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Phlox Add Colors To Southern Yards
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Phlox are some of the most beautiful flowers in the world, and Mother Nature endowed the United States with an abundance of species. Thanks to the diligent work of hybrid developers, we have hundreds of selections to choose from.
Moss pink (or thrift), known botanically as Phlox subulata, brings a brilliant, almost iridescent color to the late winter or early spring garden. Moss pink, also known as creeping phlox, is a low-growing evergreen plant with a fine 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 definitely the most popular color, I've seen some outstanding beds of the Emerald Blue variety.
Sweet William, or Louisiana Blue, is popular in older Mississippi 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 planting in mass.
The most attractive display I have seen was in a long curved border planted as a separation between liriope and azaleas. Sweet William 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, phlox lose their impact after the bloom. The foliage can be cut back and then easily rooted.
Bulbs like caladiums can be inter-planted to give summer color to the Sweet William bed.
This phlox likes good drainage and beds high in organic matter. They prefer morning sun and afternoon shade. Phloxes are not very drought tolerant so be prepared with supplemental irrigation.
My favorite is the old-fashioned summer phlox, Phlox paniculata, with more than 100 varieties available. While commuting to work each day last year, I watched a planting of a deep purple garden phlox in Byram. They bloomed profusely from the end of May through the first frost. The prolonged bloom is encouraged by removing dead blooms and keeping the plants well watered.
Summer phlox like the Sweet William prefer some afternoon protection from the scorching hot 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 may 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. Summer phlox are available in white, pink, red, deep purple, lilac, lavender and orange.
They can be divided from clumps in the fall or early spring when new growth starts to emerge. Many gardeners also find this phlox quite easy to root from cuttings.
These phlox are all perennial, but there is another native jewel called Phlox drummondii, or annual phlox. This fall phlox is much overlooked and very deserving of a place in the flower bed.
They come in absolute riotous colors of pink, red, rose and white. Promise Pink is a hot pink with semi-double flowers borne on a much more compact plant reaching only 6 inches in height.
Plant them for morning sun and afternoon shade. Extend blooming by monthly feeding of a balanced fertilizer and keeping well watered.
No matter which phlox you choose, massing plants in a well prepared bed is the key to your success. Planting a few here and there just can't create that ideal photo opportunity.