Originally created 02/04/05

Bright phlox blooms command attention



Horticulturists are always looking for "60-mile-per-hour plants," which means pretty flowers in the landscape that can divert your attention while you are zipping down the highway.

This is exactly what happened to me. Yikes, there it was! A bed of creeping phlox giving the perfect example of what I had been preaching. The sermon has been that we all need to use the Phlox subulata, or creeping phlox, as groundcover that also yields incredible blooms.

Also known as moss pink (or thrift), Phlox subulata brings a brilliant, almost iridescent color to the late winter or early spring garden. Moss pink is a low-growing, evergreen plant with a textured leaf. Wonderful on slopes and in rock gardens, it is much more drought- and sun-tolerant than most other phlox.

Propagation is best done by division or by cuttings taken in the fall. While pink is popular, I've seen some outstanding beds of the Emerald Blue variety. There also are red and white selections.

There are other phlox that also stop traffic. Louisiana phlox, or Sweet William, is popular in older Southern gardens. This species, known as Phlox divaricata, is native to east Texas and much of the Southeast. With beautiful blooms lasting six to eight weeks, try mass planting.

Louisiana phlox produces in a thick mass. The sticky hairs that line each leaf play a significant role in the ease of propagation.

While they are considered semi-evergreen, Louisiana phlox lose their impact after the bloom. The foliage can be cut back and then easily rooted.

This phlox likes good drainage and beds high in organic matter. They prefer morning sun and afternoon shade. Phlox are not very drought tolerant, so be prepared with supplemental irrigation. My favorite is a hybrid variety called Chattahoochee.

From this point in the season until the summer when Phlox paniculata starts blooming, we used to be phloxless. With the new 21st Century, however, there is a new choice out there for spring and early summer. This is a new improvement on the annual phlox, Phlox drummondii, that also is native to the United States.

The 21st Century has deep, saturated colors in red, blue and white. This is a plant that needs to be brought back to the Southern garden.

Last, but certainly not least, almost all of America comes alive with the summer phlox, Phlox paniculata. Like the Louisiana phlox, they prefer some afternoon protection from the scorching sun. Most of the garden phlox get fairly tall (3 to 4 feet) and would look great planted to the rear of a perennial garden. They might require some support to keep them from falling over with their large blooms.

Pinafore Pink and Eva Cullum are two shorter and more compact varieties. Robert Poore, Laura and the white flowered David are some of my favorites. Summer phlox are available in white, pink, red, deep purple, lilac, lavender and orange. Divide them from clumps in the fall or early spring when new growth starts to emerge. Many gardeners find this phlox easy to root from cuttings.

HORTICULTURIST NORMAN WINTER IS THE AUTHOR OF PARADISE FOUND: GROWING TROPICALS IN YOUR OWN BACKYARD, MISSISSIPPI GARDENER'S GUIDE AND THE HIGHLY ACCLAIMED TOUGH-AS-NAILS FLOWERS FOR THE SOUTH. READERS MAY WRITE TO HIM AT NORMANWEXT.MSSTATE.EDU.