April GBBD: Native Phlox for Your Garden

Carolyn’s Shade Gardens is a retail nursery located in Bryn Mawr, PA, specializing in showy, colorful, and unusual plants for shade.  The only plants that we ship are snowdrops and miniature hostas.  For catalogues and announcements of events, please send your full name, location, and phone number (for back up use only) to carolyn@carolynsshadegardens.com.  Click here to get to the home page of our website for catalogues and information about our nursery and to subscribe to our blog.

‘Emerald Blue’ moss phlox in my garden

In my last post, Your Native Woodland, I explained how to create your own native woodland garden.  Here I am going to profile some of the wonderful members of the genus Phlox, all native to eastern North America and Pennsylvania in particular.

All the plants except smooth and garden phlox are pictured blooming in my garden right now so I am linking to Garden Blogger’s Bloom Day (“GBBD”) hosted by May Dreams Gardens (link available on April 15) where gardeners from all over the world publish photos of what’s blooming in their gardens.

‘Sherwood Purple’ creeping phlox in my woodland

Phlox are very satisfying native plants to add to all areas of your garden.  They are easy to grow and spread rapidly but not aggressively.  All species that I am profiling are fragrant, some amazingly so, and attract butterflies and hummingbirds.  They are also disease-free except garden phlox, which gets powdery mildew.  And, most importantly, they have copious amounts of gorgeous flowers in purple, blue, pink, and white.  Did I mention that they are native to Pennsylvania and all of eastern North America?!?  What more could you want.

Wild sweet William ‘Blue Moon’, Phlox divaricata

Wild sweet William is the most fragrant of the phlox described here.  Its heavenly scent perfumes the whole garden when it is in bloom from April to June.  It is 8 to 10″ tall and spreading with semi-wintergreen leaves.  Although I have seen it growing in the wild in full shade, I have better success with it in sun to part shade.  Cut it back after flowering to maintain an attractive habit.  My favorite cultivars are ‘Blue Moon’ (photo above), ‘May Breeze’ with steely white flowers, and ‘Blue Elf’, a compact form.

‘Morris Berd’ smooth phlox, Phlox glabberima

Smooth phlox is a taller clump-forming plant, although the clumps expand rapidly when it is happy.  It is 18 to 24″ tall and grows in full sun to part shade in average to moist soil.  Flowers appear from late spring to early summer, a time when not much else is blooming.  The only smooth phlox I have ever seen for sale is ‘Morris Berd’ (photo above).  Its velvety pink flowers with silver highlights are breathtaking.

Garden phlox, P. paniculata, left with purple coneflower and ‘Goldsturm’ rudbeckia in my front border in 1993.

I dream of the day that I can plant a field of every cultivar of garden phlox on the market.  The fragrance of the flowers, second only to wild sweet William, the long bloom period, and the colors available make this a very desirable plant.  It grows anywhere in full sun to a good bit of shade (but not full shade).  It reaches 2 to 4′, and I have cultivars blooming from June to October.  My favorites are very early-blooming ‘Blue Paradise’ (photo below), compact ‘Pixie Miracle Grace’, pure white ‘David’, and ‘David’s Lavender’ with huge flower heads.  Unfortunately, I have failed to photograph these plants in past years, but I hope to remedy that this summer.

‘Blue Paradise’ garden phlox

I get questions all the time about powdery mildew on phlox.  The only phlox that gets powdery mildew in my garden is garden phlox.  The best way to avoid this is to buy mildew resistant varieties but in bad years even these cultivars get mildew.  You can also prevent mildew organically by spraying the leaves with a baking soda and oil formula before mildew strikes.  However, my approach is to ignore it because it doesn’t hurt the plants, it just looks ugly some years.  Focus on the flowers instead and plant plants in front of the phlox that hide the leaves.  Your garden does not have to look perfect.

Creeping phlox ‘Blue Ridge’, P. stolonifera, in my woodland.

If I had to pick one phlox that is my favorite, it would be creeping phlox (not to be confused with P. subulata whose correct common name is moss phlox not creeping phlox).  It has beautiful and plentiful fragrant flowers attractive to butterflies like all the native phlox here.  But in addition, it grows in full, dry shade and makes an excellent 3 to 6″ mat-like groundcover that remains green through winter.  It flowers from March to May.  My favorite cultivars are ‘Sherwood Purple’ (photo at the beginning), which is the most vigorous, ‘Blue Ridge’ (photo above), ‘Home Fires’ (photo below), and ‘Pink Ridge’, which is a slightly different pink and blooms later than ‘Home Fires’.


‘Home Fires’ creeping phlox

‘Emerald Blue’ moss phlox, P. subulata, in my garden

For abundance of flowers, you can’t beat moss phlox: you can’t even see the leaves when it is in bloom in April and May.  It grows in full sun to part shade and forms a wintergreen mat that solidly blocks out weeds.  The needle-like leaves provide an attractive texture year round.  A great plant for dry sites with thin soil because it has a shallow root system and likes to be well-drained.  An annual shearing is recommended although I don’t do this.

‘Amazing Grace’ moss phlox

A lot of breeding has been done with moss phlox to produce a plethora of beautiful flower colors.  They are all good plants, and I don’t have a favorite, but I like ‘Emerald Blue’ (photo at beginning and above), pink ‘Fort Hill’, white with a red eye ‘Amazing Grace’ (photo above), and ‘Purple Beauty’ (photo below).

‘Purple Beauty’ moss phlox

You can’t go wrong when you add any of these wonderful native phlox to your garden.  Enjoy the flowers!


Nursery Happenings: My second Open House Sale, featuring spring-blooming plants for shade, will take place on Saturday, April 14, from 10 am to 3 pm.  Look for an email listing the plants available if you are on my customer email list.

