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Phlox represent the perfect 60-mph plants
By Norman Winter
Central Mississippi Research & Extension Center
Horticulturists are always looking for "60-mile-per-hour plants," which means pretty flowers in some landscapes can divert your attention while you are zipping down the highway.
This is exactly what happened to me last spring or late winter in Columbus, Miss. 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 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. There are also red and white selections.
There are other phlox that stop traffic, too! Louisiana phlox, or Sweet William, 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 mass planting.
The most attractive display I have seen was in a long, curved border, planted as a separation between liriope and azaleas. 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. Bulbs like caladiums can be inter-planted to give summer color to the Louisiana phlox 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 a hybrid variety called Chattahooche.
From this point in the season until the summer when Phlox paniculata starts blooming, we used to be phlox-less. At least that is what many gardeners have felt. But with the new 21st Century, there is a new choice out there for spring and early summer. This is a new improvement on the annual phlox, Phlox drummondii, that is also 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, the South 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 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. Divide them 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.
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. Phlox will be showing up soon at your garden center, so get the beds prepared when the conditions allow.