By Norman Winter
It is happening all across the South right now and probably rates high on the list as one of the saddest moments in the landscape. It is, of course, when gardeners come to that realisation that they have been ‘Out Phloxed’ another year, by their neighbours! If you are in this category, then now is the time to correct the situation by planting your own phlox.
It is the moss phlox or phlox subulata causing all of the consternation, right now, but there will be others. Phlox subulata or Moss Pink represents one of those ‘60-mile-per-hour plants,’ which means pretty flowers in the landscape, diverts your attention while you are zipping down the highway.
Large bold plantings of Moss Pink can do that. This is exactly what happened to me passing through Columbus, Mississippi years ago. Yikes, there it was! A bed of Moss Pink giving the perfect example of what I had been preaching. The sermon was that we all need to use this phlox as a groundcover that also yields incredible blooms.
Today it is happening in Old Town in Columbus, Ga, as drivers slowly pass by a picturesque estate with a dazzling show of more moss phlox than most gardeners have ever seen at one time. Many of you probably think it is native to some alpine area in Europe like the alps. It is, however, native to the United States. The latest USDA maps show it native to eastern and central USA, and widely cultivated.
The phlox gets its name from ancient Latin meaning Flame and you certainly have to agree that the Moss Pink brings brilliant colour to the late winter or early spring garden. Habit wise it 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.
It is easily propagated, that is best done by division, or by cuttings in the fall. Emerald Pink and Emerald Blue are the most popular in the South but occasionally you will find Red Wing, White Delight or Blue Hills.
Next up in the jealousy category is the Prairie Phlox, Phlox pilosa. This one is also called downy phlox and sports a great fragrance. It is still mostly sold generically by native plant nurseries but a couple of named varieties have been seen in recent years. Buy it whenever you see it! It ranges from 12 to 24 inches in height and comes in a variety of colours.
We had a large lavender patch growing in the Rain Garden at the Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens. It was growing as a companion with lance-leaved coreopsis and created quite the floral partnership. Both plants perennialised and thrived without a lot of love other than pulling out the weed competition. It seemed the long-tailed skippers found these flowers to their liking.
Lastly giving the spring shout out is the Phlox divaricata known as Louisiana Phlox, Wild Sweet William, Woodland Phlox, and Blue Phlox. Though called Louisiana Phlox it is native over a huge area from Alaska to Quebec and Minnesota, southward to Texas and then eastward to Florida. The fragrant blooms come in various shades of blue and last six to eight weeks. They are great for mass planting among drifts of daffodils, in front of azaleas, under dogwoods and in close proximity to Japanese maples.
If you plant these stalwart spring bloomers then add the old-fashioned summer phlox, you’ll find phlox blooming, in some areas, for eight to nine months a year t. I promise you won’t be Out Phloxed! – TNS
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