hot, dry periods.
Spotted phlox (Phlox maculata) is similar to garden phlox in appearance and cultural requirements. However, there are several differences. Spotted phlox is earlier flowering, has darker green leaves, conical flower heads, and better mildew resistance. Plants are generally 2 to 3 feet tall. Spotted phlox is native to Iowa. It is most commonly seen along roadsides and prairie swales in northeast Iowa. The species has mauve-pink flowers. Excellent cultivated varieties include ‘Alpha’ (rose-pink flowers with darker eyes), ‘Omega’ (white with pink eyes), ‘Miss Lingard’ (white), and ‘Rosalinde’ (purple-pink).
Another native Phlox species is woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata). It is commonly found in moist, partially shaded woodland sites. Woodland phlox produces loose clusters of showy blue to violet flowers in spring (April to June). Plants are typically 12 to 15 inches tall. Woodland phlox is an excellent plant for woodland gardens. It can also be used in the front of the perennial bed or planted in clumps amongst other low-growing, shade tolerant perennials. ‘Fuller’s White’ is an excellent variety. It is slightly smaller (8 to 12 inches) and is covered with white flowers in spring. ‘Chattahoochee’ (a cross between P. divaricata var. laphamii and P. pilosa) has lavender-blue flowers with dark purple centers.
A common sight in many home landscapes in spring is the brightly colored flowers of moss pink or moss phlox (Phlox subulata), commonly called “creeping phlox.” Moss phlox forms dense, carpet-like mats. Plants are 4 to 6 inches tall. Its foliage is narrow, stiff, and needle-like in appearance. Flower colors include white, pink, red, blue, and purple. Excellent varieties include ‘Emerald Blue,’ ‘Emerald Pink,’ ‘Scarlet Flame’ (rose-pink), and ‘White Delight.’ Moss pink is easy to grow. It performs best in sunny areas and well-drained soils. Shearing the plants back after flowering promotes dense growth and some rebloom. Moss phlox is useful for edging beds and as a groundcover for sunny slopes. It also looks nice planted amongst rocks or atop a wall.
Another low-growing phlox is Phlox stolonifera. Its common name is creeping phlox. (Phlox stolonifera is the “true” creeping phlox.) Plants are 6 to 12 inches tall and bloom in spring. Creeping phlox does best in moist, well-drained soils in partial shade. Excellent varieties include ‘Blue Ridge,’ ‘Pink Ridge,’ ‘Bruce’s White’ or ‘Ariane’ (white with a conspicuous yellow eye), and ‘Sherwood Purple’ (purplish-blue). Creeping phlox is an excellent groundcover for partial shade. It also does well as an edging plant.
When browsing in garden centers this spring, be sure to check out the species and varieties of perennial phlox. They are excellent plants for home gardens.
This article originally appeared in the March 31, 1995 issue, p. 35.
Oh, For Phlox Sake! Growing Phlox from Seed
January 17, 2019
It’s time to hose out your favorite hanging planters and order some seeds! Phlox is, universally, one of the most popular ornamentals for hanging baskets, large pots, and cottage garden beds. Plus, the name gives you a great opportunity come up with rude and inappropriate puns.
Phlox is very easy to grow and maintain, and once it’s established, it’s fairly drought-tolerant. It’s a great choice for homeowners who want to grow something to cheer up front porches and patio gardens, but who aren’t inclined to obsess over their plants. (In other words, “tourists” in the world of rabidly-obsessed gardening).
Origins and cultural history
The phlox family (Polemoniaceae) is native to North America, and there are species indigenous to most of our continent’s regions and climates. Nearly all phlox species and cultivars adapt outside their home territories.
Intrepid Scottish naturalist, botanist, and explorer Thomas Drummond (1790-1835) is the first European to catalog the species that now bears his name. He shipped specimens from Texas to England in 1835 while on an expedition through the American Southwest, and in Great Britain phlox earned widespread adoration as an “exotic” garden specimen. Amateur English botanist Sir W. J. Hooker wrote that varieties of the newly-discovered petunia as well as P. drummondii, the phlox species named for the Scot, “were decidedly among the greatest ornaments of the greenhouse in the Glasgow Botanic Garden during the month of May (1836), a season too early for them to come to perfection in the open border.”
Cultivated varieties made the round trip back to American gardens but Drummond, however, would never return; the same year he sent phlox and hundreds of other plant and animal specimens back to the U.K, he passed away on the Cuban leg of his collection tour.
Phlox is Latin for “fire” or “flame,” and the red annual phlox varieties truly live up to the name. In the Victorian language of flowers, phlox represented sweet dreams and declarations of love.
Various phlox species native to different North American climates had medicinal value among First Nation cultures. Specific parts or entire plants, used internally or externally, treated the following:
- Cold symptoms
- Body aches
- Stomach aches
- Eye irritation
- Nerve numbness
- Venereal disease (there’s a joke in here somewhere)
We here at Seed Needs recommend that our customers do plenty of their own research (including a shout-out to their doctors) before medicinally administering plants. These applications are attributed to the Polemoniaceae family in general, without regard to individual species.
General phlox types
We’ve selected the most popular phlox varieties for our catalog, with more to come in the future. It’s easy to provide a broad overview of the Polemoniaceae because most phlox species tend to have the same—or very similar—care requirements, though they may vary in seasonal classification and foliage texture. The annuals grow well in USDA hardiness zones 3 through 10, while the perennial varieties successfully overwinter in zones 4 through 8. Our phlox seed packets and catalog profiles can tell you more about each species’ individual needs.
