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Your Garden: Flocking to Phlox – Perennial gardeners select Plant of the Year

By Melissa Wagoner

Every year the Perennial Plant Association (PPA) – a non-profit organization of growers, retailers, landscape designers and educators – singles out a Perennial Plant of the Year. This year’s plant – Garden phlox.

“Garden phlox is a staple in any cottage garden, with a vibrant firework of pinks, white, purples and reds,” Heather Desmarteau-Fast – a horticulturist and owner of the plant store Stamin and Pistil in Silverton – said. “Hardy enough to handle light drought, it is a stunning perennial in sweeping garden beds and versatile for formal plantings as well.”

The plant also ranges widely in size from the ‘Jeana’ cultivar – specifically recognized this year by the PPA – which can reach heights of five feet tall and four feet wide, to the more diminutive, spreading phlox, a Willamette Valley native with a height averaging only four inches.

But no matter which variety you choose, “They are the best spring display,” Desmarteau-Fast pointed out. “I love them on rock walls and rock gardens.”

And pollinators love them as well.

“Garden phlox is not only bright and beautiful, it is also fragrant,” Desmarteau-Fast explained. And the flowers are nectar-rich attracting both butterflies and hummingbirds.

Considered “good bridging plants between early and later flowering perennials,” garden phlox thrives on full, hot sun with a bloom time between mid-summer and late fall.

“Garden phlox is also a perfect addition in a cut flower garden,” Desmarteau-Fast added. Be sure to deadhead spent blooms to prolong the plant’s blooming season and possibly even protect it from deer.

“[D]eer do not like smelly flowers,” the Almanac’s website claims.

But Desmarteau-Fast isn’t so sure.

“Though many of the online sites claim it is deer resistant, it is not in the sense that the deer will [not] eat it, but deer browse won’t kill it,” she explained. Noting that, either way, the plant is still one of the best choices for a backyard gardener due to its tendency to require little maintenance and its drought tolerance once the plant is established.

“I love it!” Desmarteau-Fast enthused. 

Apparently perennial plant lovers across the nation agree.

Phlox Growing Tips

• Plant in soil with good drainage and in full sun.

• Avoid overwatering.

• Keep taller varieties well-spaced and can be fertilized every other month.

• Deadhead to prolong blooming.

• After blooming, trim and remove dead foliage – especially around creeping phlox.

• Phlox should be divided in the fall every three to five years to improve performance.

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