Add splashes of color to your home and garden with phlox.
Summer phlox is a widely adapted perennial, hardy from Minneapolis to the Gulf Coast. If you've grown phlox before, however, you know that its nemesis is powdery mildew, a fungus that leaves the plants looking bare-legged and bedraggled. Certain phlox varieties are more resistant to the disease than others, and a few years ago we set out to find them. We asked phlox experts and ordinary gardeners from across the country to recommend their favorites.
Phlox adds loads of color to perennial borders at an otherwise lean time of year. It may not be the easiest perennial to grow, but it's among the most gratifying.
Phlox lifts your garden out of the summer doldrums on a wave of jewel-box colors and soft perfume. Any phlox is beautiful, but the varieties that follow are also long-blooming and healthy. Clearly, they're the best.
Snip a few stems of phlox, plunk them in an upright vase, and you have a bouquet more bountiful than anything from a florist's shop. Now bury your nose in the blossoms for a whiff of heaven.
Even the mildew-resistant varieties of phlox aren't mildew-proof. Take these steps to keep your phlox healthy:
- Plant phlox in full sun in rich, porous soil. Plant in spring or fall.
- Feed regularly. Give new plants or divisions a generous helping of compost stirred around in the planting hole. Use a balanced fertilizer annually thereafter.
- Keep the soil moist and cool with a layer of organic mulch. When watering, avoid wetting the foliage -- a practice that spreads disease.
- Divide clumps every three to four years. In spring, thin clumps to no more than eight stems. Overcrowded stands of phlox are mildew-prone.
- In late fall, after the plants have succumbed to frost, cut the stems to the ground and discard them -- but not on your compost pile. Mildew spores overwinter in the dead stems and foliage.
- If mildew appears despite your taking all the precautions, treat it with a horticultural oil spray -- a low-toxicity alternative to traditional fungicides.