Sunday, August 9, 2015

Going to Phlox

There’s a small-unincorporated community in Indiana by the name of Phlox.  It’s so small it’s described as being at the intersection of two roads.  It was named after the plant “phlox”.  It’s this plant’s variety “Phlox paniculata”, that I’m going to talk about today.

Historically, phlox is Greek for flame and there are 67 species of perennial and annual phlox.  The seeds explode out of the capsule although it would take a patient person with a good camera to catch this event.

This phlox talk is about the good, the bad and the spectacular.

Phlox plants feature bunches of small flowers with a strong fragrance.  You either love or hate the smell as it resembles a fragrant woodsy musk.  

The individual flowers are small star-shaped growing in a pom at the end of the stem. 

Phlox varieties have red, pink, orange, blue, lavender, purple or white and many have different colored eyezones.  In addition to the variety I’m describing (fall/garden/border phlox) there are:  woodland and low mounding phlox species.

Fall phlox is a perennial and once established one of the easiest to grow.  They prefer full to partial sun, may be divided and some varieties are mildew resistant. 
I’ve never lost a plant due to cold.  

They are perfect for the back of a border or spaced throughout your gardens and yard.  Most are from 36 to 40 inches.  There are hybrid compact varieties but the spring creeping phlox is a different variety.  

This variety blooms continually from mid to late summer.  If you don’t care about self-seeding, remove the seed heads after blooming and it may rebloom before frost.  For this specific species:  Pretty much any loamy or clay soil will do as long as the roots don’t sit in water.    

One reason it does so well in our area is it’s a native wildflower.  There is still wild native phlox growing in ditches, prairie gardens and other uncultivated ground.  I have a white/pink flowering phlox along the old fencerow north of the house.

Native Americans called April’s full moon the “Full Pink Moon” because it was a sign wild ground phlox would be blooming – one of spring’s first flowers.     

I tend to dislike phlox most of the summer months because I have the old variety that mildews in hot humid weather. I pulled the worst, cut down the semi-worst so it could come up healthy and left the mostly decent.  Because I’ve had phlox for years, I didn’t need to worry about not having enough since it had self-seeded in most every area of the yard.

It’s preferable to plant it where it can get good air circulation, which may help with the mildew issue.  Cut it down after the first killing frost if you don’t want it to self-seed.  Leave up all winter if you want to feed birds.  If you have an especially bad mildew year, cut down and burn (never compost mildewed plants.)   

I find my phlox cross pollenates and I always have a wide variety of colors and blends. It’s easier to grow hybrid phlox from plants rather than seeds although the birds seem to know just how to accomplish with my old varieties. 

You may find hybrid phlox a little difficult to get started and I recommend buying potted plants locally instead of mail orders where they are likely bare root or small.  Or, get some seeds or a start from a friend.  Some of the newer brighter crazier hybrids are more difficult and may take longer to establish and multiply.   Worth it but wanted you to have reasonable expectations.

The foliage is food for the larvae of some Lepidoptera species (moths) including the Hummingbird Hawk-moth.

Now for the spectacular:  Butterflies will come to your fall garden in mass for phlox. Bees and other pollinators will love them, too.  Phlox works as good as any butterfly bush.  It’s especially attractive to the large swallowtails.  There’s a lot of good, some bad and it’s all worth it for the grand spectacular butterfly show. 

1 comment:

  1. Very nice. My yard is florally challenged (my word) and perhaps next year I can phlox about. Love your photos - not to mention the Monarchs. Thanks for a delightful read.