Phlox are multi-branching plants with clusters of 1″, five-petaled blooms on terminal spikes. The flowers are somewhat trumpet-shaped, but with separate petals and a short throat. A few specimens have ragged-edged petals. Most phlox share the same range in bloom colors, including magenta, pink, lavender, white, or peach, though some cultivars are blue or purple. The blooms in some varieties are bi-colored, and most have a degree of shading.
Except for those belonging to the mountain phlox, leaves are ovate to spear-shaped, 1″ to 3″ long, and vivid green. Upper leaves grow in an alternating pattern, while the lower leaves grow in an opposite fashion. Phlox have glandular, sometimes hairy, sap-emitting stems, so those who hate getting their fingers sticky might want to wear nitrile or gardening gloves.
You’ll find most annual and perennial phlox growing in low-profile, sprawling, colorful drifts along garden borders or in mass-planted beds. Some phlox, including “tall phlox,” are upright with a more columnar habit.
- Annual phlox
- Drummond(‘s) phlox
Annual phlox is the most widely-used species in the family, growing 8″ to 20″ tall and wide. It’s nearly identical to perennial phlox (Phlox paniculata), and one is often mistaken for the other.
- Mountain phlox
- Largeflower desert trumpets
- Largeflower linanthus
- Large flowered leptosiphon
An annual with whorled, needle-like foliage that resembles piney green bottle-brushes. Flowers grow individually or in clusters at the ends of tall stems. Mountain phlox grows 1″ to 3″ tall, and is native to the scrubby coastal hills of western California, from the San Francisco South Bay to Santa Barbara.
- Garden phlox
- Perennial phlox
Growing 2′ to 4′ tall, and 2′ to 3′ wide, this perennial adds a bit more altitude to the phlox garden. P. paniculata is a native to the Eastern US, from New York to northern Georgia and most states east of the Missouri river.
Phlox in the garden
These plants don’t need much coddling, and in fact, they thrive with a bit of neglect as long as you provide their preferred growing environment. While these guidelines focus on annual phlox species, perennial garden phlox (Phlox paniculata) requirements are nearly identical. Annual varieties are spring bloomers, fading out in mid-summer. Perennials pick up the mantle in July, blooming through September. All phlox are nectar-rich, attracting butterflies, bees, and hummingbirds!
While container plants tend to dry out faster than those grown in beds, and therefore should be watered more frequently, phlox withstands short periods of drought. Still, we recommend consistently moist soil when possible.
Sunlight and heat
Phlox is a sun-loving plant, but it likes a little afternoon shade in the hottest climates. Ceramic containers tend to absorb a lot of heat, so we recommend placing potted phlox where it can be out of the sun in late afternoon.
Peak summer temperatures will cause annual phlox to turn brown and drop its flowers, but if you deadhead them and cut the stems back by about 60%, chances are good they’ll get a second wind later in the season.
Don’t fuss too much about soil quality. Phlox thrives in poor to medium soils, as long as it drains well. You can plant it in consistently-irrigated beds, too, with careful spacing. Prepare the soil with plenty of aged compost to improve drainage, and throw in a little peat moss or similar acidic material; phlox likes its soil on the slightly acidic side with a general pH between 6.0 and 8.0.
Phlox is one of the few plants that grow well near black walnut trees.
Maintenance, pests, and diseases
Phlox is fairly disease and pest-hardy in its ideal garden environment. It’s also deer and rabbit resistant. Don’t be alarmed by the following list of potential issues, because proper spacing, ground-level watering, and planting in full sun will prevent most of these problems.
- Leaf spot
- Crown rot
- Root rot
- Leaf miners
- Two-spot spider mites
Clean up and destroy any diseased or dropped plant matter to prevent disease spread. Mulching will help retain moisture and moderate soil temperatures, but be sure to keep mulch away from the plant stems. At the end of the season, cut back annual phlox to soil level. Cut perennial phlox 2″ above the soil level, and clean up any debris; it will regrow again in the spring.
Growing phlox from seed
Phlox germinates and develops quickly, so in most cases you’re best off direct-sowing your seeds…but if spring comes late to your neighborhood, start them indoors in a sunny window. Growing lights and heat mats always help when growing phlox from seed.
- Seed Treatment: None required.
- When to Plant Outdoors: As soon as the soil is consistently 65°F to 70°F.
- When to Plant Indoors: 6 to 8 weeks prior to last spring frost.
- Seed Depth: ⅛”; some sunlight required to germinate.
- Seed Spacing: Plant or thin 1′ apart in dryer conditions; 2′ in humid regions or when planting in consistently-irrigated beds.
- Days to Germination: 5 to 10 days at 70°F; 7 to 14 days at 65°F.
- Transplanting Tips: Harden off for a few days prior to transplanting. If using biodegradable pots, score and moisten before placing the entire container into the bed or pot.
Be sure to keep your planting beds consistently moist with a mist sprayer or gentle hose setting. Once the plants have grown a few pairs of true leaves, you can scale back watering unless the phlox variety requires otherwise.
Floral design with phlox
Phlox’s clustered flowers are popular among florists, and they’re often used as filler in informal, “cottage garden” themes. There’s nothing stopping you from making phlox flowers the main event! They last 7 to 10 days as fresh-cut flowers if they’re placed in water immediately after harvesting. Cut as much of the stem as possible to add height to your arrangement; the leaves, especially those of mountain phlox, are a part of the plant’s appeal.
We give a… Well, let’s just say we really care
When you’re ready to brighten up your garden, contact us! With free shipping and handling for orders over $18, you can quite literally give flying phlox to a friend (As in flying foxes. We’re professionals here.) All our seed packets come with detailed instructions and collectable designs, and we take customer service seriously. Be sure to bookmark our gardening blog for plant spotlights and growing tips!