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45 Responses to “April GBBD: Native Phlox for Your Garden”

  1. Oh I do love phlox. I have it growing on a hill which is a tough spot but the phlox does beautifully. I do need to find the amazing grace to add to my blue and white garden. They are all stunners!

  2. Beautiful phloxes! I love them this time of the year. I’ve been out spreading Phlox pilosa around my gardens as it is such a good groundcover.

  3. Hi Carolyn… I just added a few plants of Home Fires and Blue Moon… what beauties! Hope to add many more plants of the meandering phloxes before the season is past. I love the look, even when not in bloom! Larry

  4. Love your ideas. I have to get over there and pick up some new plants!

  5. paulinemulligan Says:

    Must definitely find some of these for our woodland area, I think they are just what we need!

  6. I have not had luck with phlox, but I will try again making sure I am planting native species.

  7. I have six Phlox varieties in my garden and they are just starting to bud up. Phlox is great for all seasons and I always look forward to the Fall varieties too. But my favorite, is the wild phlox that fills the fields at the farm. Phlox is a plant the needs its freedom, to spread with abandon.

    • Donna, I would imagine that the phlox in the field is wild sweet William. Unfortunately (or fortunately depending on how much room you have) it does not spread aggressively in the cultivated garden. Carolyn

      • Actually it does, depending on the cultivar. I have one bed that it is entirely covered by one phlox plant spreading over the years. In addition, the fall varieties are similar. ‘David’ is the only of that group to stay well behaved and contained.

  8. Carolyn I love phlox of all kind…you certainly have mentioned them all…I am happy to learn about moss phlox and how it differs from creeping since most nurseries label them all as creeping…I have many planted and I planted more this fall in hopes they will fill out…I am planing to edge a portion of the front garden with more creeping or moss phlox as I get rid of a bit more lawn…I tend to leave the powdery mildew alone as well…my hummers love my garden phlox too….I find it needs a bit of moisture to grow well and the moss needs it drier…

  9. Phlox is such a beautiful flower. I love seeing it in pictures, but I don’t have any in my garden. The pink and white are pretty, and the purple is stunning, but I like the blue the best.

  10. nwphillygardner Says:

    I’ve had great success with a Phlox stolonifera called ‘Fran’s Purple’ [a really rich purple color similar to your photo of the P. subulata ‘Purple Beauty’] which has a density of flowers in part shade that rivals the moss phlox which I think of as a plant for more sun than shade.
    Carolyn, do you know if stolonifera can stand up to some foot traffic?

    • Eric, I love ‘Fran’s Purple’ and have it in my garden. It is not as vigorous as ‘Sherwood Purple’. Moss phlox is sun to part shade—it does not require full sun. I do not think that P. stolonifera could handle foot traffic. It breaks off very easily. Carolyn

  11. Beautiful phlox collection! I love woodland phlox, but unfortunately the rabbits always seem too devour it whole here.

  12. I have found phlox of all sorts to do well in my yard in northern California. We get some snow, have gophers and deer, but none of them seem to stop the phlox from spreading and blooming its little heart out. It even transplants well!

  13. I’m a big fan of Phlox. The one we get over here is the Garden Phlox. Have’nt seen the smaller spreading ones. I especially love the white one.

  14. This is a wonderful post. The pictures are just luscious! Thanks for clarifying that creeping phlox is not the same as P. subulata. I’ll have to start using moss phlox for P. subulata–have been giving the wrong name for years.

  15. Heidi @StatelyKitsch Says:

    Thanks for the descriptions of the different varities! I grow several garden phloxes but after reading this I am now in need of some creeping phlox, since I have some dry shade that I don’t know what to do with. Do you think it would do okay under a very large pine and cedar tree?

  16. I remember you high-lighting Phlox last year. I would love to plant some in the shady corner of my garden, I think it would be too hot for them in full sun.

  17. Great article Carolyn. ‘David’ is one of my favorites, especially when grown with the tall green and white variegated Miscanthus.

  18. Dear Carolyn, Thanks for the organic control of powdery mildew for phlox. I had it on my desease-resistant variety last year due to the wet summer . I threatened to pull it out if it happens this year, but I’ll try your spray first. P. x

  19. Hi Carolyn, I am only familiar with the garden Phlox. I must say, the Moss Phlox and the creeping variety look very tempting indeed.

  20. Beautiful Phlox!
    Very informative – I did not know there were so many different ones.
    Happy Garden Bloggers’ Bloom Day!
    Lea’s Menagerie

  21. I don’t think I’ve ever grown phlox, but I have a sandy spot under a tree that I think might be perfect for a moss phlox! I’ll have to check and see if anybody local carries them. Do they tend to have any scent? Thanks!

  22. I am adding more native phlox to my own garden. I had no idea there were so many gorgeous varieties! Your garden must be a wonder to behold with all of these beautiful phlox plants in bloom!

  23. willisjww Says:

    Great post! You do make a good case for Phlox in general. We do get some mildew but I’ve found I can live with it. The seedlings that have grown up wild seem to have less of a problem with mildew. Maybe it’s that hybrid vigor sort of thing…

  24. wifemothergardener Says:

    I love all of the P. stolonifera. So delicate looking yet hardy. I am looking forward to seeing some of these at your house myself 🙂

  25. Hi Carolyn, I have had terrible luck in my present garden getting creeping varieties of phlox to establish themselves. I put it down to a bit too much shade and not enough attention paid to the issue of drainage. Seeing all the beauties here makes me want to try again. I especially liked the ‘Sherwood Purple’.

  26. I nominated your blog for The Versatile Blogger award. Here’s some information: http://versatilebloggeraward.wordpress.com/vba-rules/

  27. Stolonifera does very well for me in dry shade under a black walnut. It is a real trooper.

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