The problem with phlox is waiting until midsummer for the blooms. But there’s a cure for that, and it’s called woodland phlox (Phlox divaricata). This fragrant and hardy wild phlox is a spring bloomer with pretty violet-blue flowers and glossy green leaves. It stays closer to the ground than its city cousins and spreads by rhizomes to form large colonies, so it will make a handsome ground cover over time. Hummingbirds and butterflies both like it. But best of all, it allows phlox fanatics to stop chewing their nails for a month or so.
Common name: Woodland phlox, blue phlox, wild sweet William
Botanical name: Phlox divaricata
Plant type: Perennial
Zones: 3 to 8
Height: 8 to 20 inches
• Sun: Part to full shade
• Soil: Rich, well-drained
• Moisture: Average to moist
• Mulch: Mulch to preserve moisture in the soil.
• Pruning: None needed.
• Fertilizer: None needed.
• By seed, division, and cuttings.
Pests and diseases
• Powdery mildew can be a problem. (www.gardeningclub.com)
• Spider mite infestations can show up during hot, dry weather. Rabbits like to snack on woodland phlox. (www.gardeningclub.com)
• Use woodland phlox as a ground cover in a shady area. Its rhizomes creep at a decent pace to form wide mats of glossy foliage. It’s perfect under deciduous trees, where it gets sun in early spring and shade after the trees leaf out.
• It’s also perfect for hiding the spent foliage of spring bulbs.
• Other good companions are bleeding heart, columbine, ferns, foamflower, and trillium.
• Don’t put woodland phlox in a sunny, dry spot—it won’t thrive.
• ‘Blue Moon’ has flowers that are darker blue than the species.
• The flowers of ‘Blue Perfume’ are said to be the most fragrant of all the cultivars.
• ‘Manita’ has white flowers with violet eyes.
All in the family
• Many species in the Phlox genus are garden favorites, including annual phlox (P. drummondii), garden phlox (P. paniculata), and moss phlox (P. subulata). Dozens of cultivars are available in a rainbow of colors.
• Polemoniaceae contains several genera, but few are familiar to U.S. gardeners. One we do know and love is Polemonium, or Jacob’s ladder, with 25 species.
Where to buy
• Lazy S’s Farm Nursery, Barboursville, VA, www.lazyssfarm.com
• Stone Silo Prairie Gardens, De Pere, WI, 920-336-1662, www.stonesiloprairie.com
• Sunlight Gardens, Andersonville, TN, 800-272-7396, www.sunlightgardens.com
(Text by Elizabeth Noll, photo of Phlox divaricata courtesy of the Kemper Center for Home Gardening at the Missouri Botanical Garden.)